FORT MYERS, Fla. — There was a lot of talk about Chris Sale’s impending free agency when Red Sox principal owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner met with the Boston media Monday. Folks wanted to know the Sox’ philosophy on signing a 30-year-old starter to a long-term deal. We asked about Sale’s health and speculated on the notion that the Sox might lock up the ace lefty before he reaches free agency.
There was far less talk about the starting shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, a 26-year-old veteran with two championship rings who hit .288 with 23 homers and 103 RBIs last year.
How has this guy managed to stay so far under the radar through the years? Bogaerts is single, handsome, speaks four languages, plays a glamour position in a sports-crazed city. He is one of the better shortstops in the game, and this could be his last year in a Red Sox uniform.
Where’s the panic? Where’s the outrage? The impending free agency of Jacoby Ellsbury was a far bigger deal back in the spring of 2013. Fans stormed the gates of Fenway when the Sox blundered in their attempt to keep Jon Lester in 2014. And who can forget the ruckus way back in the day when Mo Vaughn’s contract was up? Mo called his bosses the “joint chiefs of staff” and wound up signing with the Angels after playing out his Sox pact.
Bogaerts brings none of that bombast to the table. He presents as calm, measured, almost regal. He has never been controversial. The only noise he ever made was when he grumbled a little when the Sox moved him to third to make room for Stephen Drew.
Bogaerts would make a good ambassador. Unlike teammates Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr., who were quick to say they have no intention of visiting the White House, Bogaerts took the diplomatic approach and said he’s still contemplating his decision.
Remember when he was just part of the Killer B’s? Bogaerts, Bradley, Betts, and (Andrew) Benintendi were the core of Boston baseball’s future back in the golden days of the Theo Epstein/Ben Cherington regime — when the Sox were good at drafting and developing everyday players. We started hearing about them when they were kids moving up the farm chain. Bradley and Bogaerts made it to the big leagues first, but Bogaerts is the one who stuck, and now he’s the first one with a chance to leave.
The spring of 2019 has been the great awakening for baseball free agents. More than 100 players remain unsigned, including big-ticket guys like Bryce Harper and Craig Kimbrel. This makes some of us believe that players with one year left might be more receptive to signing extensions with their present clubs. Security has its benefits, and “finding out what’s out there” is not as attractive as it was in the days of Vaughn and Ellsbury.
But Bogaerts is a Scott Boras client, and historically Boras clients play out their contracts.
The Red Sox need Bogaerts probably more than he needs them. There are no other shortstops (ready to play in the majors) in the organization. Any chance Bogaerts opts to stay?
“The Red Sox obviously have treated me well,’’ said Bogaerts, who has been with the organization since signing out of Aruba as an international free agent when he was 16 years old. “It’s a place where anyone and everyone would want to play, and stay.’’
He balked a little when it was suggested that the uncertainty of the market might compel a player to stay.
“Who knows?’’ said the shortstop. “I don’t know why it is like this, but obviously here is a place I enjoy playing.
“Time flies. We were in the World Series my first time and it took a while to win the other one, but my years in the big leagues have passed so quick. Sometimes it’s a bit unreal that this amount of time has passed.’’
Would it be strange to be in another uniform?
“It would be weird,’’ he acknowledged. “This is the only uniform I know.’’
Bogaerts is too smart to make any verbal pledges. When he was asked if staying in Boston was a preference, he answered, “My preference? Boston is an amazing city. All the sports they have here, all they do is win, and winning is one of the main keys for any player.
“I enjoy winning. If winning is a priority, why not?’’
That’s an answer right out of the Scott Boras handbook.
Manager Alex Cora said Bogaerts can do better on the basepaths. Bogaerts said he wants to get better defensively (I’d like it if he got rid of the ball faster so the plays at first aren’t so close). He’s looking forward to teaming again with Dustin Pedroia. And repeating.
“There were so many people that helped all of us in general that made last year so special,’’ he said. “I think we should just have the same game plan and go out and do the same thing.’’
Watch Bogaerts closely this year, Sox fans. If the smarter-than-everybody Red Sox don’t take care of business with him, this could be his last season in a Red Sox uniform. And Nomar Garciaparra is not walking through that door.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org