By and large, the shortstop position has been a problem for the Tigers since their resurgence in 2006. Sure, there have been brief moments of respite. Carlos Guillen compiled 9.5 WAR (per Fangraphs) in 2006 and 2007, and Jhonny Peralta put on a show at the plate in parts of the 2011 and 2013 seasons. Other than that, the Tigers have used some combination of Ramon Santiago, Edgar Renteria, Adam Everett, Danny Worth, Neifi Perez, Jose Iglesias, Alex Gonzalez, Michael Hollimon, Brent Dlugach and Andrew Romine to achieve a special brand of mediocrity at the position in the last eight seasons. For instance, Iglesias only played in 46 regular season games with the Tigers last season, yet ranked fifth among Tiger shortstops with 0.8 WAR since 2006.
When Iglesias was diagnosed with bilateral stress fractures in his lower legs during spring training, the rumor mill began swirling. Enter super agent Scott Boras and his client, Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew. Drew had a solid season for the World Series champion Sox in 2013, but fell out of favor with a brutal postseason. Still, he decided to test the waters of free agency, declining the qualifying offer extended to him by the Red Sox after the season. Because of this, Drew has the weight of a first round draft pick to his name, a price that 29 teams in baseball have not yet been willing to pay. Drew and Boras have expressed varying degrees of frustration with the cold market over the past few months, but that hasn't changed the bottom line: Drew is still not playing baseball right now.
This should all change in early June. After the conclusion of the amateur draft June 6, Drew will no longer have the draft pick compensation attached to his contract. This should cause a huge increase in his value, and many expect a bidding war of sorts for both Drew and Kendrys Morales once the draft is over. The Tigers are not alone in needing a solid middle infielder, as the Yankees, Mets, and Blue Jays expressed varying degrees of interest for Drew during the offseason. Acquiring Drew should not be an issue for the Tigers, though. The Yankees and Jays both have shortstops (for the time being) and would probably look to move Drew to second or third base. No team is likely to offer him a multi-year deal after missing the first two months of the year either.
So here's the (multi) million dollar question: do the Tigers need Stephen Drew?
Drew hit .253/.333/.443 with 13 home runs and 67 RBI in 124 games for the Boston Red Sox last season. His .777 OPS ranked fourth among American League shortstops with at least 400 plate appearances. He struck out a career-high 124 times, but showed excellent plate discipline with a 10.8 percent walk rate. He could also fit in nicely with the new regime. Drew stole six bases without being caught, and took an extra base at a 42 percent rate, slightly above the league average of 39 percent.
Meanwhile, Tigers shortstops are hitting .212/.277/.246 with zero home runs in 2014. They have combined for -0.2 WAR, the third-lowest total in baseball. Andrew Romine and Danny Worth are both on the positive side of the ledger at 0.1 WAR, but neither has provided much value at the plate. Worth's 71 wRC+ and .280 wOBA are by far the best of the three players who have played shortstop for the Tigers this year. The baserunning hasn't been bad -- Romine has four steals without being caught -- but their lackluster offensive contributions have minimized any positive value on the basepaths.
Despite the offensive shortcomings at the shortstop position, the Tigers rank among the league leaders in most offensive categories. They are fourth in runs per game, first in batting average, fifth in on-base percentage, third in slugging average, and first with 35 stolen bases -- which matches their total for the entire 2013 season. They have the best record in baseball at 24-12, and hold a 5 1/2 game lead over the Royals in the AL Central standings. They have allowed the fewest runs in the American League and have a +45 run differential, the third-highest total in baseball.
It's early, but the Tigers have shown that they are able to win games without a league average bat in the lineup at shortstop. Their current roster is good enough to win the division, and they have the starting pitching to make another deep postseason run. Personally, I don't think that the Tigers need Stephen Drew on their roster, but I would not complain if they signed him to a pro-rated deal after the Rule 4 Draft in June. He would provide a significant upgrade to the team's current situation at short, and having one more bat in the lineup could pay dividends in October.