CINCINNATI — The Red Sox aren’t alone in heralding Xander Bogaerts’s huge step forward.
“He’s really turned the corner,” said Bogaerts’s agent, Scott Boras. “He’s such a learner . . . He’s really developing into the player we thought Xander could be . . . Xander’s talent is that he’s a franchise player. The reason is he’s going to be doing things at that position for a team that few players can do.”
Boras’s ruminations on his client’s emergence come with a reminder. As one imagines what Bogaerts might be like in five years, there’s the caveat that it won’t necessarily be with the Red Sox.
Because he arrived, seemingly for good, in the big leagues as a 20-year-old, Bogaerts could be eligible for free agency as soon as the winter of 2019-20, when he’ll be entering his age 27 season. At that career stage, he may just be arriving at the early years of his prime, potentially the height of his capabilities. If his career trajectory follows the arc of a star, then as a free agent at that age, he could be in line for a deal of enormous magnitude.
Position players usually do not arrive in free agency after their age 26 seasons. Since 2006-07, there have been just 12 non-catching position players who signed multiyear free agent deals where they were 29 or younger in the first year of the deal; none has been younger than 28 in the first year of the deal. (Jason Heyward, who will be entering his age 26 season next year, seems likely to buck that trend.) But the point remains — if Bogaerts follows a steady upward trajectory through his age 26 season, it’s not hard to imagine $200 million sitting in front of him in free agency.
“Those are rare. There aren’t many,” Boras said of players who reach free agent eligibility at such a young age. “There’s Bryce [Harper], there’s Xander. They’re guys who are precocious athletes to take on the big leagues at a young age.”
And because his agent is Boras, it’s natural to assume that he’ll forgo long-term deals to explore free agency. Of course, that outlook ignores the fact that Boras clients Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe both signed early career, long-term deals with the Sox to delay their free agency, or more recent deals such as the ones struck by Boras clients Elvis Andrus with the Rangers or Carlos Gonzalez with the Rockies.
“Absolutely,” Boras said of whether he’s open to long-term deals for his players. “With our clients, we give them a lot of information. I always tell teams, I don’t know of any players we have that haven’t signed a deal that they felt was a value deal for them.”
There aren’t a ton of long-term deals signed by shortstops before they arrived at arbitration eligibility to suggest a roadmap for Bogaerts, but there are some. Starlin Castro reached a seven-year, $60 million deal with the Cubs in 2012; Hanley Ramirez signed a six-year, $70 million deal with the Marlins in 2008. The mention of Andrus is notable, since he signed an eight-year, $120 million extension with the Rangers when he was two years from free agency.
For his part, Bogaerts views Boston as his home. He acknowledges that he has given thought to the idea of a long-term deal to remain with the Sox, but suggests that contractual matters are of limited intrinsic significance. If he plays well and contributes to a winning club, Bogaerts recognizes that positive developments will follow.
“You obviously think about [the possibility of a long-term deal] when you see a lot of guys at a young age signed for the long term. Obviously I love Boston. I love the fans, this is where I know everyone, all the coaching staff, even in minor leagues I know everyone. There’s a comfort level playing here,” said Bogaerts. “When that time comes, we’ll deal with that. The only thing I try to do is come to the park every day, try to do my best and help us win. The more you contribute, the better the chance of that happening.”
And right now, Bogaerts — who arrives at the All-Star break hitting .304 with a .338 OBP and .411 slugging mark, as one of the top hitters in baseball with runners in scoring position (.392/.403/.541), and amidst a defensive breakthrough season — is finding ways to contribute more, and to make himself a key component of the Red Sox after a challenging 2014 season.
“I’m just happy for Xander,” Boras said. “He took on the bumps on the road. Watching him now, it says a lot about the Red Sox major league coaches and it says a lot about Xander as to how they’ve worked together to make him evolve into the player he is today.”