2003 was an historic offensive season for the Braves. They were the best offensive team in the NL, with a league-leading and franchise record 235 home runs, while also leading the league in runs scored, hits, RBI, BA, SLG, OPS, OPS+, and total bases on their way to a 101-61 record. But two huge cogs in the offensive machine, Gary Sheffield and Javy Lopez, left in free agency. Between them, they accounted for 82 HR and 13.6 WAR, and both OPSâ€™d over 1.000. The Braves decided to go with the catching tandem of Johnny Estrada and Eddie Perez for 2004, but didnâ€™t have any reasonable internal options to plug the gaping hole in the outfield left by Sheffieldâ€™s departure. To fix this, John Schuerholz made a huge trade, sending Braves top prospect Adam Wainwright (along with Jason Marquis and Ray King) to the Cardinals for Braves One Year Wonder, J.D. Drew (and Eli Marrero).
Drafting J.D. Drew: It’s Complicated
Drew was a product of Hahira, Georgia, a speck of a town just off I-75 north of Valdosta. He was a college superstar at Florida State, and was chosen by the Phillies with the 2nd overall pick in the 1997 draft. But in a long and complicated saga (detailed here), when Drew was not offered a contract in the neighborhood of the $10M he was looking for, he opted to sign with the independent Northern League with the intention of becoming a free agent just before the 1998 draft. But MLB changed the draft rules to close this loophole, and while the MLBPA filed and won a grievance on his behalf, in the end Drew was forced to re-enter the draft and was chosen 5th overall by the Cardinals. This time he signed for $7M, in the process becoming one of the most hated players by Phillies fans everywhere.
He made his major league debut later that year, then became a full time starter in the Cards outfield in 1999. Throughout his career in St. Louis, Drew was productive and played solid defense, but just couldnâ€™t stay on the field. He never topped 500 PA and sat out almost 30% of the Cards games over his 5 full time seasons with the club.
Braves One Year Wonder, J.D. Drew
Drew was slated to become a free agent after the 2004 season, and with Scott Boras as his agent everyone knew he was one-and-done with the Braves. So the trade was basically one year of Drew for the future potential of Wainwright. Near term, the gamble paid off big time. Drew was everything the Braves could have hoped for. He played in 145 games, made 645 plate appearances, slashed .305/.436/.569 (1.006 OPS, 157 OPS+) and played stellar defense, mostly in RF. He led the team in HR (31), walks (118), OBP and SLG, was worth 8.3 WAR (5th among NL players), and finished 6th in the NL MVP voting. The only blemish was a poor showing in the 5-game NLDS loss to the Astros, going 4 for 20 with 4 walks and no extra base hits.
J.D. Drew Post-Braves Journey
At the end of the season, he signed a free agent contract with the Dodgers, opted out of that contract after 2 seasons, then wrapped up his career after five seasons with the Red Sox. He had a couple of excellent years after leaving the Braves and was mostly solid except for his final season in 2011, though never quite reaching the lofty heights of 2004 again. Drew was one of those players that is generally under-appreciated and was never really loved anywhere he played. Maybe itâ€™s because he gave off the general impression that he played baseball because he was very good at it and it paid well, but he never seemed to get a lot of joy out of it. Itâ€™s hard for the fan base to really get behind a player like that.
The Obvious Downside of the J.D. Drew Trade
Unfortunately for the Braves, Wainwright was the biggest success story out of all the pitching prospects the Braves traded away during their playoff run. He debuted for the Cards in September 2005 and was a reliever in 2006 before becoming a rotation regular in 2007. Heâ€™s had his injury problems like most pitchers, but has been worth 40.5 WAR over his career, chalking up a 3.39 ERA with a record of 162-95. Heâ€™s finished 2nd or 3rd in Cy Young voting 4 times, and was selected to the all star game 3 times. Heâ€™s still with the club and is under contract for the 2020 season. The Braves achieved their short-term goal of winning another division title, but at a very steep cost.
Thanks for reading on Braves One Year Wonder, J.D Drew. If you enjoyed this piece, catch all of our Wankers and Wonders here.