Last off-season, the Red Sox made Stephen Drew a qualifying offer, giving him a chance to return for 2014 with a $14.1 million salary. He turned it down, and sought a multi-year offer in free agency instead. No offers came, and the Red Sox moved on. They brought Xander Bogaerts to camp as their regular shortstop, and gave Will Middlebrooks a chance to reclaim the starting third base job. While Boras made noise about the problems with the qualifying offer system, he continued to suggest that Drew’s market would emerge once the draft occurred and the attached compensation pick went away. The draft will be held in two weeks, and so Drew could have signed with any club as a “true free agent” 16 days from now.
Instead, today, he essentially accepted the qualifying offer from the Red Sox, taking a pro-rated version of the $14 million salary he turned down seven months ago. Once he’s ready to resume facing live pitching, Drew will presumably once again take over as the Red Sox shortstop, with Bogaerts shifting back to third base, and Middlebrooks serving as depth or a trade chip once he returns from the DL.
For the Red Sox, this move is essentially a win-win. They get an immediate infield upgrade, especially with Middebrooks hurt, and yet continue to leave shortstop open for Bogaerts in the long term. Re-signing Drew for 2014 doesn’t close the door on Bogaerts moving back to SS again next year, and they avoid the long-term contract that Drew was seeking at the beginning of the off-season. While the Red Sox remain a contender in a mediocre AL East, they needed to get better, and this was the easiest way to improve their roster at the present time.
Additionally, the Red Sox benefit by not letting Drew sign with another AL contender. While the Tigers are running away with the American League Central, they still have a gaping hole at shortstop, and signing Drew after the draft to bolster their chances of winning in the postseason would have likely been a legitimate consideration. While signing Drew won’t single-handedly put the Red Sox back into the postseason, keeping him out of Detroit might very well prove to be a significant factor if the Red Sox end up facing the Tigers down the stretch. At the very least, they’re going to force a competitor to pay a higher price in trade to upgrade a weak spot, and there is value in forcing your competitors to pay higher prices.
For Drew, this is probably not a bad outcome either. Multiple reports have suggested that returning to Boston was his first choice, and while he forfeit about $4 million by not playing the first two months of the season, he did gain the right to not be eligible for a qualifying offer after this season, so he could very well make that difference up in his next contract if he plays well down the stretch. $10 million this year plus the chance at free agency without compensation might very well be more lucrative to Drew than $14 million with the threat of another qualifying offer.
Of course, if the plan was just to hold out long enough to avoid another QO, Drew could have theoretically offered to take this same deal back in April, and still received a larger share of the annual salary. But, perhaps the Red Sox really weren’t willing to sign Drew without giving Bogaerts and Middlebrooks a fair shake. Perhaps they needed to let the kids who came to spring training have a shot at the regular season before handing the job over to someone who didn’t come to camp on time. Perhaps rather than the Red Sox waiting on Drew, the last six weeks have been about Drew waiting for the Red Sox to come around.
Either way, this is pretty clearly a positive result for Boston, and not a bad one for Drew either, at least relative to his options over the winter. The fact that the qualifying offer created this situation remains unfortunate, but this isn’t a disaster for anyone. The Red Sox get an upgrade without a long-term cost, Drew gets to return to Boston and escape the qualifying offer system, and Boras gets to remind his future clients that turning down the qualifying offer in November doesn’t mean that that offer will disappear forever. I’d still like to see the QO system revamped or improved upon, but this is the kind of outcome that might reinforce MLB’s position that the system works well enough. And if Scott Boras hates the system, well, maybe to them, that’s a feature, not a bug.
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