Monday, December 8, 2014

Born in Georgia? The Braves Would Like to Sign You

We heard - over and over - after the Braves signed outfielder Nick Markakis to a contract, it would represent a "homecoming" of sorts for Markakis. Though he wasn't born in Georgia, Markakis would relocate to the area with his family and attend both high school and college in the Peach State.

Recently, if Jon Heyman is to believed, the Braves have also been exploring another homecoming, this time with Georgia native Stephen Drew. Brother of J.D. Drew, who played with the Braves for one season and cost the Braves some guy we don't want to talk about, Stephen will be 32 when the season opens up and has played for a quartet of teams over the last three years after being the everyday guy at shortstop for the Diamondbacks to open up his career.

It's the kind of deal that concerns people like me. Going after players who have sentimental attachment either from their previous time in Atlanta (howyadoing David Ross) or geographic location rather than focusing on productive major league talent. Of particular concern in regards to Drew is even though he's hardly been productive over the the last four seasons, he has continued to take millions to the bank with the help of his super agent, Scott Boras.

As far as just performance goes, Drew struggled last year after sitting out the beginning of the year. He was counting on a long-term deal to cover his early 30's following a year with Boston where he OPS'd .777, but none moved from theoretical to tangible and he ended up returning to Boston a month-and-a-half after the season began. A number of reasons led to this, but most notably, Drew was one of those hurt the most by the new free agent compensation rules. While Ervin Santana also signed late, the value of an innings eating starter remains significant enough. The value of a middle infielder who isn't better than average in anything he does? Not high enough to warrant the cash and the market for him quickly soured as Drew didn't want to settle for whatever offers did come his way. Once he did sign with the Red Sox, he couldn't hit his weight and it's not like he's Ray King or anything. Eventually, the BoSox dumped him on the Yankees for Kelly Johnson and he received a lot of playing time at second base, but hit even worse.

That leaves Drew, who wouldn't settle for one-year contract offers a year ago, searching for the right situation for a one-year, make good contract where he can parlay a good season in 2015 into one final long-term deal. He won't be making eight figures again this season, though how much he would sign for is a mystery. We are conditioned to believe Boras can get whatever he wants, but even he isn't a miracle worker. Plus, in a shallow market for middle infielders depresses the available teams interested in Drew, possibly artificially lowering his price tag. He has been linked to the Mets, Yankees, and A's this offseason, though the Yankees might no longer be interested.

What would Atlanta get on, say, a 1 year $4M contract with incentives?

Well, over the last four seasons, Drew has slashed .228/.305/.382. Pretty miserable. That was coming off a three year run with Arizona where he OPS'd .800. Defensively, Drew was a solid enough shortstop, posting positive UZR's in all but one of the last six seasons. His low DRS and Fans Scouting Report, courtesy of Fangraphs, tells the story of a guy who will make the plays he can get to, but won't wow you in any way. The wonderful Inside Edge defensive stats continue that narrative. Drew played second with the Yankees after his trade last year and his numbers weren't pretty, but I'm inclined to chalk that up to short sample size and learning on the job. The numbers tell me he should be a fairly decent second baseman.

As a stopgap, he's not terrible. He's also not that good. He's in that category that includes the guy the Yankees gave up for him. Players like Drew, KJ, and Jed Lowrie are one year, hope for magic types, or essentially what the Braves were looking for last season with Aaron Harang. Sometimes, it works out perfectly. Sometimes, they're Rico Brogna.

If the Braves sign Drew on the cheap, they will likely get even bang for their buck with a chance to get a bargain if Drew posts another three-win season like he did in 2013. If there is a bidding war, they should cut their loses and try Lowrie. If they want to make my heart happy, go sign KJ. He just needs a chance, man.

Overall, what you get from Drew is simple. More "mehness." He won't win you much, he won't be a sore thumb, he'll just be there and probably doing an average job. You won't miss him when he's gone just like none of us are hoping the Braves sign him. He's just okay.

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