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If Xander Bogaerts leaves, the Red Sox would lose much more than an All-Star shortstop

Xander Bogaerts tipped his cap to the Fenway Park fans on the last day of the season.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

On paper, the Red Sox might be able to replace the production of Xander Bogaerts if he opts out of his contract and leaves as a free agent this winter. Yet the question of whether or not he stays in Boston is tied not just to the team’s future but also to a connection to its past.

In so many ways, the possibility of his free agency represents an organizational fork in the road. Bogaerts is viewed as the current possessor of a baton that has been passed over the past 25 years across players such as Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, and Dustin Pedroia. He is the through-line connecting the current team to its championship past — and perhaps its aspirations for more moving forward.

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“If Xander opts out and leaves the team and J.D. [Martinez] leaves the team, I think [Rafael] Devers is most likely going to head the same way,” Martinez suggested. “Those guys are going to go. They’re not going to have the essence of the franchise that we left. The culture that we left is going to be lost. And we don’t know when we’re going to get it back and how we’re going to get it back.”

Bogaerts has been that rarest of phenoms: A homegrown prospect for whom the reality has matched the hype. He’s a two-time champion, four-time All-Star, and four-time Silver Slugger winner. He has played 1,192 games at shortstop, more than anyone else in Red Sox history. He has participated in 44 postseason contests, fourth in team history.

Over the last five years, Bogaerts is hitting .301/.373/.508 with 105 homers. He’s one of five big leaguers to post an OPS of .800 or better in each of the last five years while qualifying for the batting title, joining Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Paul Goldschmidt, and José Ramírez.

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He has been a metronome of production.

“I played with Bogey, and I know what I’m getting from him, said Ortiz. “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.”

Bogaerts has a remarkable résumé. Yet it doesn’t surprise those who have known him since his first days in the Red Sox organization after signing as a 16-year-old out of Aruba in August 2009.

Xander Bogaerts as a rookie in 2013, a season that would end with a World Series championship.Marcio Jose Sanchez

“He’s come from being the best player on a small island that isn’t known for producing baseball players to being a superstar on one of the most storied franchises in baseball and winning multiple rings,” said Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero. “And he is still the same guy. There is comfort and consistency there.

“You don’t have to worry about him not being in the lineup. You don’t worry about Xander taking care of himself in the offseason. It’s unbelievable. Those same traits were evident when he was an A-ball player. [That package] is incredibly hard to find.”

From September: Xander Bogaerts reflects on his tenure with the Red Sox, and what might come next

Precocious talent

The Sox figured out relatively early that Bogaerts had a chance to be special. In his first pro campaign in the Dominican Summer League in 2010, the 17-year-old’s habits were simply different.

“Everything he did was about getting better and better every day,” said Junior Zamora, the Red Sox’ bench coach in the DSL in 2010. “The way he handled himself, you could see it.”

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As an 18-year-old with Single A Greenville in 2011, he hit an eye-opening 16 homers in 72 games as one of the youngest players in the league. The following year, he was even better, even more polished.

On a loaded team in High A Salem, Bogaerts stood out among players who were several years older as an exceptional athlete with an uncanny feel for hitting — yet without a whiff of arrogance.

“He didn’t realize how good he was,” recalled James Kang, Bogaerts’s teammate at Greenville in 2011 and Salem in 2012 and now a Dodgers international scout. “I remember having a conversation with him, like, ‘Xander, I think you’re going to be in the Futures Game.’ He’s like, ‘Wow, you think so?’ ”

He was indeed — in both 2012 and 2013. As he moved through the minors, Bogaerts left no question about whether he’d hit. His offensive profile was that of someone who would hit for average, get on base, and rain doubles while projecting to reach homer totals in the teens to twenties — an above-average profile at any position, a star if he could stay at shortstop.

The Sox believed he was athletic enough to at least give him a chance to stay at short, and he set about doing the work to build his career there. Ten years later, Bogaerts not only has played more games at the position than anyone else in the 122-season history of the Red Sox, but he has made steps forward that suggest he can stay there into his next contract.

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“He’s actually moving better now than he did in the past,” said Sox infield coach Carlos Febles. “There’s no reason for me to think he can’t play another five, six years at short.”

“Is it surprising? It’s not, because you know that Xander is going to put in the work,” added Romero. “He’s not complacent. That’s what A. makes you a superstar, and B. what keeps you at superstar status.”

The unofficial captain

Bogaerts’s unassuming pursuit of excellence has elevated his significance to the Sox beyond that of just a player who has delivered perennially outstanding production.

He has become a voice of encouragement and inspiration to the team’s minor leaguers, taking time to introduce himself to subsequent generations of players.

Devers recalled being at the team’s Dominican Academy as a 16-year-old in 2013, shortly after he signed, and hearing instructors beam about Bogaerts playing in the postseason four years after he’d started his career with them. Instantly, Bogaerts became a model for players coming through the academy, a status he reinforced by interacting freely with players early in their careers.

It wasn’t lost on team officials that when the Red Sox recognized their minor league Players of the Year at Fenway Park, Bogaerts took time with each of them.

You don't need to explain the value of Bogaerts (right) to Rafael Devers (left).Jim Davis/Globe Staff

“He’s always been a guy who has had good relationships with all the minor leaguers,” Rafael Devers said through translator Carlos Villoria Benítez. “I can’t say enough about the impact he’s had on my career.

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“It’s hard to imagine this organization without Xander here. It’s going to be a long time, if he goes, to have somebody with his leadership and to replace the person that he is.”

Through his experience and consistency, Bogaerts has become a foundational player. He is part of the Red Sox’ championship lineage not just because he’s been on title-winning teams but also because he illuminates for teammates the commitment necessary to compete at the game’s highest level.

“We don’t have an official captain; we haven’t had one since Varitek,” said Matt Barnes. “But if you were to walk around this clubhouse and ask everybody who the captain is, it would be Bogey.

“He’s a guy who’s been here a long time, won multiple championships, obviously the play in the field speaks for itself. But I think more than that, he’s not only a leader in the way that he kind of commands respect, but he does everything the right way. He leads by example.

“He’s a guy who you can count on to show up every single day. It doesn’t matter if he’s banged up or feeling great. He’s going to be out there and never wants to come out of the game.

“When you think about what being a big leaguer is, and what playing for the Red Sox is, he kind of embodies all of those qualities in one.”

Is that replaceable? For the Red Sox, that question looms large as they see whether they can convince Bogaerts to forgo an opt-out in order, quite possibly, to become a Red Sox player for life.

Read more

The Red Sox have a lot of needs. But the situations with Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers loom the largest.

If the Red Sox let Xander Bogaerts walk, is Trevor Story still armed with the right stuff at shortstop?

Alex Cora makes no secret he doesn’t want this to be an end for Xander Bogaerts


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