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Is Xander Bogaerts the most valuable shortstop in the major leagues?

Xander Bogaerts has blossomed into an elite talent on the field and a strong clubhouse leader.
Xander Bogaerts has blossomed into an elite talent on the field and a strong clubhouse leader.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

No shortstop occupies a more glaring spotlight than Francisco Lindor. When the 27-year-old agreed to a 10-year, $341 million extension with the Mets just before the season, he became the face of both the team and his sport — a role that comes with a mountain of scrutiny made evident when boos drizzled down in Citi Field Tuesday night in the eighth inning of his team’s 2-1 loss to the Red Sox.

Xander Bogaerts resides in a different space. While Lindor’s struggles (.203/.317/.261) have made him a target, an 0-for-3 night (with a walk) for Bogaerts was a little-noticed aberration. After going 1 for 4 in Wednesday’s 1-0 win, the Red Sox shortstop is hitting .348/.389/.551 with three homers.

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That standout performance is part of a larger pattern. As calculated by Fangraphs, Bogaerts is the leader among shortstops in WAR since 2018 (14.5, just ahead of Lindor) and ranks seventh overall in that time. He has sustained his excellence as an elite middle-of-the-order hitter who offers reliable (if unspectacular) defense over a four-year period.

Lindor, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Javier Báez, and other shortstops have garnered more national recognition. But a strong case can be made that Bogaerts has been the most valuable shortstop in the big leagues over the extended stretch, fulfilling projections for stardom that accompanied him through the minors.

“Once we signed him and he was making his way through the system, I think everyone thought he’d be special,” said Red Sox assistant general manager Raquel Ferreira. “I don’t think anybody is surprised by it.

“He’s not the type to get jealous or want attention. He just goes out there and plays to the best of his ability every day.”

That unassuming dedication has helped Bogaerts anchor the franchise during a tumultuous period — the greatness of the 2018 season, the disappointment of 2019, the chaos of 2020, the immense turnover heading into 2021. On that rocky terrain, Bogaerts has remained a pillar of stability. Just as he represented the bridge from the 2013 championship to the one in 2018, the Sox now hope he can help them span the divide from 2018 to their Next Great Team.

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Yet his role wasn’t always so certain. Following the 2018 title, the Sox recognized that changes to an exceptional core were coming. Bogaerts was coming off a breakout season, having added power (a career-high 23 homers) to his established ability to hit for average and get on base.

Pulling rank Xander Bogaerts's ranks among MLB shortstops from 2018-21
Category Stat Rank
Average .303 1
OBP .373 1
Slugging .536 2
OPS .909 1
WAR 14.5 1
SOURCE: Fangraphs

He was a year from free agency, and the Sox questioned their ability to retain him before he reached the open market. They explored the trade market.

“If the Red Sox trade Mookie Betts, then they’re likely willing to trade anyone,” recalled agent Scott Boras, who represents Bogaerts. “The reality of it is a lot of teams ask a lot of questions. They all want to know if they can get Xander.”

Yet the market exploration proved half-hearted. The Sox had cursory conversations with a couple of teams, but the suggestions of what might be offered for Bogaerts weren’t enough to advance talks.

The next spring, both the Sox and their stars who were approaching free agency — Betts, Bogaerts, and Chris Sale, among others — tried to make sense of what the future might hold. And Bogaerts, who’d signed as an amateur out of Aruba as a 16-year-old in 2009, came to a realization: He didn’t want his Red Sox tenure to end when he became a free agent after the 2019 season, even if he had to pass on a top-of-the-market contract.

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“He just knew this was the place he wanted to be,” said Ferreira.

At the start of the 2019 season, Bogaerts signed a six-year, $120 million deal that ran from 2020-25 and included both an opt-out after 2022 and a vesting option for 2026. On one hand, it’s easy to conclude that Bogaerts left more than $100 million on the table, given his performance in 2019 (.309/.384/.555 with 33 homers) and what Lindor ended up commanding one year from free agency.

At the same time, the continued excellence of Bogaerts may reflect his decision to push aside any questions about his future. The success of 2018 is no longer a leap forward but a baseline — one that could put Bogaerts in a different market position should he opt out after next season.

Bogaerts has been a pillar of stability during a period of uncertainty for the Red Sox.
Bogaerts has been a pillar of stability during a period of uncertainty for the Red Sox.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

“Certainly he had a great year [in 2018], but rising to that consistency level of being in the middle of a lineup for a few years, being that guy, that was something that Xander felt was attainable in Boston,” said Boras. “Xander definitely wanted to stay in Boston. He felt comfortable establishing himself there and enjoyed being a Red Sox. That was important to him.

“I think now, Xander is a different player and person than he was when he signed this contract. The good thing is Xander can be a 29-year-old free agent, very much in his prime, and will have an opportunity to be looked at.”

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Such concerns are now on a distant horizon. There has been little need for the shortstop to look beyond his current station.

For now, Bogaerts is the backbone of the Red Sox, a player who for years had been the kid in the clubhouse but is now the adult in the room, particularly with David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia retired. It’s a responsibility Bogaerts takes seriously.

“He wants to teach guys the right way to do things, just like somebody taught him or like he observed,” said Ferreira. “I think it’s hugely important that you have someone with that natural ability in them to just take them under their wings. He doesn’t do it because someone asks him to do it but because he wants to.”

The Red Sox recognize their good fortune to have Bogaerts. His understated excellence may not put him in a national spotlight, but for his current team, there is no question about the place he occupies.

“I love my shortstop,” manager Alex Cora said earlier this month. “I’m proud of my shortstop. And I’m glad I’m going to put him in the fourth spot and he’s going to play short for us hopefully for a long, long time.

“Like I told him [when he signed the extension], ‘You have a chance to be the greatest shortstop in the history of the Boston Red Sox.’ The way he goes about his business, he will be.

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“You look around and obviously there are some great ones and there are going to be some free agents. But we have our shortstop and we love our shortstop.”


Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.