Ranking the 40-Man Roster: Nos. 32-40

Call me Esmil. (Presswire)
Call me Esmil. (Presswire)

Outside of some minor tinkering here and there, it appears the Yankees are done with their major offseason moves and are basically set heading into Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report in a little less than five weeks now. Barring a surprise big move, there’s not much left on the agenda other than adding pitching depth. Someone like Johan Santana, maybe.

Anyway, with Spring Training on the horizon, we’re going to rank and analyze the roles of everyone on the 40-man roster these next two weeks. The rankings are based on the player’s importance to the 2015 Yankees as well as their importance to the team long-term, and we’ve lumped the players into ten easy to post tiers. Needless to say, these rankings are completely subjective (and more difficult than you think) and you’re going to disagree with them at some point. Something like this has no right answer.

The series starts today with the bottom of the list, Nos. 32-40. Tier ten. These are the spare part players. Up-and-down bullpen arms, bench players on one-year contracts, guys like that. The fringe players who will inevitably see time with the big league team this year but aren’t expected to play a major role, either in 2015 or down the line. Let’s get to it.

No. 40: Chris Martin

2015 Role: Up-and-down arm. The Yankees acquired Martin from the Rockies for cash last week because they felt he was a minor upgrade over Gonzalez Germen, who they felt was a minor upgrade over Preston Claiborne earlier this offseason. Martin will get a look in Spring Training and, if he impresses, he’ll put himself in position for a call-up later this year.

Long-Term Role: Really doesn’t have one. Martin is a big dude — he’s listed at 6-foot-8 and 215 lbs. — with a mid-90s fastball, a low-80s curve, and a history of missing bats in Triple-A (9.6 K/9 and 24.9 K% in 77 innings), so he could always have instant success and carve out a place in middle relief. If that happens, Martin could stick around all year and be part of the bullpen mix in 2016, but that’s the best case scenario.

No. 39: Chase Whitley

Whitley. (Presswire)
Whitley. (Presswire)

2015 Role: Another up-and-down arm, except Whitley at least has the ability to contribute as an emergency rotation option if necessary. He’s not strictly a bullpen arm like Martin. The Yankees more or less know what they have in Whitley and he’ll head to Triple-A Scranton when the season begins, biding his time until reinforcements are inevitably needed.

Long-Term Role: A spare arm until he runs out of minor league options or an upgrade comes along, whichever comes first. Whitley did not use an option last season — he was only sent down for ten days in late-August and it takes 20 days to burn an option — so he has all three remaining, meaning he can go up and down in 2015, 2016, and 2017. If he shows the ability to contribute as a spot starter, Whitley will stick around.

No. 38: Jose DePaula

2015 Role: Again, up-and-down arm. DePaula is a legitimate starter, not a pure reliever like Martin or a career reliever recently converted into a starter like Whitley, and he gets bonus points for being left-handed. The Yankees like DePaula enough that they gave him a big league contract as a minor league free agent this offseason even though he’s yet to reach MLB.

Long-Term Role: DePaula only has one minor league option remaining, which means his time in the organization might not extend beyond the 2015 season. A trip to Triple-A Scranton is in the cards to start the year, and if DePaula gets called up at some point, he’ll have to impress enough to stick around next year, even if it’s as nothing more than a long man. In a nutshell, DePaula has replaced Vidal Nuno on the 40-man roster. Similar pitchers, same sort of role.

No. 37: Austin Romine

2015 Role: Considering he is out of minor league options and can not go to Triple-A without first passing through waivers, there’s a good chance Romine will no longer be with the organization come Opening Day. Catchers are hard to find, so the Yankees figure to keep Romine through Spring Training in case Brian McCann or John Ryan Murphy gets hurt. His 2015 role is emergency extra catcher.

Long-Term Role: Nothing more than being the emergency catcher at this point. Romine’s career stalled out the last few seasons and being out of options means decision time has come. If the Yankees don’t need him to start the season as an injury replacement, Romine will probably be traded — in a small trade for a small return — to a catcher-needy team rather than go on waivers. It would be a surprise if he clears waivers and is able to go to Triple-A to back up Gary Sanchez.

