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J.D. Drew’s Latest Injury and his Red Sox Legacy and Future

J.D. Drew (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, Boston Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein revealed that J.D. Drew is suffering from an avulsion fracture on his right middle finger. While the fractured finger may have been news, Red Sox fans were already well aware that Drew would miss a significant amount of time on the disabled list. With Drew’s latest injury, what better opportunity to take pause and reflect on all the wonderful J.D. Drew memories, as well as look forward and examine what we can expect of our fallen right fielder as the Red Sox make their playoff push (or not).

The Legacy of J.D. Drew

When I heard the news that J.D. Drew sprained the ligaments and fractured the knuckle of his right middle finger the day before he was set to return from rehabbing his shoulder, I was astounded. Shocked. Flabbergasted.

Yup, I could hardly believe that J.D. Drew injured himself fouling off a pitch to stay alive. I could have sworn the story I opened was going to read, “J.D. Drew sprains finger while grounding out weakly to the second baseman.” Or, “J.D. Drew sprains eyelid from blinking apathetically while walking back to the dugout after another called third strike right down the middle.” To say that J.D. Drew has been a disappointment in right field for the Red Sox is like saying Daisuke Matsuzaka nibbles at the corners when he pitches, Manny Ramirez is a headache in the clubhouse, and I hate the New York Yankees. In short, it goes without saying that J.D. Drew has been an incredibly frustrating fail-…er, figure in right field.

To begin with, his nickname is Nancy. Not just any Nancy, but the teenaged female detective  from the fictional stories of popular acclaim. A female nickname, particularly when it refers to “18-year-old amateur sleuth” and “super girl” Nancy Drew, is not flattering for a professional baseball player of any caliber, let alone a former top-five draft pick and the starting right fielder for the Boston Red Sox.

To return to Nancy’s fractured finger, this is one more injury among a myriad of ailments that have afflicted our Southern whipping boy over his tenure with the Red Sox. In five seasons, Drew has played in 602 out of a possible 794 games. When you do the math, that amounts to an entire 162 game season that Drew has missed, plus another 30 absences (and counting) for good measure. Worse still, he always seems to suffer from nagging, seemingly harmless injuries, like the shoulder impingement he was rehabbing before hurting his finger this past week. I’m sure these injuries are quite painful, difficult, and perhaps impossible to play through, but nonetheless I can’t help but suspect that Trot Nixon would have endured each one without a word of complaint.

Ultimately, this is probably the main reason that J.D. Drew has been such a frustration to Red Sox Nation: he has not shown the passion, the emotion, the heart, the idiosyncrasies and the 2004 Idiocy that we Red Sox fans want from our players. We aren’t asking merely for production. If all we wanted was a healthy batting average and RBI total, Drew wouldn’t be so maligned.

While he certainly hasn’t lived up to being one of the highest paid players on the payroll with his 5 year, $70 million contract, he has had solid(ish) seasons with the Red Sox. In 2007, he hit .270 with a .373 OBP; in 2008, Drew was selected to the All-Star Game; in 2009, he blasted 24 homers with an OPS of .914. Overall, his career splits with the Red Sox are .264/.370/.456 – again, not a $14 million player, but not the trainwreck Red Sox fans (and I include myself) make him out to be. Alas, we Red Sox fans require a personality as well, and J.D. Drew could never provide that. And so he remains a source of constant frustration.

In the end, as we consider J.D. Drew’s Red Sox legacy, we have to remember his crucial, clutch hit of the 2007 playoffs – the ALCS Game 6 grand slam – and how, in 2008, he carried a Sox lineup decimated by injuries with a torrid June to win American League Player of the Month honors. Sure, one at-bat and one month over five years isn’t a lot, but since he helped bring the 2007 World Series title to Boston, I would endure these five frustrating, enigmatic, emotionless years of J.D. Drew again.

Besides, maybe Nancy Drew is close to solve the case of the missing gyroball in The Mystery of Matsuzaka.

