For years, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers have been almost inseparable. They hit in the same batting practice group, stretch together, and play catch prior to games. When not neighbors on the diamond and in the lineup, they sit together in the dugout, constantly locked in.
Will their futures remain entwined? As the Red Sox offseason officially got underway on Thursday, one day after the end of a dismal 78-84, last-place campaign, that question loomed large.
The clock on Bogaerts’s time in the organization is ticking loudly. Five days after the World Series, the four-time All-Star shortstop can opt out of the remaining three years and $60 million of his six-year, $120 million deal.
Bogaerts, the gold standard for consistent production at shortstop the last five years, has expressed a desire to stay in Boston and gratitude for the only organization he’s ever known, but also a willingness to test the market that he didn’t possess when signing the extension in 2019.
The Red Sox hope to use the month before the shortstop’s opt-out to advance talks with the 30-year-old.
“I don’t ever want to make public any of the [negotiating] blow-by-blow, but what I can say is this: That process is going to start right away from our end,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said, describing talks with Bogaerts as the team’s first priority this winter. “We haven’t found that path yet. We still want to and we’re going to work really hard at it.”
The team’s declared urgency to talk to Bogaerts comes roughly six months after the shortstop (represented by agent Scott Boras) and club made no headway in spring training discussions. The Sox, according to major league sources, offered to add one year and roughly $30 million to his deal, giving Bogaerts roughly four years and $90 million for his age 30-33 seasons — well below market for a player with his track record.
At various intervals, Bogaerts and Boras suggested openness to updated offers from the Red Sox during the season. But despite team officials’ frequent declarations that they hoped to keep Bogaerts in Boston for years, Bogaerts said on Wednesday the team never revisited those talks.
Bogaerts had another excellent season — a .307/.377/.456 line with 15 homers and 38 doubles in 150 games — to solidify his standing in the league. His price did not go down.
“Sometimes you’ve got to play poker just to see who gets the wild card at the end. I guess that’s what the Red Sox did. Bogey got the wild card,” former Sox star David Ortiz said. “But if there’s a player you want to keep on your team until the last day he wants to play, he’s one of them.”
Entering the year, some evaluators wondered whether the Sox’ six-year, $140 million deal for Trevor Story reflected concerns about Bogaerts’s long-term ability to stay at shortstop. While Story was signed to play second base in 2022, some viewed him as a natural successor to Bogaerts at short in 2023.
But Bogaerts — well below-average defensively at shortstop in recent years — put up perhaps his best defensive season ever, making improvements that allowed him to play at an average to above-average level and diminishing concerns about his future at the position.
“His body hasn’t changed in three or four years, when he changed to get more explosive and stronger,” said manager Alex Cora. “We do believe he played really good this year just making a few adjustments.”
Story, meanwhile, emerged as a game-changer at second base. Cora said Story could still play shortstop — there are questions about whether he still has the arm to do so — but Story himself has expressed a preference to stay at second and have Bogaerts back.
The Sox have an elite shortstop prospect in Marcelo Mayer, a 19-year-old with a big league ETA of late 2024 to early 2025. But Bloom said prospects who are years from the big leagues won’t impact how the team approaches the construction of its 2023 team.
Devers, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that he’d be open to discussing a long-term deal this offseason. The Sox — who proposed using Matt Olson’s eight-year, $168 million deal as a negotiating framework in unsuccessful talks with Devers this spring — reciprocate that interest.
While the Sox ended up dealing Mookie Betts when he was one year from free agency, Bloom all but ruled out the possibility with Devers, who is eligible after the 2023 campaign.
“[Trading Devers] isn’t on our radar,” said Bloom. “Part of the reason that we’ve done what we’ve done [to build the farm system and gain payroll flexibility] the last couple of years is to never be in that position [of trading a player like Betts] again.
“[Devers] is a guy that we want to build around. He’s hugely important to what we’re doing,” he added. “I think we’re in a position now that we expect and fully intend to go out and put a really good team on the field and win next year. And I don’t see how it would make life easier for ourselves by him not being a part of that, to say nothing of the years to come.”
The Red Sox have a wide array of needs this winter. The rotation, bullpen, catcher, and outfield are all areas of need. The Sox have an enormous amount of money coming off the books — more than $80 million before counting the potential departure of Bogaerts.
There is money to sign Bogaerts and Devers, though team CEO and president Sam Kennedy sounded a cautious note when asked if the team could do so while also addressing other needs this offseason.
“I would hope so,” he said.
But hope does not get deals done. The Sox understand that as they embark on franchise-shaping talks with a pair of centerpieces.
“Nothing I say really matters,” Bloom said of Bogaerts, “unless there’s a deal.”