No. 36: Chris Young

2015 Role: Fourth outfielder who will see most of his time against left-handed pitchers. Young might also replace Carlos Beltran for defense in the late innings of close games. He had a strong September cameo in pinstripes and returned to the team on a one-year, $2.5M contract with nearly $4M in incentives.

Long-Term Role: Young’s days as an everyday player are over, and since he’s on a one-year contract, the Yankees have no real ties to him. They can cut him loose if he doesn’t produce during the season or walk away if a better option comes along next offseason. And, of course, they’ll always have the option of re-signing Young if he excels in his part-time role this summer.

No. 35: Brendan Ryan

2015 Role: It appears Ryan will again be on the bench as New York’s extra infielder this coming season, though I suppose there’s a chance he could get pushed out by someone like Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder in Spring Training. There’s definite value in Ryan’s ability to play above-average defense at shortstop and that will keep him in the organization and on the roster, in my opinion.

Long-Term Role: Ryan is entering the second year of his two-year contract, though the deal includes a $2M club option and a $1M player option for 2016. (If the Yankees decline the club option, Ryan can still exercise the player option.) The Yankees don’t have any upper level shortstop prospects capable of replacing Ryan next year, so right now it looks like he has a decent chance to stick around as a bench player beyond the 2015 season.

No. 34: Stephen Drew

2015 Role: Everyday second baseman or close to it — Drew could sit against tough lefties or be pushed into a straight platoon role if, say, Refsnyder forces the issue in camp. I do expect him to at least start the season as the regular second baseman though. Drew will hit in the bottom third of the lineup and hopefully produce like he did in 2013, not 2014. His left-handed swing fits well in Yankee Stadium.

Long-Term Role: Drew doesn’t have a long-term spot with the team. He’s on a one-year contract worth $5M with some incentives, but Refsnyder is coming and the Yankees seem to be making a concerted effort to get younger. Bringing Drew back was about adding depth, not blocking Refsnyder. It’s always possible the Yankees will bring Drew back after the season if he plays well, but it’s hard to think he’ll be penciled in as a regular again. He’s a stopgap, plain and simple.

Hooray for a lefty throwing first baseman. (Presswire)
Hooray for a lefty throwing first baseman. (Presswire)

No. 33: Garrett Jones

2015 Role: Oft-used bench player who will provide backup at first base, right field, and DH, three positions where the Yankees have major injury risks in Mark Teixeira, Beltran, and Alex Rodriguez. I think the health concerns of those three guys give Jones a clear path to 400 or so plate appearances in 2015, which might be just enough to expose his weaknesses. That said, his left-handed power is a great fit for Yankee Stadium.

Long-Term Role: Jones, who came over from the Marlins in the five-player Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade a few weeks ago, will earn $5M in 2015 before becoming a free agent. Given his lefty pop and ability to positions where the Yankees need depth, the team could look to bring Jones back in 2016 if he contributes as hoped this summer. He fits the roster very well.

No. 32: Esmil Rogers

2015 Role: Swingman. Rogers has worked as both a starter and reliever in his career — including last season, when he made eight starts and 38 relief appearances between Triple-A/MLB and Yankees/Blue Jays — and he steps right into David Phelps‘ old role. He actual made three starts in winter ball this offseason and will presumably come to camp stretched out just so the team has options to cover for the risky rotation.

Long-Term Role: The Yankees somewhat surprisingly kept Rogers this offseason. He was a prime non-tender candidate, but they instead cut his salary the maximum allowed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and kept him around as depth. Rogers will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016 as well and could definitely return to the team, especially if he fills that swingman role as well as Phelps did.

Coming Tuesday: Nos. 26-31. A collection of prospects who could help in limited roles in 2015.

Yankees officially sign Stephen Drew, designate Eury Perez for assignment

Oh Eury. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Oh Eury. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

After ten days of waiting, the Yankees have officially signed Stephen Drew to a one-year contract, the team announced. He will reportedly earn $5M with $1.5M in incentives based on plate appearances. As expected, Eury Perez was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot.

