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January 25, 2012

The BP First Take

Wednesday, January 25

by Daniel Rathman

Earlier this week, word began to spread about J.D. Drew hanging up his cleats. On Tuesday afternoon, Jon Heyman confirmed the retirement rumors. Just hours later, the story was an afterthought, thanks to Prince Fielder’s blockbuster deal with the Tigers.

If this is indeed the end for Drew, he will leave behind what, by most standards, is an excellent career. Over 1,566 big-league games, he was worth 39.8 WARP—a total most players would be thrilled with. Drew was the second overall pick in the 1997 first-year player draft, and hit 242 home runs. He won a World Series ring with the Red Sox in 2007, and was the MVP of the All-Star Game in 2008. Yet, for all of those accomplishments, Drew could never kick the nasty habit of leaving fans wanting more.

Blessed with a picturesque swing, outstanding instincts, and a strong arm, Drew could have been one of the best players ever to set foot on a diamond. A laundry list of injuries—back, shoulder, knee, wrist, you name it—set him back; he never played more than 146 games in a season, and often fell short of 130. With those injuries came nicknames like “Nancy Drew,” a perception that he lacked toughness, put forth insufficient effort, and as Heyman notes, was not worth the $108 million he was paid by the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Red Sox.

As the disabled list stints dampened Drew’s legacy, dissatisfied fans soaked it into submission. It’s hard to think of a recent player who could spark a more spirited underrated-or-overrated debate than Drew. The lifetime on-base percentage of .384 came with a plethora of looking strikeouts that left fans wondering, “How could he take that pitch?” The $14 million grand slam is one shining moment, but a career postseason OPS of 761 is hardly a feather in his cap. The same quick reads and solid speed that helped Drew reach most fly balls with ease led to questions about a lack of Web Gems and memorable plays.

Drew came into the league will all of the tools, but he now leaves it having barely built the foundation of a case for Cooperstown. On a day when Fielder receiving the fourth-largest contract in baseball history stole the show, Drew’s reported retirement plans could have—some might say, should have—been the top story.

Never one for the spotlight, Drew might prefer to sail quietly into the sunset. But a 39.8 WARP career—better than those of Shawn Green, Kirk Gibson, and Moises Alou—deserves recognition. It’s recognition that, as a victim of great expectations, Drew will never get. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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