By Stephen Miller
Mets fans and the media have made a lot of noise about free agent shortstop Stephen Drew’s potential of signing with the New York Mets. The incumbent Ruben Tejada had a terrible -0.3 WAR 2013 and Drew is the best alternative on the open market. The problem is that Drew is not worth the contract his agent Scott Boras is asking for.
Drew is an injury liability who has never played a full season in his eight-year career. In 2011 and 2012, he only played a combined 165 games. At probably $12 million per year for three to four years, his value could be sapped by the third year, when the Mets will have a better shot at the division title. Considering the physical demands to play shortstop, it would not be a surprise if he gets shifted to second base in three years. Drew can hit double digits in home runs and play great defense at a demanding position, but he would not become a top-tier second baseman.
In many ways, Drew in Queens makes sense for both the player and the club since the Mets would only sacrifice a third-round draft pick. But the Mets’ already slim chances of winning a championship in 2014 disappeared when Matt Harvey underwent major surgery late last season. While general manager Sandy Alderson shored up the outfield and added depth to the starting rotation, this team cannot compete with the Washington Nationals or Atlanta Braves, their National East rivals, in 2014, with or without Drew. Even if the Mets miraculously win 81 games, the second Wild Card would remain virtually out of reach.
Why not make a marginal upgrade for the team, some would ask. Drew is most likely better than Tejada in the near term because he has a better track record offensively and has provided superb defense in four of his past five seasons. At the age of 30, he probably only has two years left of his prime before one could expect a decline due to his age.
The incumbent Ruben Tejada is only 24 years old won’t come close to Drew’s power, but he is absolutely a serviceable shortstop that still has many years ahead of him. Last year, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was an astonishingly low .228, an indication that he had a very unlucky year on balls in play. What Tejada provides is surplus value. One million and one hundred thousand dollars is a bargain if he can provide 1 fWAR, which is worth approximately worth $5 million on the open market. In 2011 and 2012, he provided 1.6 and 1.8 fWAR respectively, far from a Top 10 shortstop yet still valuable.
If Tejada does not prove he can be an everyday shortstop this season the pickings are fruitful this next offseason. Here is the 2015 shortstop free agent class (age in parentheses):
Asdrubal Cabrera (29)
J.J. Hardy (32)
Derek Jeter (41)
Jed Lowrie (31)
Hanley Ramirez (31)
Jimmy Rollins (36) – vesting/club/player option
Target Hardy (a better Drew in every way). Target Cabrera. Target Lowrie. Heck, why not go for Ramirez? The Mets could also make a trade. The 2014 availabilities are not even close to what’s in store for 2015. Tejada had an awful 2013, but he is yet to reach his ceiling. He deserves more of a chance to stay on the field than Drew does a long-term contract.