Perez, 24, was claimed off waivers from the Nationals in September. He went 2-for-10 with a stolen base and three strikeouts for New York late last season and actually started two games in center field in the final series against the Red Sox, after the Yankees were eliminated from postseason and Jacoby Ellsbury was nursing an ankle injury.

At best, Perez was fourth on the center field depth chart behind Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Chris Young. He’s a classic speed and defense type who figured to serve as the up-and-down extra outfielder in 2015. Ramon Flores or even Jose Pirela is in line to be that guy now.

The many ramifications of Stephen Drew’s return

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier this week the Yankees agreed to re-sign infielder Stephen Drew in a move that didn’t seem to go over too well, to put it nicely. It’s a nothing contract, reportedly $5M for one year with $1.5M in incentives, but bringing back a guy who hit .150/.219/.271 (32 wRC+) in pinstripes last year was never going to be popular. Plus the Drew family seems to be polarizing in general.

The Yankees have long coveted Drew — they offered him more money than the Red Sox two years ago, but he went to Boston in part due to uncertain playing time based on the health of Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez — and it seems his price simply dropped into their comfort range this offseason. During the holidays Joel Sherman reported Drew was seeking $9M to $10M. The Yankees were able to get him for half that.

Anyway, the return of Drew impacts the roster in several ways. Chad Jennings did his usual fine job breaking down the impact of the signing yesterday. Now here’s what I think.

So A Trade Is Coming, Right?

I don’t know if this is a new phenomenon or if I’m just starting to notice it now, but every time the Yankees make a move these days, the immediate response seems to be “this is a precursor to a trade.” When they traded for all those relievers a few weeks ago, it was because they were planning to trade their bullpen depth to add a starter. When they re-signed Drew, it was because they’re planning to trade Didi Gregorius or Rob Refsnyder for Cole Hamels. Something like that.

That is very possible. Drew puts the Yankees in a better position to deal a young middle infielder for a high-end starter, though it would go against everything else they’ve done this offseason. The Yankees have gotten younger with just about every move this winter and it appears to be a concerted effort, not a coincidence. Turning around and trading a bunch of that youth for someone like Hamels would be a total change in direction. A complete 180. The Yankees have done this before, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented, but I don’t see it.

And there’s also the money. If the Yankees were going to absorb a huge contract like Hamels’, I think they’d sooner sign Max Scherzer or James Shields, forfeiting the draft pick but keeping the real live young players. Perhaps the plan is to trade Gregorius or Refsnyder for a younger, cheap starter. Someone like … Shane Greene? That wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. Packaging a bunch of players for a young pitchers gets you who these days? Tyson Ross? That’s a lot of work to get someone like him.

A trade is definitely possible because a trade is always possible. I would never put a huge splash by the Yankees. Those moves are in their DNA. I just think there’s a definite emphasis on getting younger for the first time in a very long time by the Yankees. They’ve been after Gregorius for years — they’ve been trying to get him since at least the 2013 Winter Meetings — and they finally landed him this winter, right when they desperately needed a young shortstop. I would be very surprised if the Drew signing did in fact lead to a young infielder being traded.

Middle Infield Depth Is A Good Thing, You Know

To me, re-signing Drew boils down to this: New York’s shortstop depth chart was Gregorius and Brendan Ryan, and their second base depth chart was Refsnyder and Jose Pirela. Three unproven guys and Ryan. I’ve been saying for weeks that a young middle infield tandem like Gregorius-Refsnyder made me nervous as heck, and while Drew doesn’t significantly improve the situation by himself, he does help. Drew gives the team protection at both second and short, where Refsynder and/or Didi could prove to be overmatched. Simply put, the Yankees added another able body at a hard to fill position(s).

Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)
Refsnyder. (MiLB.com)

The Kids Aren’t Blocked, Stop Saying They’re Blocked

A one-year contract blocks no one. Big money, long-term contracts block prospects. A one-year deal? That’s no obstacle. In fact, I think the Drew signing actually benefits Refsnyder developmentally. Granted, he loses out on a potential big league job come Opening Day and that sucks for him, but now he’ll go back to Triple-A to work on his defense, which has always been the concern. He won’t have to learn on the job. I mean, he will eventually, but not right now, not two years after changing positions.

