Bringing back Brandon Drury a must for San Diego Padres

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Prior to this season, Brandon Drury hadn’t been more than a quality, versatile option that provided minimal power with above-average hit rates to pair.

Sure, he slashed .282/.329/.458 as a 23-year-old for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016, but from that point on, Drury had only homered 49 times before his 2022 campaign started. Most of his value came from playing multiple spots on the diamond and spelling players on occasional off-days, while serving as a weak-side platoon bat.

Fast forward to the start of this year, where Drury signed a one-year contract with the Cincinnati Reds, a team with zero winning aspirations that was honestly just trying to fill roster spots. On his fifth team already, Drury was looking for a spot to stick, and he quickly made his presence felt.

In 385 plate appearances, Drury slashed .274/.335/.520 with 20 home runs, 22 doubles, and 59 RBIs. He was driving the ball with more authority than before, reaching an OPS mark above .800 for the first time in his career, and finding the barrel for more elevated contact than not. In his age-29 season, Drury had finally broken out heading into free agency.

A change of scene came right at the trade deadline for Drury. With his contract expiring at season’s end, the Reds needed to capitalize on this level of production from what they thought would be a one-year rental. After trading for Josh Hader, Juan Soto, and Josh Bell, San Diego Padres President of Baseball Operations A.J. Preller acquired Drury for Victor Acosta, a young Latin American prospect who piqued interest in the Padres once touted farm system.

When it’s all said and done, outside of Soto obviously, Drury may go down as one of the more valuable acquisitions made by Preller. He’s homered three times in 72 plate appearances, having two of them robbed, and hits cleanup for this team, providing them true middle-of-the-order thump that they need. While his counting stats, .212/.264/.394, are down from Cincinnati, Drury’s driven in 14 runs and been the only player on this team outside of Manny Machado to perform with runners in scoring position.

Remember that defensive versatility we talked about earlier? Drury’s ability to play essentially every position on the infield has allowed the Padres to do multiple things with their lineup. He can slot right into third base and give Machado a day off his feet as he continues to recover from an early-season ankle injury. Drury’s seen time at first base too, and yesterday the Padres started him at second base to stack right-handed hitters against a left-handed arm, only to move him back over to first later on for Jake Cronenworth to slide in at the keystone. Getting this level of defensive versatility from a player that’s hitting at his power production is rare.

Given that the aforementioned Bell is set to hit free agency after this year as well, bringing back Drury seems like a no-brainer for the Padres. He doesn’t have a track record of consistently producing at the big league level, so re-signing probably won’t be too expensive even with this breakout year. You can pencil him in as your everyday first baseman for next season and potentially beyond, adding a 25-to-28 home run threat right into the middle of your lineup to hit behind Fernando Tatis Jr., Soto, and Machado. Factor in everything he does with the glove and there’s no reason why Drury shouldn’t be wearing the brown and gold next season.