As the baseball season trudged on without him, and he remained unsigned, Stephen Drew did whatever he could to make sure he was ready when the call came.
Without taking a single day off, he says, he'd get on the field at around 9 every morning over the past five months and stay there until 1 or 1:30 that afternoon, fielding, hitting, throwing. He worked out with college teams and individually. He trained in the Miami area and in Georgia. He tried to simulate games as closely as he could, taking ground balls, sitting down, getting up, hitting, and going back to work on his glove.
Believing in his talent, he knew he'd get a chance. And now that the Red Sox have given him that, he says he's prepared to take advantage.
"I know I worked hard. I know there’s nothing I have to worry about there," he said Wednesday, after passing a physical and putting his signature on a one-year contract that'll pay him about $10 million. "I put all the time and effort I needed to be ready for this moment because I knew it would happen quick. I didn’t know where, but, I’m excited to be back here."
The starting shortstop for the 2013 champs, Drew will assume that same position once he completes the final stage of his preparation, which he says is as simple as "playing on my feet for nine innings for 9-10 days," and if all goes smoothly that process will begin somewhere in the Sox minor-league system this weekend.
That puts his estimated arrival in the Boston lineup at some point during the first few days of June, which is about two months later than his season typically starts, but that and about $4 million are the consequences Drew faces for rejecting the Red Sox' $14 million qualifying offer last fall.
When he turned down that contract, he became a free agent -- but any team that signed him would in turn be forced to forfeit a high draft pick to Boston. The rest of the majors unwilling to pay that price, it looked as though Drew would be forced to wait until after June's amateur draft (when the compensation attached to him would disappear) to find his next team, though when Will Middlebrooks broke his finger over the weekend a need opened up with the Red Sox. And so Drew says he has no issue with how everything played out.
“It’s been interesting, but needless to say I’m glad to be back in a Red Sox uniform. I couldn’t ask for anything better," Drew said. "These guys I here, I know ‘em; had a great year last year, and you know, just getting ready for whatever happened – preparing myself like everybody does in the offseason – and being able to come back here, I can’t thank the organization enough for thinking about me.”
Though it cost him money in the short-term, by lingering in free-agent limbo until after opening day, Drew ensured that the qualifying offer cannot be extended to him again at the end of this season. Therefore he'll be free to sign with no strings attached this winter, which enhances the possibility that he'll get a multi-year deal, and could mean he winds up making more money in the long term.
“All that I wanted to do in the offseason was be a true free agent, and with that draft pick, of course, I guess that draft pick was a huge, huge part in [preventing] that," Drew said. "So, yes, it was hard – but at the same time it’s one of those deals where I just really wanted to be a true free agent at the end of this year.”
He will be. As, he believes, it was supposed to be.
“I had great family time at home, and God had a purpose for this. I really, truly believe that," he said. "I know it sounds crazy, but it’s been good with the kids and spending time there. Playing with this team, this organization, they mean a lot to me. I’ve watched them, and the biggest thing is in this division it’s still open and it’s still early.”
He said he's stayed in touch with a lot of the guys he played with last year, and after arriving in the clubhouse Wednesday said "it seems like I haven't left, which is a great feeling." He's excited, as were many of the players in the room.
And though Xander Bogaerts' comments Tuesday night suggested he wasn't thrilled to be returning to the arrangement of last October's World Series -- where Drew plays short, and Bogaerts moves to third -- Drew was complimentary of the rookie while expressing confidence the situation will work out.
“Coming into this situation, I think what it boils down to is you look at last year and how it happened, how well he did play third. I’m not saying he won’t be a shortstop, but it’s something with Will breaking his finger and [the team] needing help, this presented itself and I think he will feel comfortable with it – myself and the whole team," Drew said.
"That doesn’t change the fact that he’s a great player. He’s 21 years old and he’s done great. With all this talk, me coming back and what not, it’s something that’s going to help best the team and hopefully that gets resolved quick.”
Bogaerts was Boston's shortstop on Wednesday, when Drew was active and in uniform. That was more or less procedural, and it would've taken extreme circumstances for him to get on the field. But, after five months getting ready for it, Drew said he was ready if he got the call.
“If they need me I’m there. I’ve done all the baseball activity I could do with the circumstances that I had," he said. "If the circumstances come up that they need me, I’ll be there.”