On Tuesday, it was announced that the Yankees had re-signed infielder Stephen Drew to a one-year, $5 million contract. The 31-year-old is entering his 10th season and played his first six seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks and then played for the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox. He will likely be the starting second baseman to begin the 2015 season with Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela being the back-up.
In 46 games with the Yankees last season after being traded from the Red Sox for Kelly Johnson, Drew hit only .150 with three homers and 15 RBIs. Before being traded to the Yankees he played in 39 games for the Red Sox, and his season totals in his 85 total games came to seven homers, 26 RBIs, 14 doubles, a .237 OBP and a very low .162 average.
However, he did not have a spring training or play in the first two months of the season because a team would have had to give up a first-round pick if they had signed up earlier as a result of his qualifying offer, so he could produce stats similar to his career averages. He has a .256 average in nine seasons, which is significantly higher than what he produced last season.
He was the Red Sox shortstop when they won the World Series in 2013, and he hit .253 with 13 homers, 67 RBIs, six steals, 29 doubles, a .333 OBP and a .443 SLG percentage to go with his reliable defense at short (.984 Fielding% + only eight errors). His best season came in 2008 when he was 25 and in his third campaign with the Diamondbacks. He had career-highs of 152 games, a .291 average, 21 homers, 44 doubles and 91 runs scored. The Yankees would take anything between the season he produced in 2013 and 2008.
Refsnyder likely would have had the edge over Pirela if the Yankees did not re-sign Drew since he has more upside and is already better offensively, but since Drew is back Refsnyder will be able to compete with Pirela in spring training to either be the back-up second baseman or the starting second baseman with Triple-A Scranton. Pirela is a 25-year-old utility infielder without much upside while being able to contribute something on offense and defense. Two more months playing with the RailRiders could be beneficial for Refsnyder since the 77 games he played there last season and the only ones he has played above Double-A.
Refsnyder was a right fielder during his stellar tenure at the University of Arizona, and he will only be entering his third season playing second base. He greatly improved defensively last season as he committed 12 errors across two levels and only three of those came at the more challenging Triple-A, but in his first season playing second in 2013, he had 25 errors combined in two levels of A ball. He could use some more fine tuning at Triple-A to improve his defense.
The Yankees can’t really lose from this deal because if Refsnyder is flawless on defense in spring training and continues to hit like he did last season at Double-A and Triple-A (.318 with 14 homers) and if Drew doesn’t hit at all, Refsnyder could start the season at second and the Yankees could eat Drew’s contract. However, a scenario with a higher probability is that Drew shows some of his previous form on offense and his usual solid defense, which would lead him to start at second and Refsnyder to try to improve with the big club or in Scranton.
One other possible benefit of having Drew as the second baseman to start the season is that he will be able to be a veteran presence for the young Did Gregorius at shortstop. Gregorius, who was acquired earlier in the offseason in a trade with the Diamondbacks, has never spent a full season in the major leagues. Drew was a starting shortstop for eight seasons and played 122 games or more in five of those seasons, which proves that he could help Gregorius improve offensively and to a lesser extent defensively because Gregorius is already an elite defender.