Stephen Drew still could accept the reported one-year, $11 million offer to play one more season with the Boston Red Sox, but the longer the 30-year-old shortstop remains a free agent, the less likely it is he will wear the uniform of the defending World Series champions.
The Red Sox received an unexpected gift when veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster announced he will not pitch in 2014, a move that freed the team of his $13.25 million salary for 2014. Boston inked 35-year-old left-hander and Massachusetts native Chris Capuano to serve as a long reliever and spot starter, a role for which Dempster was slated. Capuano’s one-year deal is a tidy$2.25 million.
Should the Red Sox not bring back Drew, they will replace him with 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts, who is rated as the No. 2 overall prospect by MLB.com. Bogaerts hit .250 with one home run and five RBI in 50 plate appearances for Boston late last season and then batted .296 with a .893 OPS in 34 post-season plate appearances. He is one of the few players to have an impact in October before exhausting his rookie eligibility.
Bogaerts is one of the favorites to win the American League Rookie of the Year in 2014. If Drew returns, Bogaerts will likely share time with Will Middlebrooks at third base. If the Red Sox opt to not re-sign Drew, Bogaerts will start at shortstop and Middlebrooks will open the campaign at third base.
Middlebrooks, who many Red Sox officials believe has the potential to slug 30 home runs in a season, belted 17 last year, but he struggled with pitch selection and struck out 98 times in 374 plate appearances. He batted .227 with a .271 on-base percentage and a .696 OPS. Still, the fifth round pick out of high school in 2007 is a promising young player who could have a breakout year in 2014.
If they do not bring back Drew, the Red Sox will likely sign or acquire a veteran shortstop for added infield depth as Plan B in case Middlebrooks struggles at the plate. Bogaerts can proficiently play third base. Boston has the highly regarded Garin Cecchini, whose natural position is third base. The 22-year-old left-handed hitter has a .312 average, a .417 on-base percentage and a .874 OPS in three minor league seasons. If Middlebrooks rebounds in 2014, the Red Sox could move Cecchini to first base or left field to make room for him in the lineup in 2015.
As for this year, Cecchini is slated to open the year at Triple-A Pawtucket. The Red Sox did acquire versatile infielder Jonathan Herrera from Colorado this offseason for left-handed pitcher Franklin Morales. The 29-year-old switch-hitter batted .292 in 215 plate appearances for the Rockies last season, but he is best suited as a utility infielder who provides depth at second base, shortstop and third base.
In the minors, Boston has Brock Holt, who is comparable to Herrera as a versatile utility infielder. Top prospect Deven Marrero, a defensively sound shortstop who was the club’s first round pick out of Arizona State University in 2012, is probably a year away from being Major League ready.
Since the Red Sox value Bogaerts and Middlebrooks, they could decide to save the money they would pay Drew for an acquisition before the trade deadline. Yet, because Major League ready shortstop depth is one of the team’s few weaknesses, expect the Red Sox to at least add a backup shortstop during spring training.