The jump from Triple-A to MLB is tougher right now than it has ever been because of all the information teams have. I can’t repeat that enough. Super-elite prospects — I’m talking top two or three in the game — like Xander Bogaerts, Gregory Polanco, and the late Oscar Taveras all came up and stunk last season when everyone was certain they’d rake. Refsnyder (and Pirela) are not close to that level of prospect, and non-elite prospects are not the guys you just hand jobs. They’re the ones who have to force the issue.

Remember, the Yankees cut both Alfonso Soriano and Brian Roberts last season when they were terrible, and that’s when they didn’t have appealing replacements. They dumped Soriano and called up Zelous Wheeler. They dumped Roberts when they acquired Drew. Now, if Drew stinks, they have Refsnyder waiting and can more quickly pull the trigger and make a change. A one-year contract for Drew isn’t a roadblock for Refsnyder, it’s a bridge.

Et tu, Brendan?

Although it seems like Refsnyder will return to Triple-A thanks to Drew, I’m not so sure this move doesn’t mean the end of Brendan Ryan. I don’t think the Yankees will cut him right now — like I said, middle infield depth is hard to find, and Ryan will be handy if Drew or Gregorius or whoever pops a hamstring in Spring Training — but he might have to fight for his roster spot in camp. (For the record, I think Eury Perez will be designated for assignment to clear a 40-man spot for Drew.)

Before adding Drew, the Yankees needed Ryan because he was the only player in the organization other than Gregorius who could legitimately play shortstop at the big league level. Now they have Drew to do that. The club could opt to carry the more versatile Pirela on the bench instead of Ryan, for example. Maybe they decide to carry Refsnyder anyway and use him in some three-man platoon with Gregorius and Drew. There’s no reason to get rid of Ryan just yet, but come Opening Day, he might not have a place on the 25-man roster.

Defense!

When the Yankees first traded for Drew and stuck him at second base last year, his inexperience was obvious. He had never played a position other than shortstop in his professional career and it showed. I remember there were some issues on double play pivots and indecisiveness on cut-off plays. But I though he improved quite a bit by the end of the season. He wasn’t a natural, but Drew had the raw athleticism to make tough plays and he was gaining experience.

With Drew at second as opposed to Refsnyder or Pirela, the Yankees will field a regular infield with three above-average defenders and one average defender. The average defender being Drew, who could become above-average with more experience. They’ll also have an above-average defender in Brian McCann behind the plate as well as Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury in two outfield spots. The only bad defender on the field will be Carlos Beltran in right. The lineup is sketchy and the rotation is risky, but man, the Yankees are going to catch the ball next year. They haven’t had a defense this good in ages.

Yankees sign Stephen Drew

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

Wednesday, 10:28am ET by Mike: Drew will receive $500,000 for his 450th, 500th, and 550th plate appearances, according to Buster Olney. So the only way Drew will come close to reaching the $1.5M in incentives is if he actually plays well enough to stay in the lineup regularly.

Tuesday, 9:41pm ET by Joe: The Yankees have signed Stephen Drew to a one-year, $5 million deal, reports Jon Heyman of CBS News. Incentives could increase the deal to $6 or $7 million.

It was but a few hours ago that Drew’s name last appeared on this site, citing a Heyman report that the Yankees were “peeking” at Drew as an option for second base. It now appears he’ll start there, barring a horrible Spring Training or injury.

It might appear signing Drew blocks Rob Refsnyder, but that’s simply not the case. If Refsnyder forces the issue, it will be hard for the Yankees to hold him back for the sake of Drew. The $5 million Drew earns accounts for about 2 percent of the payroll. He’s not a make-or-break player. He’s a guy who has performed well in the past — a 95 career OPS+ and 111 in 2013, both of which are pretty nice for a middle infielder this day in age — who gives the Yankees some depth.

