Third in an eight-part weekly series examining the Red Sox’ offseason priorities.
It came as a great surprise on July 30 when the Red Sox traded shortstop Jose Iglesias to the Detroit Tigers as part of a seven-player, three-team deal that returned righthander Jake Peavy.
Iglesias had long been considered the organization’s shortstop of the future, a player with astonishing defensive skills who could change the course of a game with his glove. He also had finally broken through at the plate and become a contributor from the bottom of the order.
It was a trade with implications for 2013 and beyond. Peavy started 10 games down the stretch, helping to stabilize the rotation at a time of need. It also cleared the way for Xander Bogaerts to become the shortstop of the future. Or maybe he was all along.
The Red Sox were using Iglesias primarily as a third baseman with the knowledge that shortstop Stephen Drew was signed to a one-year contract and was sure to re-enter the market as a free agent. As Iglesias was proving his worth in the majors, Bogaerts was making an even greater impression in the minor leagues.
The 21-year-old from Aruba split the year between Double A Portland and Triple A Pawtucket and hit .297 with an .865 OPS. He showed a mature approach at the plate, drawing 63 walks in 515 plate appearances.
Scouts labeled him one of the best three or four prospects in the game.
Bogaerts was called up to the majors in late August and played sparingly, hitting .250 over 18 games and only 44 at-bats. The first-place Red Sox were content to break him in slowly.
But Bogaerts hit .296 with an .893 OPS in 12 postseason games, starting the final eight at third base in place of Will Middlebrooks. The rookie was overmatched at times in the World Series, going 5 for 21 at the plate with on extra-base hits and eight strikeouts against the St. Louis Cardinals. But he handled himself well in the field.
“He’s a special player,” manager John Farrell said after the season. “There’s a calm about him, the way he plays. You don’t see it very often.”
Because he is so young and 6-foot-3, some question whether Bogaerts will outgrow shortstop and become too big to play a position that demands agility. That the Red Sox used him so much at third base could be indication of their plans.
But general manager Ben Cherington has said since spring training that the organization is more than satisfied with how Bogaerts plays in the field and believes he will improve with a full spring training spent working with coach Brian Butterfield.
Bogaerts was on the major league roster for spring training last season, but spent most of his time away from Florida playing for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.
After the World Series, the Red Sox made Drew a qualifying offer of one year and $14.1 million understanding that he would reject it and become a free agent. Both Cherington and Farrell made it clear at the time that they welcomed the idea of Drew returning and were comfortable keeping Bogaerts at third base.
Drew hit a pedestrian .253, but had a .777 OPS, fourth among shortstops with at least 500 plate appearances. He was one of the better defensive shortstops in the game, so much so that the Red Sox started Drew in all 16 postseason games despite him hitting .111 (6 for 54) with 19 strikeouts.
Drew did bang a solo home run that helped clinch the World Series in Game 6.
The Sox remain open to Drew returning, but he could command a four-year deal in a free agent market light on shortstops and that is surely beyond what the Red Sox would be comfortable giving him. Agent Scott Boras also would not be afraid to delay the decision until January to let that market develop.
In Bogaerts, the Red Sox have a player ready to step in. They could use the money saved to bolster other positions, particularly first base and catcher.
“Xander is not a fall-back,” Cherington said. “We’re looking at every option and he’s certainly somebody who can play that position.”
If the Red Sox start next season with Bogaerts as their shortstop, they will need some bench depth at the position. The Sox, Cherington said, have some interested in retaining 39-year-old John McDonald.
The infielder, who ended the season with the Sox, is one of the better defenders in the game and became a mentor to Bogaerts during the postseason, working with him before games on defensive skills.
The Red Sox have solid depth at the position in the minor leagues. Deven Marrero, a first-round draft choice in 2012, finished last season with Double A Portland. The 23-year-old hit .256 with a .676 OPS over 104 games with Single A Salem and Portland.
According to Cherington and other executives in the organization, Marrero hit the ball better than his statistics indicated. He also is strong defensively, although not at the same level as Iglesias.
The Red Sox also have Tzu-Wei Lin, a shortstop from Taiwan who turns 20 in February. He was signed in 2012 for a $2.05 million bonus, a team record for an international prospect.
Lin hit .226 for Rookie League Lowell last season in his first extended taste of professional ball. He is several years away from consideration, but has shown promise.