Posted on January 26, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
The Washington Nationals have declined to spend much money in free agency this offseason, but they have made some relatively small moves to improve the periphery of their roster, and that continued Thursday when the team re-signed infielder Stephen Drew to a one-year deal. Drew will earn a base salary of $3.5 million, a small raise from what he made with the Nationals last year, and he can earn an additional $1.2 million in incentives. The signing helps to solidify Washington’s bench, which was an area of strength for the Nationals in 2016.
Drew endured a couple of rough seasons with the Red Sox and Yankees in 2014 and 2015, but he bounced back with the Nationals in 2016, giving his career new life. Despite being on the DL for more than a month with vertigo-like symptoms the second half of the season, Drew hit .266 with an .864 OPS while appearing in 70 games last season. Such a performance should have the Nationals enthused to have him back in 2017.
At the start of the offseason, Drew was hopeful he would be able to find a team willing to make him their every day second baseman. However, few teams were in the market for a second baseman, and just one good year after a series of sub-par seasons wasn’t enough to convince a team that Drew is capable of handling a full-time job at this point in his career. On the plus side, he’s able to return to familiar surroundings and play for a team that expects to compete for a championship this season.
The Nationals re-signing Drew became a necessary move after the team traded Danny Espinosa to the Angels earlier this winter. Espinosa would have been in line to be Washington’s backup infielder, although he likely would have been upset with a complementary role. Meanwhile, Drew excelled in just that role last season, and should be comfortable serving as the primary backup at second base, shortstop, and third base.
Of course, there’s always a chance that the Nationals will need Drew to become a long-term fill-in for them. Second baseman Daniel Murphy has been prone to leg injuries during his career, and without much middle infield depth in the minors, Drew would have to play second base full time if Murphy were to go to the DL. There’s also the possibility of the Nationals moving Murphy to first base if Ryan Zimmerman continues to see a decline in his productivity; thus, opening up second base for Drew.
Joining Drew on Washington’s bench figures to be Chris Heisey, Clint Robinson, Michael Taylor, and backup catcher Jose Lobaton, with players like Brian Goodwin and Wilmer Difo stashed in the minors. On paper, that gives the Nationals a deep and stable bench with a lot of defensively versatility. Bringing Drew back for another year only solidifies that bench further.
Obviously, re-signing Drew isn’t the big splash the Nationals were hoping to make this offseason. But he figures to play a number of roles for Washington this season, providing depth, versatility, and a veteran presence. Even as an ancillary player, the Nationals will rely on Drew to contribute this season, making him a key part of the team’s success in 2017.