If Refsnyder wows everyone in Spring Training, they’ll find a spot for him. It might not be on the Opening Day roster, but if he’s hitting (and improves his defense at 2B) they’re not just going to let him toil all season in AAA if he can outperform Drew or even Didi Gregorius.

Which brings up another point: Drew also provides some shortstop depth. If Gregorius flops, Drew can slide in. That opens a spot for Refsnyder. He could also cover Gregorius against left-handed pitching — he has a .668 career OPS against lefties, which is nothing great but at the same time much better than Gregorius.

Most importantly, if Drew is bad the Yankees will replace him. It might take a while, given how long it took them to cut ties with Alfonso Soriano and Brian Roberts last season. Hopefully they’ve learned from that and will take a more Randy Winn-like approach if Drew’s performance resembles that of Winn in 2010. The deal is for just one year, so it’s not as though he’s blocking Refsnyder for three or four seasons.

The 40-man roster is currently full, so the Yankees will have to make a move before making the Drew signing official. My bet is that they DFA Brendan Ryan and go with Jose Pirela as the utility guy.

Heyman: Yankees still monitoring second base options, including Stephen Drew

(Darren McCollester/Getty)
(Darren McCollester/Getty)

No surprise here: Jon Heyman reports the Yankees are still keeping an eye on the second base trade and free agent markets, including Stephen Drew. The club has indicated they will let Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela (and others) compete for the second base job in Spring Training, but Brian Cashman & Co. wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t look at other available options.

The free agent middle infield market is pretty thin now that Asdrubal Cabrera has signed with the Rays. There’s Drew, Kelly Johnson, Nick Punto, Rickie Weeks, Gordon Beckham, Everth Cabrera, and … that’s pretty much it. We saw Drew and Johnson in pinstripes last year and we’ve looked at Beckham, Weeks, and Cabrera as free agent options this winter. Punto … meh.

The trade market is more exciting. With Asdrubal signed, the Rays are widely expected to trade Ben Zobrist, who would be a great fit for the Yankees just like he would be a great fit for literally every other team in baseball. He’ll cost quite a bit though, plus he’s only a one-year rental, and I’m not sure Cashman will trade a bunch of prospects for a year of Zobrist after emphasizing youth. Then there’s the whole “trade with a division rival” thing.

Other second base trade options could include Chase Utley, Aaron Hill, and maybe Daniel Murphy. I thought there’d be more. Utley has given no indication he will waive his no-trade clause despite the Phillies’ rebuild and Hill was very bad (78 wRC+) last year. Plus he’s owed $24M over the next two years. The Mets have a ready-made second baseman in Dilson Herrera but insist they will keep Murphy, which could be posturing. He’s another one-year rental.

There really aren’t many good (nevermind great) second base targets out there, either in free agency or in trades, especially since Zobrist and Utley seem unattainable for different reasons. The idea of a very young and inexperienced double play combination makes me nervous, but at this point of the offseason I don’t see a realistically acquirable second baseman I’d prefer over Refsnyder or Pirela. Time to ride or die with the kids.

2014 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Wednesday

2014 Winter Meetings-002Aside from losing David Robertson to the White Sox, the first two days of the Winter Meetings have been rather quiet for the Yankees. Brian Cashman confirmed he did have talks with the Athletics about Jeff Samardzija before the right-hander was traded to the White Sox, but the two sides were unable to find a match. With Jon Lester finally off the board — he signed with the Cubs late last night, in case you missed it — the pitching market should soon take off.

All we learned on Monday and Tuesday was that the Yankees are willing to go four years for Chase Headley as long as the annual salary comes down. That’s really about it. They’re not in on Max Scherzer, they don’t know if Hiroki Kuroda is retiring, and they’ve spoken to a handful of clubs (Braves, Marlins, Royals) about bullpen help. Exciting times. We’ll again keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. All timestamps are ET.

