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Monday, January 10, 2005

Drawing Conclusions On Drew's Contract

Today in Ken Gurnick's Q & A:
First I heard that J.D. Drew signed a five-year contract, but then I heard he can be a free agent after two seasons. Which is it?
-- Dave R., San Diego, Calif.

It's both. The Dodgers guaranteed Drew $55 million over five years. But Drew wanted some flexibility should he take his game to a higher level early on. So, assuming he puts up big numbers his first two years, he has an escape clause that allows him to void the remaining three seasons and declare free agency or negotiate a new contract with the Dodgers. If not, he can remain with the Dodgers for the final three seasons and remaining $33 million. The choice is his, and DePodesta said the one-sided perk was required to get Drew signed at all.

So: some scenarios:
  1. Drew performs very well and leaves after two years. Hopefully, James Loney -- or another farm product -- is at the big club and producing, or another corner outfielder becomes available. Recall corner outfielders are easier to acquire than quality third basemen, so his production will relatively easy to replace. Also, recall Sheehan's Axiom: "it's hard to make a bad free-agent signing if the commitment is for no more than two years." In that sense, the upper limit on the contract appears to be one-sided against the Dodgers, but in fact, it limits their injury risk accruing to his ages 31-33 seasons by making nearly certain he'll leave should he produce very well. It's quite possible he'll be somewhat overvalued at that point anyway considering decline curves, so while the Dodgers might miss out on a good year or two, Branch Rickey's Maxim -- better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late -- applies here.

    One last consideration: DePodesta may have signed Drew knowing he amounted to a stopgap. Whether that was what he wanted is another thing, but it's now what the Dodgers have.

  2. Drew performs very well but decides to stay with the Dodgers anyway. This is not a bad situation, although the injury risk toward the end of the contract is still problematic.
  3. Drew performs well when able to play, but has continued nagging injuries over the first two years, and elects to stay with the Dodgers for the full duration of his contract. Assume this means he has around 450 AB or plays in around 120 games per year. He becomes, essentially, Darren Dreifort, and toward the end of his contract, he's next to useless. The question here is whether the insurers will cover his lameness in the third, fourth and fifth years. Since DePo has indicated that the Dodgers will pursue a claim against Dreifort, he may have reason to believe Drew can be similarly insured, at the right price.
  4. Drew performs well but plays in fewer than 200 games over the next two seasons and elects to stay with the Dodgers. This would be the worse-than-Dreifort scenario; DePo better hope he's got a good insurance policy here.
Drew, then, is a big-market club risk. The upside is you get a guy who can hit for power while taking walks, the latter being something the Dodgers didn't do especially well last year; the downside is you get a guy who might not be able to physically take those walks thanks to his bum knees. It's not as dire as it looks at first, though it does put the Dodgers in the kind of spot I think they'd rather not have been. In some ways, you can read it as the product of a refusal by DePo to get involved in a bidding war for Beltre. If DePodesta is indeed thinking of Drew as a stopgap, we should hope for Drew's sake -- and the Dodgers' -- that he is eligible to use that out.

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