Drew wasting his time playing for the Saints

For the second year in a row, a top major league prospect will be playing for a team in the Twin Cities. And he won’t be performing under a shroud of Teflon.
J.D. Drew, the second overall pick in baseball’s 1997 draft, is planning to open the season with the Northern League’s St. Paul Saints rather than play for the Philadelphia Phillies.
After rejecting an offer last year from the Phillies that could have paid him in excess of $6 million over four years, the Florida State product played 44 games for the Saints.
The powerful lefty hit .341 with 18 home runs against pitching well below his talent level. He also made $700 per month after giving up hope that the Phillies would meet his $11 million contract demand.
This year, he returns to the Saints while awaiting the resolution of a grievance that could change the way baseball operates. Under the draft rules, Drew is eligible to be selected by a team other than the Phillies this year.
Drew, and particularly agent Scott Boras, contend that because he played for an independent professional team, he is exempt from the draft and can negotiate a deal with any major league team as a free agent.
On Thursday, he is scheduled for a press conference with the Saints on their first day of training camp. Within a week, an arbitrator is expected to rule whether he and future phenoms can become free agents. If the ruling makes him eligible for the draft again, the Phillies will lose their exclusive rights to him on May 26. One week later comes this year’s draft.
That’s quite a whirlwind of activity for Drew. Unfortunately, none of his big days involves a major league debut. Instead, he’ll be fighting for a cause gone astray.
Because baseball has nothing that resembles a salary cap, the draft is often the lone salvation for small-market teams.
If Drew is allowed to become a free agent, it will create a draft loophole for any unsatisfied prospect to jump through. Granting free agency to draftees who jump to independent leagues for a year would likely create a bidding war among teams who could afford to sign two or three top prospects.
That would leave less affluent teams — like the Twins — with a smaller share of an already shrinking talent pool.
Drew’s battle, then, is neither in his nor baseball’s best interests. It is also being sponsored by an agent who might not be concerned with protecting either interest.
“I just hope that at some point J.D. becomes a big-league ballplayer and not Exhibit A,” Phillies general manager Ed Wade said. “At this point, he seems to be an example of (Boras’) attempt to change the system, and that’s unfortunate.”
Along those lines, what happens if, as expected, the arbitrator forces Drew to decide between these options: sign with the Phillies, re-enter the draft or continue the legal battle.
Signing with the Phillies would be the smart thing. But after squabbling away one year of his major league life, it might be tough for Drew — not to mention his potential teammates — to come to terms with the situation.
If he re-enters the draft, it’s unlikely a team will meet his contract demands. The Giants and the Yankees, the two teams said earlier to be willing to meet his price, really have only a passing interest. In addition, some other team will disregard the past and take a chance on Drew’s talent long before San Francisco and New York make their selections.
Continuing the legal battle would keep him out of the majors for yet another year. Regardless of the success or failure of Drew’s efforts, he would continue to stunt his baseball growth.
While he mulls those options, he’ll be beating up on Northern League pitchers for an Emmanuel Lewis-esque portion of the respect, fortune and fame he would be gathering in the majors.
“Selfishly, we’d like him all year,” Saints manager Marty Scott said, “but hopefully everything will work out quickly for him to get him on the road to the major leagues.”
Talent paved that road. Stupidity is blocking it.

— Michael Rand is the sports editor at the Daily. He welcomes comments at [email protected]