  • 2:37pm: Stephen Drew is much more popular this offseason than last despite his awful 2014 season, likely because he isn’t attached to draft pick compensation and will come pretty cheap. The Yankees are one of many teams with some level of interest, presumably so he could play second base. [Jon Heyman]
  • 2:33pm: Any talks between the Yankees and Sergio Romo have been limited so far. There’s interest but nothing is imminent. [Marly Rivera]
  • 2:25pm: Given the way the team’s budget is constructed at the moment, the Yankees would have to bottom feed for rotation help if they sign Chase Headley to a four-year contract. They may spend on pitching and go with Martin Prado at third and kids at second base instead. Of course, this could all be posturing. [Joel Sherman]
  • 12:56pm: The Yankees are more than just “monitoring” Sergio Romo — they have legitimate interest in signing him. Romo was off the charts good from 2010-13 but took a step back in 2014. He’s still a capable late-inning reliever. (Jerry Crasnick)
  • 11:10am: Two unidentified owners flew to the Winter Meetings in San Diego to meet with Scott Boras about Max Scherzer. I’m not saying Yankees ownership is one of them, but they do have a history of dealing with Boras directly, namely with Rafael Soriano a few years ago. [Jon Heyman]
  • 10:28am: Brandon McCarthy is seeking a four-year deal at $48M while teams are stopping at three years and $36M. The Yankees are also “monitoring” relievers like Jason Grilli, Rafael Soriano, and Sergio Romo. [George King]
  • 9:44am: Well, forget about Luke Gregerson. He just agreed to a three-year, $18.5M deal with the Astros. That’s the second biggest contract ever given to a non-closer reliever, just ahead of Jeremy Affeldt’s three-year, $18M deal with the Giants and way behind the contract the Yankees just gave Andrew Miller. [Bob Nightengale]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees are among the teams with interest in Luke Gregerson. He’s no David Robertson, but Gregerson is a damn fine high-leverage reliever who would be a big boost to New York’s bullpen. (Shi Davidi)
  • The Yankees continue to have interest in retaining Brandon McCarthy. Francisco Liriano’s three-year, $39M contract with the Pirates could be a reference point in talks. (Jack Curry)

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Stephen Drew

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

The Yankees have a bunch of needs this offseason like every other team, yet because they need to replace the iconic Derek Jeter, I think the hole at shortstop will be discussed more than anything. Don’t get me wrong, needing a shortstop is a big deal, but the club also needs help at either second or third base and on the mound. I just think the search for a shortstop is going to get a ton of attention. A ton.

As Brian Cashman said earlier this week, the trade market for shortstops is limited right at the moment. The free agent market offers a bunch of imperfect solutions now that J.J. Hardy has re-upped with the Orioles, as Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera all belong at other positions. The only true shortstop left in free agency is a player who spent the last two months of 2014 playing second base for the Yankees: Stephen Drew.

Cashman acknowledged he will “have a conversation with” Drew’s agent Scott Boras this offseason and they’re planning to “stay in touch and see where it takes us.” Drew had a miserable 2014 season, first getting hung out to dry by the qualifying offer system then not hitting a lick once he did finally land a job in late-May. There is some thought that a regular Spring Training would help him next year, but who really knows? Does bringing Drew back make sense anyway? Let’s try to find out.

The Injury History

I think we have to start with Drew’s recent injury history. His problems all started in July 2011, when he destroyed his ankle sliding into home plate. It was ugly. He caught a spike sliding into the plate and his foot basically turned the opposite way. Drew shattered his ankle and tore a ton of ligaments. He had surgery and it kept him out almost an entire season — Drew didn’t return to the field until June 2012.

Then in Spring Training last year, Drew was hit in the head by a pitch and suffered a concussion. It kept him out for a bit more than a full month and forced him to start the season on the disabled list. Drew missed three weeks with a hamstring strain last summer and missed two weeks with a hamstring strain back in 2009, but that’s nothing, really. It happens. His two most severe injuries, the ankle and the concussion, were fluke injuries and not some kind of chronic problem. That doesn’t mean they haven’t affected his game though. Drew hasn’t really been the same player since the ankle injury, coincidence or not.