The Future of J.D. Drew

As J.D. Drew approaches the final months of his contract, Red Sox fans have started calling for Drew’s head with raised pitchforks and torches, and rightfully so. Plagued by the injury bug and already age 35, Drew’s production has declined rather dramatically the past two years, with lines of .255/.341/.452 in 2010 and this year’s nauseating .219/.317/.305. As the Red Sox enter the home stretch of September, question marks surround his suddenly tenuous hold on right field. With Conor Jackson recently acquired from the Oakland Athletics, Josh Reddick proving serviceable after being called up from Pawtucket, and Drew hoping to return shortly sometime before the end of the regular season, who should Terry Francona pencil into the right field slot on the lineup card come playoff time?

In 2008, Jackson had a great season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, showing patience from the right side of the plate while hitting .300 and driving in 75 runs. After losing almost all of the 2009 season to Valley Fever, a fungal disease which caused him to lose 35 pounds and much of his strength, Jackson is now playing for his third team in as many years. In 102 games with Oakland this year and 2 games thus far with the Red Sox, he is batting .247 with 4 home runs, 38 RBIs, and a .339 slugging percentage. A right-handed hitter, Jackson is in the midst of a three year drought since he hit a home run off a left-hander. That is not a typo. With that kind of production, Jackson appears to be another prospect to become one of Theo Epstein’s reclamation projects, rather than a viable candidate for any meaningful postseason plate appearances. If anything, Jackson will be locked in an epic struggle with Darnell McDonald to see who will rarely see any playing time as the fourth outfielder and right-handed bat off the bench. Needless to say, expectations for Jackson are low.

Reddick, the 24-year-old prospect who has been with the major league team for portions of the last two seasons, began his 2011 season on a tear, hitting .393 in 61 at-bats with 10 extra base hits before the All-Star break. I was ready to anoint Reddick as J.D. Drew’s successor to take over immediately as the everyday right fielder, with his smooth swing and his ability to, you know, show human emotion. Since then, he has sadly fallen back to earth, batting only .208 in August, though he has played better in September. He also displayed some questionable defense during the last series against the Yankees, and with zero playoff experience, I don’t think I’m confident throwing Reddick into the postseason pressure-cooker just yet.

I know what you’re thinking already. That leaves us with only one option: the aforementioned Nancy Drew. That seems disastrous, but just hear me out while I try to talk myself into it. Even though Drew has been abysmal handling the bat this year, he has plenty of playoff experience with 28 games under his belt. For the first time ever, Drew’s stoic demeanor might actually be advantageous hitting out of the bottom of the order during pressure-filled late-inning situations. Honestly, we don’t even need that much of a contribution from Drew with such a (theoretically) stacked lineup starting with Jacoby EllsburyDustin PedroiaAdrian GonzalezKevin Youkilis, and David Ortiz. A few timely hits, some plate discipline to wear out the starting pitcher, and maybe a couple of instances where it almost seems like Drew cares about the outcome of the game. As much as he hasn’t lived up to expectations with his hitting, Drew has been an excellent outfielder for the Red Sox. He has played the tricky right field corner nearly flawlessly and presents the strongest outfield arm the Red Sox have. I would sit Drew against lefties with Ellsbury, Gonzalez, Ortiz, and Crawford all left-handed batters already guaranteed to start. I will not bemoan the end of the J.D. Drew era, but ultimately, with Jackson’s futility, Reddick’s inexperience, and Nancy’s fielding, J.D. Drew presents the best overall option for Francona and the Red Sox to start in right field in the playoffs.

That is, of course, if he’s healthy. Lucky for us, he only has to last through October.

About Nick Bohlen - @ndbohlen

Nick is an editor and regular contributor for the Patriots, Celtics, and Red Sox sections of SoB. (Despite growing up in Vermont, just a short drive from Canada, hockey never really caught on with him.) Follow him on twitter: @ndbohlen

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