Very little has gone right for Cincinnati Reds in 2022. The club entered the season with hopes of competing, but those hopes were on shaky footing due to some cost-saving moves over the winter that softened the depth of the roster. Once the season began, the injury bug bit them hard, putting pressure on that depth, which the roster hasn’t been able to withstand. Their record is currently 23-39, ahead of just Washington among National League clubs. One small silver lining in all this, however, is that these injuries created an opening for Brandon Drury, who is having the best season of his career.
Drafted by Atlanta in the 13th round in 2010, Drury was sent to the Diamondbacks as a prospect, as part of the deal that sent Justin Upton the other way. He made his big league debut with Arizona in 2015 and showed some promise over his first few seasons. From 2015-2017 with the Snakes, he got into 289 games and hit 31 home runs, slashing .271/.319/.448. That wasn’t elite production, with his wRC+ actually coming in slightly below average at 95, but still encouraging for a player in his age 22-24 seasons. He also provided the Diamondbacks with defensive versatility, as he spent time at every infield position and the outfield corners.
There was enough there to intrigue the Yankees, who acquired Drury prior to the 2018 season. Unfortunately for them, this was the beginning of what would end up being a miserable three-year stretch for him. Drury dealt with blurred vision and migraines, which caused him to miss time and struggle to the point that the Yankees optioned him to the minors. While he hit well on the farm, he struggled mightily in the majors, hitting .176/.263/.275 in 18 games with the Yanks.
Despite those struggles, the Blue Jays decided to take a chance on him, acquiring him from the Yankees in the J.A. Happ trade, ending Drury’s time with the Yanks after just a few months. After just eight games with the Canadian birds, Drury faced another setback, breaking his hand and heading to the injured list again. In 2019, Drury was able to stay healthy but still struggled, hitting .218/.262/.380 for a 66 wRC+ in 120 games. In 2020, the struggles got even worse, with Drury hitting .152/.184/.174 in 21 games, producing a wRC+ of -10 and getting designated for assignment toward the end of the season.
Despite that abysmal three-year stretch, the Mets decided to take a flier on him, signing him to a minor league deal prior to the 2021 campaign. After the big league club suffered a pile of injuries to their position player mix, they called on Drury in May, who was having a nice showing in Triple-A. He would end up holding himself well in a utility role, playing 51 games while taking the field at first, second and third base, as well as the outfield corners. He hit .274/.307/.476 for a wRC+ of 114 in 88 plate appearances. Despite that solid showing, he was designated for assignment as the season was winding down in October.
A similar situation played out for Drury this year, as he signed a minor league deal with the Reds in March. A slew of injuries created a need for Drury, who has taken the opportunity and ran with it. He’s now played 53 games with the Reds, just beyond his total with the Mets last year. However, it’s clearly been a full-time role this time around, as his 218 plate appearances more than double his 88 from last year. In that time, he’s hit 12 home runs, a number bested by only 12 other National League hitters this year. His overall slash is .269/.335/.508 for a wRC+ of 129. He’s already produced 1.4 wins above replacement this year, according to FanGraphs, with almost two-thirds of the season still remaining. This doesn’t seem to just be good luck either, as his .297 BABIP on the year is just barely ahead of his .294 career mark, and his Statcast page has plenty of those healthy red hues. Defensively, Drury has largely played second and third, helping the club cover for extended absences from Jonathan India and Mike Moustakas, though he’s also made cameos at shortstop and first base.
Taking all of this into consideration, Drury’s true nature is very difficult to peg. A pessimist could point to his dismal stretch from 2018-2020 and dismiss this year’s showing as a small-sample hot streak. He’s also a mere rental, as he began this season with 5 years and one day of service time. Since he cracked Cincy’s Opening Day roster, he will just barely eclipse six years at the end of this season. But on the other hand, he showed enough promise earlier in his career for three different teams to trade for him, clearly demonstrating that this breakout was considered possible in the past. Now he’s delivering on that promise and should hold plenty of appeal to competing teams, especially those with budgetary constraints. The financials of Drury’s deal weren’t reported at the time, though his Baseball Reference page lists his salary as the $700K league minimum.
What Drury also has going for him as a trade candidate is his versatility. Since he can play multiple infield spots, there are potentially many teams who could fit him into their plans. The Angels have gotten very little out of their middle infield this year and could slot Drury in at second base. Josh Harrison and Leury Garcia have both struggled mightily, leaving the White Sox with the keystone as an obvious area to upgrade. The Dodgers love adding underrated bench players and have watched Justin Turner slouch through most of the season so far. Alec Bohm is still struggling in Philly, and since they’ve gone over the luxury tax for the first time, Drury’s low salary could be extra appealing to them. It’s also possible that an injury to an infielder creates a need on a team that didn’t previously have one, like when this week’s Ozzie Albies injury suddenly created a huge hole at second base in Atlanta. Though one team that almost certainly won’t be in the mix is the Blue Jays, as Drury is apparently unvaccinated and isn’t eligible to cross the border. Drury won’t complete remake any of these teams on his own, but role players like this can sometimes have huge impacts. Last year’s marquee deadline trade sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers, but the Braves won the World Series after acquiring lesser-known players like Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall and Eddie Rosario.
Even if Drury does garner interest at the deadline, it likely won’t lead to a massive return. Strong season aside, he’s got enough warts on his resume to prevent acquiring teams from shelling out any kind elite prospect package. Still, for the Reds to get any kind of trade return out of a player who signed a minor league deal when Spring Training was already underway, that’s one nice development in a season that hasn’t had too many.