Stephen Drew out (for now)

By Jason Wojciechowski on October 29, 2012 at 10:55 PM

The A's went right on ahead and declined their half of Stephen Drew's $10 million mutual option today. If you don't believe me, here's Susan Slusser and here's Jane Lee and if you don't believe them? I don't know what to tell you. Go ask ESPN if it's true.

Here's a factoid noted in Slusser's piece: Drew also declined his half of the option. As I noted, it's a mutual option, so it only took one side declining for the thing not to be operative next year, but knowing that both sides wanted to go a different direction is instructive. You already know this (though the immediate Twitter reaction from non-A's fans didn't necessarily reflect it), but declining Drew's option is not exactly the same thing as trading him or dropping him in the ocean. He could very well be the A's starting shortstop in 2013, it just won't be on a one-year deal for $10 million.

Or rather, it very likely won't be that. In theory, I guess it's possible that the midpoint of the negotiations that the A's and Drew end up working toward could still be that contract as each is hoping for something different and better. But that isn't terribly likely.

It's worth noting that I have no idea how well Drew is going to perform next year (or the year after, or the year after that, since the word is that the A's and Drew are talking about a multi-year deal). I say this not because we don't have any idea about any players, but because Drew presents a particularly difficult case. After a career of typical Drewness (very good performance from 2008 to 2010 when healthy, but with nagging injuries here and there), he suffered a horrible ankle break in 2011 that kept him on the DL for 11 months. He still hit enough in the first half of 2011 to be worth about a win above replacement (per WARP), but a slow recovery appears to have dragged down his 2012, as he was well under replacement level in his time in Arizona before being pretty good in Oakland. It works out to a replacement-level year, though A's fans would be forgiven for not knowing that, since all they saw was the solid hitter (quite good for a shortstop) and decent defender that adds up to a good player overall.

Did Drew recover from his injury right around the time he moved to Oakland? Was it just a fluke of timing? Was he as recovered as he's ever going to be from day one and thus our best judgment isn't either his Arizona half or his Oakland one but the full 79 games of 0.0 WARP?

You'll forgive me if I don't put much stock in talk of "he's healthy now" and so forth, of course. What if the A's had acquired him and he hadn't hit? Would anybody have said he's healthy? Regardless of whether he actually is? What if he'd had some stuff bloop in and gotten a few more mistake pitches to drive in Arizona? Would anyone have said he wasn't fully back yet? Regardless of whether he actually was?

I'm not saying that anybody is necessarily lying about Drew, though players and coaches and executives will do that, too. I'm just noting that at the very least, we're all subject to the desire to provide explanations for the outcomes we see, even when the inputs that create those outcomes are impossible to truly determine.

I am lightly rooting for Drew to come back. I think I've mentioned the A's in-house options before, but just in case you've forgotten: on the current 40-man roster are Adam Rosales, Brandon Hicks, and Eric Sogard. If any of these guys were better than Drew, then Billy Beane would not have made a trade.

What about free agents?

  • Jason Bartlett got released by the Padres
  • Yuniesky Betancourt wasn't even a starter on the Royals
  • Ronny Cedeno wasn't a starter on the Mets
  • Cesar Izturis's best year with the bat was 2004
  • Luis Rodriguez has the most generic possible name, didn't start for Seattle, and can't hit
  • Marco Scutaro is a better player than anyone (read: me) realizes, but he might be done as an every-day shortstop and the Giants may have to bring him back or else face significant wrath from their fanbase -- bidding against a team with significant external pressure to sign a player isn't a path to success

There are some halfway decent trade targets out there, in particular the Blue Jays' pair of shortstops, Mike Aviles and Yunel Escobar, but trading with Alex Anthopolous isn't like trading with Dan O'Dowd: you don't get to fill holes on your roster by giving up junk and grossness when you're dealing with Toronto.

You can see, then, why I'd be happy to welcome Drew back to the fold, even as I recognize that I'm as biased by his Oakland performance as any other A's fan who almost never watched the Diamondbacks in 2012. I see his .267 TAv in Oakland, which would have ranked sixth among qualifying shortstops, and I think there's no reason he couldn't do it again. I see his 0.6 WARP in 40 games and I extrapolate to the 150 he played three times in four years from 2007 to 2010 and I get 2.25 WARP, an above-average player (who would have been 12th among 2012 shortstops) who, if the A's can get him for less than $10 million, will earn his salary easily. I look at the the trade market and see that even the attractive options weren't that good: Escobar and Aviles had nearly identical final values of 1.2 and 1.1 WARP, though they were shaped differently, with Escobar's value coming on defense and Aviles's coming with the bat (relatively).

I guess there's always Jimmy Rollins, and he was the best shortstop in baseball this year per WARP (tied with Starlin Castro), but he's 33 and 2009-10 showed significant downside (didn't hit at all in 2009; missed half the year in 2010), and, most importantly, makes $11 million per year. If a potential contract with Drew is coming in at something more like 2/$16 million (just to throw a number) or even three years at the same rate, then that's not only money saved that can go elsewhere, but prospects saved in not having to swing a trade, too.

But like I said, Drew is difficult to project. What if he hits like Cliff Pennington and sees his throwing arm drop to David Eckstein levels? What if he spends the entirety of his next contract, where that contract puts him, on the disabled list? These are possible outcomes for any player at any time (except Mike Trout), but they're fresh, real, imminent possibilities for Drew.

Oh, and I've spent this entire thread talking as if the A's get to make the decisions and it's just a matter of where to put their money. Taking a quick glance around baseball, though, at the teams that could use a shortstop: Boston, Tampa, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and maybe Los Angeles (if they also want to move Hanley Ramirez to third). At least two of those teams have thoughts of contention and thus could be interested in a player like Drew to upgrade a weak spot.

Have I mentioned lately how glad I am that I'm not a general manager?

Two more Stephen Drew links:

  • Tamara Davis tosses 3/$20 million out as a Drew possibility and also mentions something I missed, which is that Mike Ekstrom signed a minor-league deal with the A's.

  • Alan Torres notes that Grant Green could be a "SCREW IT PUNT THE DEFENSE" option, though I think that's the longest of long shots. He also mentions Elvis Andrus as a possibility for trade, which makes sense given Texas's Jurickson Profar / Ian Kinsler situation. And by "situation," I mean "those guys are both on the team along with Andrus and putting any of them in left field would be kind of a waste."

Let me also comment on the idea that the A's could send Chris Young in a trade for a shortstop and thus come out ahead of where they were a week ago: while we can never rule anything out, this would require the baseball trade market to be massively inefficient. Consider what the A's traded for Chris Young: a shortstop. Why did this trade happen? Because Arizona needed a shortstop (in part). Thus, if there were a better shortstop than Cliff Pennington available that Chris Young could fetch, Kevin Towers would have fetched him.

I would also like to address the idea that Elvis Andrus is too smug and thus would not make a good Athletic: stop that.