Immediate reaction from Red Sox fans, myself included, was negative about Stephen Drew's deal. After all, $9.5 million sounds steep for a guy who suffered a massive ankle injury that disrupted his last two seasons (and who played poorly around that injury).
I've since read a couple of defenses of the deal (including Jonah Keri's at Grantland and Rob Neyer's at SBNation) that have helped reinforce the point that, as free agent deals go, this might not be the disaster it seems.
I looked around at shortstop contracts throughout MLB (all numbers courtesy Cot's) and found that Drew's deal doesn't look to be the outlier that it might seem originally. Below is a list of shortstops with 6+ years of service time (Drew is at 6.029, hence the cutoff there), along with their salary for next year rounded to the nearest tenth.
1. Reyes, TOR ($10.0 next year; $18.4 AAV)
2. Tulowitzki, COL ($10.0 next year, $17.6 AAV)
3. Jeter, NYY ($17.0)
4. Ramirez, LAD ($15.5)
5. Rollins, PHI ($11.0)
6. Drew, BOS ($9.5)
7. Aybar, LAA ($8.8)
8. Furcal, STL ($7.5)
9. Hardy, BAL ($7.4)
10. Peralta, DET ($6.0)
Drew certainly isn't likely to be as good as those first four players, and probably not Jimmy Rollins either (although Rollins is in decline and was a 2.3 WAR player last year). Aybar is a speedy singles hitter who reached 4.0 WAR last year, Furcal is a veteran on a steep decline, and Hardy and Peralta are bat-first, defense-second guys with spotty histories.
Then factoring in that you usually have to overpay on a one-year deal (as free agents typically want the security of extra years), and you can understand where the $9.5 million came from.
Of course, this comparison essentially works only for free agents (or players who signed deals that bought out free agent years, like Aybar). So Drew's deal might not look that bad in this way, and may even prove justified in a vacuum if his ankle holds up and he can squeak out 2+ WAR.
The problem, as I mentioned yesterday, is that you can make the argument that Jose Iglesias and his $2.1 million salary could have provided more bang for the buck, even if he wasn't as good as Drew. And when you consider that this team is not likely to be a contender, it's worth wondering whether the Drew money could have been better spent elsewhere, either to extend young players or to set aside for a trade that can absorb money from another team.