Friday, July 24, 2015

"Drew: Pride Of The Yankees' Front Office" A Timely One-Year Anniversary Story

By Barry Millman

With the August 1st trading deadline just days away and much of the baseball world's attention focused on divisional races and potential deals that could tip their outcomes one way or another, I thought Yankee fans might feel cheated if someone didn't take a few minutes to commemorate the upcoming one-year anniversary of an important player whose career in pinstripes began at last year's deadline: Stephen Drew.

I also thought, in its own small insignificant way, this blog might help a difficult situation by shining its tiny flashlight on how a short-term bad idea became a longer-term festering one by simply remembering the past -- because those who don't are condemned to repeat it. It's a hard lesson not easily learned by some; including, apparently, some baseball executives.

For better or worse -- and I think anyone who is reading this knows which one -- Drew is in many ways the face of this year's Yankee team's deficiencies. Over the last year,  he has been the team's starting second baseman, and despite being one of the team's worst overall performers in a fill-in stint last year he was brought back for a second one this season and has proven to be nothing more than the same player in a bigger sample size: a solid glove attached to a bat that represents a black hole in the batting order more than eight out of ten times.

More than any other position player in recent memory, he has become a magnifying glass through which the fan base can clearly see how the team's management stubbornly refuses to admit its mistakes when it desperately overreaches to rationalize his presence in the lineup. His dead weight blocks the door not just to a potentially better player but to a better philosophy of roster construction  -- and with the full weight and support of management pressing hard behind him.

As noted above, Drew, Pride Of The Yankees' Front Office  is really a two-part story that takes place over two seasons. The first part is entitled "The Trade: Playoff Race Upgrade" which I present below. I'm still working on Part Two and, quite frankly, it's not a pleasant chore reliving this tale much less writing about. I'd much rather be basking in the sweep of the Orioles and writing about what a great position the team is in for a run at the post-season and how to make the team better at the trade deadline. 

But many far better writers and analysts are doing that already,  and if the team is in fact contemplating any moves at the trade deadline, I think Drew's story is an important one for all to remember -- and since somebody's got to do it, here's Part One.

Happy anniversary, Stephen. 

Drew: Pride Of The Yankees' Front Office

Part One 
The Trade: Playoff Race Upgrade

Once upon a time on a website far, far away in a land called Bristol, Connecticut, a  story announcing a trade was posted by ESPN's Andrew Marchand announcing the  Boston Red Sox had traded their shortstop Stephen Drew to the Yankees for their infielder Kelly Johnson.

Johnson had started at six positions for the Yankees over the course of 77 games; mostly at first and third base subbing for other oft-injured Yankee starters whose names shall not appear here for the sake of brevity and fear of gluten recontamination. At the time of the trade he had joined the ranks of the disabled himself with a pulled groin, but left the Bombers carrying a .219 batting average and had hit six home runs and drove in or scored 43 runs. 

Along with Drew, the story said, Boston had sent along a half million dollars -- which covered about half of the remaining $1 million of Johnson's $3 million salary -- and the Yankees, in return, would inherit all of  Drew's remaining Boston salary; nearly $5 million.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he saw Drew as both a big trade deadline upgrade over Johnson in the lineup who could help the team get to the playoffs in 2014 and, if he performed as the GM expected, be the potential heir to team captain Derek Jeter's shortstop role the following season.

"We believe in Stephen's abilities," he said.

Drew, who had hit .253 for  Boston the prior year on their way to a World Series championship, had turned down their $14.1 million qualifying offer at the end of the 2013 season expecting to be a hot property in the free agent market.

But when nobody came calling with a better offer, he re-signed with them in late May for $10 million and two months later, with the final days of July dwindling, the team found itself buried in the cellar along with Drew's bat, which had hit at a  .176 clip and had drove in or scored a combined 22 runs in 145 plate appearances -- fully justifying, as it turned out, why all those phones never called his.

The Red Sox and their GM, Ben Cherington, were in full-scale selling mode by then and had found takers for Jon Lester, John Lackey, Andrew Miller and outfielder Jonny Gomes.

But not for Drew. Once again, not at all surprisingly, nobody was returning phone messages with his name mentioned in them.

Nobody but Brian Cashman, that is.

"I floated a text Ben Cherington's way," Cashman said. "We worked very quickly off of that."

It's safe to say "quickly" is probably one of the Yankee GM's all-time understatements.

In 227 plate appearances  as a Yankee, Johnson had batted .217 with six HRs and driven in or scored 43 runs that year.

With an offer on Cherington's phone to dump the anemic-hitting Drew and his remaining $5 million salary in exchange for a versatile, disposable $500,000  utilityman with a solid glove  and better offensive production  who could be moved around so better younger players could get reps and develop,  it must be left to historians to determine if Ben's reply texts to Brian broke any official speed records or if injuries to his fingers, hand and wrist resulted from the ensuing exchange of high-fives with his Boston front-office colleagues.

So how did The Trade turn out for the two teams the rest of the way?

Johnson appeared in just eight games for Boston and batted .160 -- 4-for-25 -- driving in one run and scoring one run. One month later, Boston dealt him and Michael Almanzar to the Orioles for shortstop Ivan DeJesus and second baseman Jemille Weeks. Baseball-Reference calculated his player value to the Red Sox during his time with them at -0.1 Wins Above Replacement.

The Yankees got a little more from Drew -- or a lot less, depending how you look at it. He batted .150 -- 21-for 140 -- driving in 15 runs and scoring seven runs.  Baseball-Reference calculated his player value to the Yankees at -0.6 Wins Above Replacement.

When the season ended, the Yankees had missed the playoffs, and Drew and Johnson -- the latter having rebounded somewhat with the O's over his final 19 games to bat .231  -- were free agents once again. 

For Johnson, a low price tag, versatility and combined .215 BA, seven HRs, 27 RBI and 29 runs scored over 265 sporadic at-bats with three AL East teams assured him continued  interest from clubs as an economical bench player. 

For Drew, who had failed to come close to meeting his new general manager's expectations or his price tag,  the future was much murkier.  

His season had been a trifecta of spectacular failures: first, as a cautionary tale by declining what turned out to be an overly generous qualifying offer and sitting out the first two months of the season waiting for his phone to ring;  then, returning to the scene of his greatest triumphs and busting badly; and finally, as a contributing factor to a failed playoff run by a contender. 

Would Drew's phone ever ring again? Did he deserve another shot? Who would dare chance it and why? 

For the answers to these and other questions, stay tuned to this blog for Part Two of Drew: Pride Of The Yankees' Front Office. 

You can email Barry Millman at and follow him on Twitter @nyyankeefanfore.