No one around these parts has been a bigger J.D. Drew defender than I. He's had a superlative, criminally underrated career, and was even worth his big contract, at least through the first four years.
But the end has clearly arrived for him. Drew hasn't had an OPS+ lower than 105 since he was 23; it currently sits at 74. His .309 slugging percentage sits more than 110 points below his career low. He's still a decent defender, but at this point it's merely offsetting the negative value of his offense, making him a replacement-level player according to both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs.
"Replacement level" is loosely defined as the production you'd expect if you called up a AAA player and stuck him in the lineup every day. A player like, say, Josh Reddick, who entered the season exactly at that level.
Except Josh Reddick has been tearing the cover off the ball all season. Among all players with at least 80 plate appearances this season (not a big sample size, granted, but that's not the point at the moment), Reddick ranks second in all of baseball to Jose Bautista in wRC+ and slugging percentage while ranking fourth in on-base percentage to Bautista, Joey Votto and Miguel Cabrera. In this admittedly selective sample size, Reddick is first in the majors in batting average.
Reddick has also been generally good on defense, passing both the eye test and the initial statistical evaluations, though we've seen him have some growing pains outside his left-field comfort zone.
Now this isn't sustainable. Reddick has a .397 BABIP, which also leads the majors. I suspect we'll see regression with increased playing time, but it's becoming increasingly clear that Reddick deserves the chance to play over Drew once David Ortiz returns from his three-game suspension.
It's certainly clear to Drew himself:
"I want to get things rolling, but this team has to win ballgames. I want to see another postseason. Tito's got a decision to make. For me, it's a matter of getting to where I'm swinging the bat well, in whatever role. They'll figure it out."
Not every 35-year-old veteran can handle the prospect of losing his job with such aplomb. And while Terry Francona may not remember an example of when he stuck with a veteran too long, I can: Kevin Millar, who took playing time away from Kevin Youkilis in 2005, then groused privately and threw teammates under the bus when his playing time was finally reduced.
Perhaps this simply confirms the lame idea that Drew doesn't care enough about the game while "dirt dogs" like Trot Nixon and Millar, who provided far less value in their careers but wore their emotions on their sleeves, proved their passion and thus their worth to the fans.
More likely, this confirms that J.D. Drew is a really nice guy and a classy ballplayer, who has never deserved the abuse he received and will likely never receive the credit he should for being an all-around excellent ballplayer and classy person.