May 20, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Tony Paul

Tigers Mailbag: Red Sox smart in giving deal to Stephen Drew, who's less wise to take it

Stephen Drew reportedly accepted a 1-year, $10 million deal with the Red Sox on Tuesday. (Elsa / Getty Images)

Well, no surprise there.

I've always had a rather fickle relationship with timing, and today was no different.

Just mere hours after my column posted Tuesday morning at detroitnews.com about the Tigers' increasing need for slick shortstop Stephen Drew's services, the free agent reportedly went off and signed a one-year (OK, make that part of one year) deal with his old team, the Red Sox, worth some $10 million.

Caught me off guard, obviously. But it did to others, as well.

Really, this makes no sense.

Drew, and his agent, Scott Boras, bravely stood their ground after rejecting an offseason $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Red Sox, then stood their ground some more when other ballclubs came calling on the cheap we'll call them meet-in-the-middle offers, since any suitors were having to part with not just a prime first-round draft pick, but also lose on first-round cash to spend in the draft.

And there Drew remained into spring training, then into Opening Day, a free agent. And he picks now to sign?

Now? Just three a little more than two weeks after the MLB draft after which no team would be charged a draft pick for signing him?

That date, June 7, figured to create an impressive bidding war between several teams, believed to be the Tigers, Yankees and Red Sox, for Drew, who destroys right-handed pitching and plays a very good shortstop.

And yet, he chose Tuesday to go crawling back to the Red Sox a team that is a shell of the club that won the 2013 World Series championship, with Drew at short.

Surely, this is Drew's worst performance since he batted .050 in last fall's ALCS.

On the flip side, it was an absolute no-brainer move for the Red Sox. They just lost third baseman Will Middlebrooks to a fractured finger, and there's no clue when he's going to return. And they're desperately lacking offense in the wake of Jacoby Ellsbury's departure, much evidenced in the three runs they scored during last weekend's three-game series against the Tigers.

Drew makes all the sense in the world for them. They can slot him into short and move shortstop Xander Bogaerts back over to third. That was their 2013 alignment.

The Red Sox also had a distinct advantage of other suitors. Since they'd be bringing back Drew, 31, they could sign him anytime without losing a draft pick and the corresponding pool of draft money. They had incentive to beat the clock.

They beat that clock Tuesday.

And they beat me, too.

Scoreboard: Timing 1,234, Tony 0 and counting.

Now, onto this week's Tigers Mailbag:

Question: So what does the Drew signing mean now for the Tigers? Todd Lutz

Answer: Excellent question.

No doubt, the Tigers will continue to explore their options though a Drew signing had to be near or at the top of their wish list.

Andrew Romine is a great defender, almost on Jose Iglesias' level, but can't hit his way out of a paper bag. Danny Worth is a good defender and an OK hitter, but obviously the Tigers don't like at him as a starting candidate otherwise, they wouldn't have chased down the aging Alex Gonzalez this spring.

The Tigers have two internal candidates to watch, but neither is the perfect answer.

There is Double-A shortstop Eugenio Suarez, who has some good pop in his bat and made some defensive plays the last two springs that made my job drop. He's that good with the glove folks.

That said, if the Tigers thought Suarez, 22, was far enough along in his development, he'd have been called up by now. They do not think he's that advanced.

Then there's Hernan Perez, who's had some cameo work in Detroit the last two years. He's also a nice defender, but isn't considered much of an offensive threat. The other sticking point: While he's playing shortstop at Triple-A Toledo, it's believed the team considers him a much better second baseman; he lacks the arm strength you typically see from a shortstop. So obviously, Perez, 25, isn't the ideal fix for the Tigers, either.

Now, sure, the Tigers could win the division with Romine as the everyday guy. In fact, I'm certain they could. They might even be able to win a World Series, too. But Mike Ilitch is getting no younger, so do they really take that risk?

Probably not. That leads them to look at trade possibilities ahead of the July 31 deadline. It's awfully tough to handicap that market now, given there are very few teams running away with their divisions, and their are very few teams out of contention, either.

Stay tuned on this front, folks.

One name to bounce around in your head now, should the Indians keep falling out of contention at a stunningly rapid pace: their shortstop, Asdrubal Cabrera. He's fallen out of favor a bit in Cleveland, but the Tigers might find themselves interested.

If so, however, you can bet Cabrera would cost a whole lot more than the Polaroid stock the Tigers traded to the Indians for their last shortstop, Jhonny Peralta.