The Sagging Offense

Once upon a time, Drew was one of the better hitting shortstop in the game. He put up a .278/.352/.458 (113 wRC+) line with 15 homers in 2010 — remember the days when a batting line like that was only 13% better than league average? I miss offense — but was hitting only .252/.317/.396 (92 wRC+) with five homers in 354 plate appearances when he hurt his ankle in 2011. After returning in 2012, Drew hit only .223/.309/.348 (80 wRC) with seven homers in 327 plate appearances. He wasn’t particularly good before or after the ankle injury.

Then, with the Red Sox in 2013, Drew managed to hit .253/.333/.443 (109 wRC+) with 13 homers in 501 plate appearances. It was part of the whole “everything’s going right” thing that swept through Boston that summer (and most World Series winning teams each year). Drew then hit a very weak .162/.237/.299 (44 wRC+) with seven homers in exactly 300 plate appearances this past season between the Red Sox and Yankees. He didn’t have a normal Spring Training in 2012 (ankle), 2013 (concussion), or 2014 (qualifying offer mess), remember.

All together, we’re talking about a player who has hit .228/.305/.382 (85 wRC+) in a bit less than 1,500 plate appearances over the last four seasons. That’s broken down into .243/.326/.410 (100 wRC+) against righties and .192/.252/.313 (50 wRC+) against lefties, making him a pure platoon player. Drew’s one good year since 2011 came in hitter friendly Fenway Park —  he hit .283/.367/.491 (127 wRC+) at home and .222/.295/.392 (88 wRC+) on the road — which is a bit weird because Fenway usually doesn’t favor dead pull left-handed hitters. Or at least it doesn’t favor them as much as pull happy righties.

Now, that said, Drew is a dead pull left-handed hitter, which ostensibly makes him a good fit for Yankee Stadium. Drew didn’t hit in the Bronx last year (19 wRC+) and other pull happy lefties like Kelly Johnson and Travis Hafner didn’t tear the cover off the ball during their time in pinstripes, so the short porch does not guarantee success all by itself. More important than the ballpark situation is Drew’s continually increasing strikeout rate and propensity to hit fly balls:

PA K% BB% GB% FB% LD% O-Zwing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact%
2010 633 17.1% 9.8% 40.2% 40.8% 19.0% 24.6% 60.7% 42.3% 82.6%
2011 354 20.9% 8.5% 38.9% 40.5% 20.6% 23.8% 61.0% 42.6% 79.3%
2012 327 23.2% 11.3% 32.2% 40.2% 27.6% 18.9% 56.6% 38.2% 79.5%
2013 501 24.8% 10.8% 33.2% 41.6% 25.2% 22.6% 57.1% 40.5% 77.7%
2014 300 25.0% 9.0% 31.3% 51.3% 17.4% 23.6% 61.3% 43.1% 78.8%

Drew’s plate discipline hasn’t changed all that much these last five years. For whatever reason he didn’t swing as much as usual in 2012, either at pitches in (Z-Swing%) or out (O-Swing%) of the zone, but otherwise his swing and contact rates have held steady the last few seasons. He’s drawing the same number of walks but his strikeout rate is climbing, faster than the ever-increasing league-wide strikeout rate. If Drew isn’t swinging at substantially more pitches out of the zone or making substantially less contact in general, it suggests that maybe selectivity is the problem. He’s taking too many hittable pitches. I dunno.

The fly ball stuff is a bigger problem than the increased strikeouts because fly balls will kill a player’s batting average, especially when the player’s average fly ball distance has gradually declined over the last few seasons like Drew’s (via Baseball Heat Maps):

Stephen Drew batted ball distance cropped

It’s not a huge decline, but it’s a decline nonetheless. Most 250-something-foot fly balls are caught for outs. Especially these days with teams focusing on defense more than ever. Drew’s batting average continues to sink and this explains why, at least somewhat. (Remember, batted ball data includes some scorer’s bias. One scorer’s fly ball is another’s line drive.) More strikeouts and more medium-depth fly balls has killed Drew’s offensive production these last few years, and not all of it can be blamed on the traumatic ankle injury either.

