The Washington Nationals have fortified their infield depth by signing veteran shortstop/second baseman Stephen Drew to a one-year, $3 million deal with an additional $1.25 million in performance incentives, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman.
Drew, 32, enters the Nationals’ infield after a two-year stretch of disappointing offensive production. Last season as the New York Yankees’ starting second baseman, Drew hit a meager .201 but did contribute 17 HR and 44 RBI in 131 games. The year prior, splitting time between the Boston Red Sox and Yankees, Drew hit just .162 with seven HR and 26 RBI.
At the end of last season, Drew missed most of September as he suffered a vestibular concussion. The injury brought on dizzy spells and impacted Drew’s equilibrium. Speaking to ESPN’s Wallace Matthews, Drew described how the injury was impacting his baseball skills at the time.
“It’s just constant right now. I have to concentrate for ground balls and hitting and everything because of my balance and feeling the way I do. It’s not that I don’t want to go. It’s just not fair to me and it’s not fair to the team.”
While the injury ended his 2015 season, it’s not expected to impact his 2016 campaign.
On the surface, the signing is curious, partnered with Drew’s recent struggles and the Nationals signing of second baseman Daniel Murphy last week. In addition to Murphy, the team already has several options in the infield, including third baseman Anthony Rendon, shortstop Danny Espinosa, and top prospect Trea Turner.
As noted by MLB Trade Rumors, Drew will likely get a decent amount of time at shortstop in a platoon with Espinosa. For his career, Espinosa — a switch-hitter — has not hit as well against right-handed pitchers, evidenced by his career .217 career batting average against them, per FanGraphs.
By comparison, Drew is a career .260 hitter against right-handed pitchers with 88 HR and 347 RBI to his credit, via FanGraphs.
At one time, Stephen Drew — the younger brother of both former outfielder J.D. Drew (1998-2011) and former pitcher Tim Drew (2000-2004) — was considered one of the most promising young shortstops in baseball. After a solid four-year stretch from 2007-2010 for the Arizona Diamondbacks in which Drew averaged 15 HR and 63 RBI, the Hahira, Georgia, native suffered a devastating injury.
On July 20, 2011, Drew slid into home plate and fractured his ankle, via MLB.com. The injury carried over into the 2012 season and cost him a total 11 months of his career.
Drew returned to play in 40 games for the Diamondbacks in 2012 but hit just .193 with two HR and 12 RBI. At the MLB trade deadline that year, Drew was traded to the Oakland Athletics for a minor-league infielder Sean Jamieson, per ESPN. But he hit just .250 with five HR and 16 RBI for the A’s.
After 2012, Drew became a free agent for the first time.
Drew signed with the Red Sox for the 2013 season and seemed to recapture some of his former glory. In 124 games for Boston, Drew hit .253 with 13 HR and 67 RBI as the shortstop for the eventual 2013 World Series champions. In the postseason, Drew struggled as he hit just .113 between all three rounds. But he did contribute a big home run in the series-clinching Game 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Therefore, Drew will enter 2016 three years removed from his most recent productive season. However, he is still rated a solid defender as, despite his career -2.6 UZR/150 at shortstop, Drew has a career Defensive Runs Saved total of +6 (via FanGraphs).
As mentioned, Drew has spent parts of the last two seasons at second base. He also spent a few innings at third base in 2015.
The Nationals want to give aforementioned top prospect Trea Turner more time to develop, so Drew should serve as a solid one-year stopgap for the team.
[Featured Image by Jason Miller/Getty Images]