Q: Please make me feel better about Drew Smyly's start. ViewtifulJeff

A: Hmm, OK, let me put on my Dr. Phil hat here.

Truth be told, you can't judge most professional athletes on one bad outing especially baseball players, who play a 162-game season. Every player will have ups and downs during such a marathon grind, with absolutely no exceptions. And Drew certainly had a bit of a clunker Monday night in Cleveland.

He just lacked command, particularly with his off-speed stuff.

That said, I will also say he was quite squeezed by the plate ump on his breaking ball. Some of that had to do with Alex Avila giving up on the pitch too early, but others should've been strikes. He wasn't missing by that much, when he wasn't bouncing it.

I look at it this way: Drew, 24, pitched in traffic all night long. In five innings, he allowed seven Indians hits and five walks.

Yet the bottom line is, he only allowed three runs, keeping the Tigers in the game so they could mount their ninth-inning comeback.

That's the mark of a good pitcher, one who can get himself out of trouble. Look at Justin Verlander's Cy Young/MVP season of 2011. With stunning regularity, he got himself out of the few jams he did find himself in.

With Drew, while the numbers weren't perfect, you have to admire the grit and fight.

Q: Odds of Max Scherzer staying? I don't think it's a foregone conclusion he is gone. Gautam

A: Of course it's no foregone conclusion. And as long as Ilitch runs the show, it never will be.

I've said for quite some time I think the Tigers can and will top the low-ball $144 million offer they made this spring. If he wins another Cy Young and he's off to an even better start this year than last how can they not?

That said, there are a couple things working against the Tigers.

One, the competition they will face for Scherzer's services. Look around baseball and you will see many big spenders who could use this No. 1 right-hander. The Yankees would love to slot him next to Masahiro Tanaka. The Red Sox would love to go righty-lefty with Scherzer and Jon Lester (assuming they can sign Lester, their own free agent). The Rangers could go 1-2 with Scherzer and Yu Darvish. And the Dodgers, well, they've got money to burn and stars in their eyes so Scherzer is a natural target.

Scherzer has a business background, and the ultimate businessman, Boras, as his agent. So he's looking at dollars. Will the Tigers top all those suitors? Big question.

The Tigers also have other issues facing them this offseason, namely two other free agents who are performing well: Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter. They also have decisions looming on Rick Porcello and Austin Jackson in the not-so-distant future.

Plus, they also have Scherzer's hand-picked successor, Robbie Ray, in holding.

So, sure, they'd love to keep Scherzer.

I just don't think the Tigers think they have to keep Scherzer to remain a perennial contender, and they're probably right.

Q: Is the reason Al Avila has stayed with the Tigers because the consensus is Dave Dombrowski will be the next commissioner? Bobby Codd

A: Every once in awhile, I get a question completely out of left field. This is one of those questions. And I like those questions.

That said, it's pretty tough to answer.

This much we do know: Avila, the Tigers assistant general manager, has had opportunities to interview for other GM positions. But for whatever reason, he has decided he's plenty satisfied with his job in Detroit as the first lieutenant to Dombrowski, the Tigers GM.

There are some reasons for this. One, the relationship between Avila and Dombrowski goes back a long time. They worked side by side with the Marlins, too, and came together to the Tigers. There's clearly a comfort and trust factor at play there.

Avila also is plenty compensated in his current position, and rightly so. He's a top-tier talent evaluator, as evidenced by all the minor-league free agents he picks off the trash heap who end up making significant contributions with the Tigers.

It's easy to evaluate the star players. It's quite hard to see something in a player who's been tossed aside by the Houston Astros, like J.D. Martinez.

The theory has been Avila would be next in line to the Tigers GM chair should Dombrowski leave, perhaps to be commissioner though that's looking less likely than a few months back or maybe to be just the Tigers president, rather than holding both titles. The White Sox made a similar shuffle recently, when GM Ken Williams took over as president and Rick Hahn moved into Williams' GM gig.

Who knows? Maybe something that could happen down the road in Detroit.

All I know is this: After a bumpy start to his Tigers tenure Dombrowski and Avila could've taken over the Red Sox around the same time they took over the Tigers, and by 2003 had wrapped must've been wondering what they hell they'd done Avila surely has settled in nicely to the area, and to the job.

And if this is as high as he goes, he's done very well for himself.?

tpaul@detroitnews.com
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