Now, that said, I don’t think Drew will be as bad as he was last year again. He almost can’t be that bad again, right? He is only 31 (32 in March) and he’s an athletic guy, so falling off from a 109 wRC+ in 2013 to a 44 wRC+ in 2014 and having that be his true talent level doesn’t seem possible to me. I’m not saying he’s a true talent 109 wRC+ guy either. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. I just don’t know know where. Drew’s last few seasons have been very weird. The scouting report will be a huge factor here. Forget the numbers; how do teams think he’s looked?

Glovework

The Yankees moved Drew to second base in deference to Jeter last year even though he had never played a position other than shortstop in his entire career, MLB or minors. He had some inexperience-related hiccups at first but settled in eventually, and I thought he actually looked quite good at second by the end of the season. That’s a testament to his athleticism and baseball instincts, I think.

Of course, the Yankees would be looking at Drew as their regular shortstop now, no questions asked. The defensive stats all agree he was a disaster at short earlier in his career, back around 2006-08, but the numbers have been all over the map these last five seasons. Here are the stats:

Innings at SS DRS UZR Total Zone FRAA
2010 1,259.1  0 8.9 -2 -2.3
2011 731.1 3 4.3 -1 -2.5
2012 658.2 -7 -7.0 -4 -4.2
2013 1,093.1 -2 5.3 -3 -4.6
2014 413.1 4 3.0 -2 -0.3
Total 4,156.0 -2 14.5 -12 -13.9

So we’ve got some differences of opinion, huh? Both Total Zone and FRAA have rated Drew as consistently below-average while UZR has him above-average with the exception of 2012, which makes sense because he was coming off the ankle injury. DRS is all over the place. I guess that means the consensus is he’s below-average in the field?

That goes against what my eyes tell me. I’ve always thought Drew was very good in the field. But my opinion could be skewed after watching hundreds and thousands of ground balls scoot by Jeter over the years. I’d like to think I watch enough non-Yankees baseball to know an above-average shortstop when I see one, but maybe my brain needs to be re-calibrated. For what it’s worth, Keith Law (subs. req’d) said he believes Drew “can play average defense at shortstop for 120 games or so” in 2015.

Contract Estimates

It’s obvious at this point Drew is going to wind up a one-year “prove yourself” contract. Maybe something with a low base salary and a ton of incentives based on plate appearances. That would be the best case scenario for the team, not so much Drew himself. Here are some contract estimates from around the world wide baseball web:

  • FanGraphs Crowdsourcing: One year at $7M.
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d): One year at $8M to $10M.
  • Jim Bowden (subs. req’d): One year at $8M. (He predicted the Victor Martinez contract exactly. Like I said, he’s so weirdly excellent at this.)

Sounds about right to me. Drew signed for the pro-rated qualifying offer last year and wound up taking home approximately $10.1M. A one-year deal at $8M would represent a pay cut strikes me as fair value. You’d be asking the guy to be your starting shortstop. That job doesn’t pay, like, $2M on the open market, even after the year Drew had.

In Conclusion

Drew might be the most complicated and difficult to analyze free agent on the market this winter. Between his awful but Spring Training-less season in 2014, his injuries from 2011-13, and his production in 2013, who knows who the real Stephen Drew is? The best case scenario seems to be the 2013 version and the worst case scenario (2014) was so bad I can’t possibly believe that’s the real him. It can’t be, right?

I think we can all agree Plan A for filling the shortstop hole this offseason would be acquiring a young player who could man the position not only in 2015, but for the next five or six years as well. I prefer Starlin Castro but maybe you prefer someone like Didi Gregorius or Jose Iglesias. That’s cool. We all have our own favorite flavors. But trading for that young shortstop might not be possible. Trading for an older shortstop like Alexei Ramirez or Jimmy Rollins might not be possible either.

If that is the case, the Yankees will have to decide between going short-term and rolling the dice with Drew on a one-year contract, or committing multiple years and many millions of dollars to another free agent like Hanley, Asdrubal, or Lowrie. Drew’s recent history is ugly and there are a lot of reasons not to sign him. But, if the Yankees opt for one of the other free agents, chances are they’ll have to move that guy to another position and find themselves looking for a shortstop again next winter, just like they will be if they sign Drew.