Mets Free Agency: The market for Stephen Drew

Jamie Squire

Scott Boras would like us to believe that Stephen Drew is a hot commodity, but who is in the running for the top remaining shortstop?

Just weeks after MLB Trade Rumors predicted Stephen Drew would land with the New York Mets, it looks like the Mets will be priced out of the market for the best shortstop left on the free agent market. It's become common knowledge that Sandy Alderson is somewhat averse to long-term deals, and Jhonny Peralta's shiny new four-year, $53 milllion pact could become a benchmark in Drew negotiations.

Scott Boras, who represents Drew, will likely draw out negotiations as long as he can. The Mets might only have a limited amount to spend this winter, and already over $7 million of their budget has been committed to Chris Young. Long story short, it would appear that Stephen Drew is set to sign a five-year megadeal with a team other than the Mets.

But is this really the case? Is Stephen Drew going to sign a contract that exceeds the value of Peralta's by tens of millions of dollars? It's highly doubtful. Comparing Drew to Peralta may be convenient because they were the two top shortstops available on the open market, but other than that the players are radically different, with Peralta outperforming Drew in just about every facet of the game.

2011-2013 Peralta Drew
Games Played per Season 134.3 96.3
Offensive Runs Above Average per Season 5.5 -1.9
UZR/Season 8.5 0.9

Not only is Peralta a better player than Drew, but his bat and durability made him an option at third base and potentially in the outfield. This increased the pool of potential teams for Peralta drastically, driving up his price tag. Due to his superior play and positional versatility, Peralta was a significantly more valuable free agent than Drew is. When considering that Drew will cost a new team a draft pick on top of that, it seems as though the two names should not even be mentioned in the same breath.

So if Peralta isn't a good comparison, how do we assess Drew's potential contract? First, we need to assess just how good Drew actually is. 2013 was a phenomenal bounce-back year for Drew, who managed to post a 3.4 fWAR and flash some impressive leather during Red Sox' World Series run.

Still, based on his volatile past, Steamer projects Drew to be a precisely league average player in 2014 with a 2.0 fWAR and a .306 wOBA. While this certainly isn't bad, "league-average" is already a strong divergence from how Stephen Drew is being portrayed this off-season. Based on Steamer projections, these are the teams that would seem most likely to receive an upgrade at shortstop by adding him.

Team Current SS Projected WAR Estimated Free Payroll* Highest Unprotected Pick
Diamondbacks Didi Gregorious 1.5 $1,000,000 16th
Tigers Jose Iglesias 1.4 $13,000,000 26th
Astros Jonathan Villar 0.9 $15,000,000 45th
Royals Alcides Escobar 1.3 $23,000,000 19th
Twins Pedro Florimon 0.7 $13,000,000 49th
Mets Ruben Tejada 0.3 $21,000,000 52nd

There does not seem to be a clear fit. The Royals, Tigers, and Diamondbacks could improve with the addition of Drew, but all three have options at short that they believe in and stand to lose a significant draft pick. Additionally, these teams have very limited budgets that they likely will be spending on bigger needs elsewhere. The Astros are far from contention, have severe revenue issues from their broken regional sports network, and only stand to lose by spending significant dollars on a marginal upgrade at shortstop.

This narrows down the market to the Twins and the Mets. Both teams have similar needs for a shortstop and minimal cost in terms of a draft pick. Still, a scenario where Drew signs with the Twins is unlikely. After the Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes signings, the Twins have limited available funds to work with. There has been little connecting the Twins to shortstops in the first place, and they seem more interested in acquiring a catcher or perhaps yet another veteran arm for the rotation. This leaves the Mets as the most logical fit for Drew, with very little competition.

Still, there is a lot of hearsay connecting Drew to other clubs. Although they have yet to extend an offer, the New York Yankees have been linked to Drew as a possible replacement for Derek Jeter. The fit may not be perfect, but a scenario could exist where the Yankees move Jeter off of shortstop to either third base—provided that Alex Rodriguez serves a suspension—or designated hitter. This would enable the Yankees to slot Drew as a starting shortstop.

The Pittsburgh Pirates also could theoretically move Jordy Mercer off of short and enter the market for Drew, and the Los Angeles Dodgers could move Hanley Ramirez to third and pursue Drew, instead of engaging in the barren market for third basemen.

Many contending teams could find themselves in a position to add Drew, but all of them are considerable stretches, and most would need to move another player off of shortstop. In all likelihood, Drew is not many of these teams' first choice, and they will have to lose out on other upgrades before turning to him as an option. Many of these teams are also more likely to pursue utility infielder Omar Infante, who is projected to post a .315 wOBA in 2014.

Infante is offensively similar to Drew, has experience at just about every position, and is not tied to draft pick compensation. These characteristics make him likely to have a market similar to Jhonny Peralta, attracting contending teams in search of shortstops, third basemen and second basemen. Infante should have a thriving market of contending teams looking to add a reliable piece to their infield, and the loser of that market could turn to Drew as a contingency.

The bottom line is that if Stephen Drew were to sign a contract right this second, he'd likely sign with the Mets, and not for all that much. No other team has as strong of a need at shortstop, the available payroll, or the protected first round pick that the Mets have, and there is no indication that the Mets intend to pay any more than is absolutely necessary.

This is probably why Buster Olney opined that Drew was better off accepting the Red Sox' qualifying offer. It's apparent, however, that Boras is poised to wait. Wait for Alex Rodriguez to be suspended, for the Pirates to lose out on a first baseman, for the Dodgers to lose out on their first choice at third base, and, finally, for Omar Infante to sign. Soon, the market for Drew will have another contender or two, but don't count on a five-year megadeal. It's not going to happen.

*Estimated free payroll takes the team's 2013 payroll, multiplied by 1.01 if the team is one of the ten worst records in baseball, or 1.11 if the team is not, and subtracts payroll commitments based on information from Cot's Contracts and Matt Swartz Arbitration Estimates for MLB Trade Rumors. For the Mets specifically, information was also used from Toby Hyde's assessment of the Mets' payroll.

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