LAS VEGAS — It’s official: Xander Bogaerts is no longer a Red Sox.
To no one’s surprise, the four-time All-Star opted out of the final three years and $60 million of his contract on Monday, thus becoming a free agent. For the first time since he signed at Fenway Park as a 16-year-old out of Aruba, the shortstop is no longer officially a member of the only organization for which he’s ever played.
At the GM Meetings in Las Vegas, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was dismayed by the lack of an agreement with Bogaerts, unsurprised by his decision to opt out, and hopeful that the sides can still find common ground on a deal.
“It’s disappointing because Xander has been [a] credit to this organization every day that he’s been in it. We want him here. He makes us better,” said Bloom. “We respect his right to exercise [the opt-out] and to explore the market. We want him back and we will stay engaged with him.”
Bloom said that the team views both Trevor Story and Kiké Hernández as viable internal options at shortstop and that the team will explore a star-studded free-agent class at the position that includes Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, and Dansby Swanson. Yet he repeatedly reiterated that all of those possibilities represent backup plans.
“[Bogaerts is] our first choice. That’s not going to change,” said Bloom. “Part of our jobs is to explore every option to field a contending team next year and put together a really good group. We need to explore every possible way to do that, but Bogey’s our first choice.”
The Sox fumbled any opportunity of signing Bogaerts to a below-market deal in spring training, when they proposed adding one year and $30 million to the remainder of the six-year, $120 million deal that the shortstop signed prior to the start of the 2019 season. That modest proposal proved an endpoint in spring negotiations rather than a conversation starter, and the Sox never re-engaged Bogaerts in talks during the season.
Team officials — including principal owner John Henry (who also owns the Globe), president/CEO Sam Kennedy, and Bloom — repeatedly articulated a desire to keep Bogaerts in a Sox uniform beyond this year as a cornerstone player. Though the Sox were at best fringe contenders at the trade deadline, the team declined to discuss deals involving Bogaerts.
But while the team did reach out to Bogaerts and his agent, Scott Boras, shortly after the end of the regular season, by that point, a deal – unless on terms dictated completely by Boras – was unlikely. According to a major league source, while the team talked with Bogaerts early in the offseason, it seemed clear in recent weeks that there would be no deal, leaving Bogaerts to opt out.
What does that mean for his future in Boston? It’s too early to say.
The opt-out does not rule out a return. Over the past two decades, other franchise cornerstones (most notably David Ortiz and Jason Varitek) reached free agency before ultimately re-signing. Still, as Freddie Freeman’s departure from Atlanta last winter suggests, once a franchise icon reaches free agency, his return can’t be taken for granted.
As the Red Sox attempt to escape the wreckage of their last-place 2022 season, the idea of improving without Bogaerts is daunting. Last year, in what he considered a down year, Bogaerts hit .307/.377/.456 with 15 homers in 150 games — a fifth straight year of elite shortstop performance.
|Xander Bogaerts (29)||.307||.377||.456||6.1|
|Trea Turner (29)||.298||.343||.466||6.3|
|Dansby Swanson (28)||.277||.329||.447||6.4|
|Carlos Correa (27)||.291||.366||.467||4.4|
“I don’t see how we get better if we’re losing him,” Story said in the final days of the season.
That said, there are arguments to be made in favor of the other free agents over Bogaerts, whose slugging percentage has dropped in each of the last three years and whose future at short has been questioned for his entire professional career.
Turner is nine months younger than Bogaerts and one of the foremost five-tool talents in baseball. He’s also shown the ability to adapt to different positions.
Though Correa has been less durable than Bogaerts, he is two years younger, crushes the ball with impressive frequency (even if his numbers, somewhat puzzlingly, do not fully align with how hard he hits the ball), and has a history of October excellence.
Swanson won the NL Gold Glove at short in 2022 and his 52 homers since 2021 are the most among the current free agent shortstop crop. He’s a steady contributor on both sides of the ball.
Of course, Turner, Correa, and Swanson will all command nine-figure deals as free agents — and Correa and Turner, in particular, are expected to secure larger contracts than Bogaerts. That raises the question: If the Red Sox will open their wallet for a shortstop, does it make sense to roll the dice (a metaphor to employ ad nauseam during the GM Meetings at the Conrad Las Vegas) on a potential upside play from outside the club or stay with a known organizational pillar?
“I should be clear about this: generally speaking, the thought process is to look past somebody you’re really familiar with for somebody else who you might see as similar but a little shinier. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side,” said Bloom. “We’ve seen that for years in many different cases. So like I said, finding common ground with Xander is our first choice.”
There are other options that would bypass the deep end of the free agent pool. Story — who’d spent his career with the Rockies as a shortstop from 2016-21 before moving to second (in deference to Bogaerts) when signing with the Sox — could move back to short, though his declining arm strength over the last two years raises questions about the feasibility of such a move. Moreover, moving Story off of second would create a hole at that position.
Hernández could move to either second or short, though if he moves out of center, the Sox likewise would have to address the vacancy there — in a free-agent market that features superstar center fielder Aaron Judge, another standout in Mets leadoff hitter Brandon Nimmo, and virtually no other solid starting options.
Those interconnecting possibilities attest to the complexity of the Red Sox’ efforts to build their 2023 team now that Bogaerts is a free agent. His decision does not come as a surprise, but it does serve as a reminder that the team faces a labyrinthine offseason — with one preferred escape path.
“Bogey,” said Bloom, “is Option A.”