By any team measure, the Boston Red Sox have been one of professional sports’ most successful teams since 2003, the beginning of GM Theo Epstein’s tenure. With two World Series titles and playoff appearances in six out of seven seasons, Epstein has made it difficult to criticize his acquisitions in Boston.
Still, despite their success, Red Sox fans have found a few moves to complain about. One of the more notable is Boston’s acquisition of J.D. Drew prior to the 2007 season, which has once again surfaced in the Boston media now that the Red Sox season is over. According to Cot’s Contracts, the deal was a five year deal for 70 million dollars. Entering 2007, Drew was a premier talent. In the four years prior to 2007, Drew compiled a wOBA of exactly .400 and a +23 UZR. Over these four years, Drew put up 18 WAR, good for 4.5 WAR per year. Drew was performing at an all-star level.
At the time, 4.5 WAR per year translated to roughly $17 million per year on the free agent market. Given the length of the deal, $70 million over five years seemed like a perfectly reasonable contract for the Red Sox to offer given their position on the revenue curve.
However, Drew only averaged 470 plate appearances per season dating back through 2003, and had a similar career average. He sustained DL stints every year of his career in St. Louis (1999-2003), and then was sent to the DL again by a hit-by-pitch in 2005.
Injury issues in 2007 limited Drew to 1.3 wins. Although he played in 140 games, he did spend time on the DL and it can easily be argued that his limited offensive and defensive production were due to the hamstring injury, an injury that can linger. That argument is only supported by Drew’s production in 2008 and 2009. Although he didn’t reach 550 PAs in either season, he played fantastic baseball when he was in the lineup, with wOBAs of .400 and .389 respectively and a total UZR of +16 in RF, combining for 8.7 WAR.
The Red Sox have paid Drew 42 million dollars in salary so far. It did indeed look bleak after Drew accrued only $5.5 million in value in 2007, but his fantastic years in 2008 and 2009 have been worth $39.3 million dollars. Right now, we have Drew as being worth slightly more than his contract, echoing Epstein’s response, “he’s actually come out to a tick more than $14 million per year.”
What needs to be understood here is how valuable 450 or 500 plate appearances of J.D. Drew really are. When healthy, Drew excels both at the plate and in the field. As such, even when limited to 2/3 of a season, he comes out more valuable than players that stay healthy. Take, as an example, Michael Young. Young’s misadventures in the field have been well documented, and as a result, despite averaging nearly 700 plate appearances per season since 2002, he’s only accrued 20.5 wins, due to a staggering UZR of -88.4, compared to Drew’s 29.8 in nearly 1600 fewer PAs.
Especially given the ability of the Red Sox to replace Drew with players like Rocco Baldelli, Drew’s play is invaluable. With his all-star skill set, Drew looks set to produce for the Red Sox through the remainder of his contract. The injuries will happen. The Red Sox are a good enough team to deal with them, and Drew is a championship-quality player while healthy.