(Fourth in a series examining the Red Sox roster for 2018.)
Xander Bogaerts has been the starting shortstop of the Red Sox for the last four seasons. It amounts to what is historical consistency at that position for the Sox.
At only 25, Bogaerts already has played more games at shortstop (566) than any Sox player outside of Rick Burleson (1,006) and Nomar Garciaparra (957) since 1970.
After Garciaparra was traded to the Chicago Cubs in 2004, the Sox tried Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo, Nick Green, Marco Scutaro, Mike Aviles, Jose Iglesias, and Stephen Drew at shortstop before Bogaerts became established.
New Sox manager Alex Cora took a few spins in the revolving door, starting 112 games at shortstop during his tenure with the team from 2005-08.
Bogaerts has been productive, too. Since 2014, he leads major league shortstops with 333 runs and is second in hits (642), RBIs (265), doubles (124), and walks (179). He is fifth in OPS.
Statistically, there is little question Bogaerts is in the upper echelon of players at his position. But there are questions.
Bogaerts’s OPS dropped from .802 in 2016 to .746 last season. He also remains roughly an average defender at his position, his skills stagnating after what was marked improvement in 2015.
Bogaerts also is starting to get expensive. He is in his second year of arbitration eligibility and is likely to land a contract worth approximately $7.6 million for next season. He would become a free agent after the 2019 season unless the Sox sign him to an extension.
When he was introduced as manager earlier this month, Cora identified Bogaerts as a player who could improve next season, and there are several reasons for that.
Bogaerts was struck on the right hand by a fastball from Tampa Bay’s Jake Faria on July 6 and hit .201 with a .575 OPS over the next eight weeks. He was held out of the lineup for three days at the start of September to heal up a bit and hit .284 with an .803 OPS the rest of the way.
Bogaerts also should benefit from a different approach at the plate.
At 6 feet 1 inch, 210 pounds, Bogaerts is capable of more than the 12½ home runs he has averaged the last four seasons. Being more aggressive on pitches in the strike zone is something Cora espouses. New hitting coach Tim Hyers is a proponent of incorporating more “launch angle” into a swing, something else that should benefit Bogaerts.
Bogaerts has long been a reliable hitter with runners in scoring position, shortening up his swing and poking singles the other way. The Sox hope to see a more power-oriented approach in other situations.
A breakout offensive season would put Bogaerts in good bargaining position for an extension — or to build a thicker dossier for when he becomes a free agent.
In essence, the next few seasons will determine whether Bogaerts is satisfied being a solid player or wants to be mentioned with Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and other shortstop standouts.
Boston’s other shortstop candidates are much less accomplished players. Marco Hernandez, Brock Holt, Tzu-Wei Lin, and Deven Marrero all have experience at the position but do not project as everyday players.
Defensively, Marrero is the most skilled shortstop in the organization but is not yet competitive enough offensively. Hernandez, 25, shows potential as a hitter but has played only 61 major league games. The Sox view him as a candidate to fill in at second base as Dustin Pedroia recovers from knee surgery.
Holt did not play shortstop last season but has 30 games of major league experience there. Lin is being developed as a utility player.
In the minors, former second-round draft pick C.J. Chatham played only seven games last season because of a hamstring injury. Chad De La Guerra advanced to Double A Portland last season and hit .270 in 52 games. He was a 17th-round pick in 2015.
Primary 2017 starter: Xander Bogaerts.
Projected 2018 starter: Bogaerts.
Major league depth: Marco Hernandez, Brock Holt, Tzu-Wei Lin, Deven Marrero.
Prospects to watch: C.J. Chatham, Chad De La Guerra.