Xander Bogaerts has been underappreciated in Boston
It seems to me that for much of his career, Xander Bogaerts has occupied a peculiar place in the Red Sox’ galaxy of stars.
Just 26 years old, he’s just begun his sixth full season with the Red Sox, and his accomplishments are already plentiful.
He’s won a pair of Silver Slugger awards at shortstop, no easy task when a trio that also includes Houston’s Carlos Correa and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor is poised to become the Yount-Ripken-Trammell or Rodriguez-Garciaparra-Jeter of its era.
Bogaerts finished second in the American League batting race (.320) as a 22-year-old in 2015. Last season, when he drove in 103 runs while batting behind RBI machine J.D. Martinez, Bogaerts finished 13th in the AL MVP voting.
He’s developed into a dependable defensive shortstop through hard work and dedication. And he already has two World Series rings, the first coming in 2013 when at age 20 he was perhaps the Red Sox’ most reliable postseason hitter not named David Americo Ortiz.
The Red Sox would not be planning their fourth ring ceremony since the turn of the century without Bogaerts’s immense season-long contributions.
A player of his talent, accomplishment, and determination should be an easy fan favorite. While he’s popular, especially with younger fans, and appreciated for the most part, it seems like he’s never quite achieved anything resembling exalted status at Fenway.
I’ve always thought Bogaerts should be more popular than he is.
This newest development might just do the trick.
The news arrived as a pleasant surprise Sunday night: The Red Sox and Bogaerts had agreed on a contract extension that would pay him $120 million over six seasons beginning in 2020. Including his $12 million salary this season, he will be locked up the next seven years — presuming he does not opt out after the 2022 season, which colleague Alex Speier reports is part of the deal — for $132 million.
The deal seems ideal for both sides . . . but perhaps slightly more ideal for the Red Sox. I’ll say it: It feels like a steal, inasmuch as paying someone $20 million per year can be. Bogaerts will become the highest-paid shortstop in baseball annually — the Rangers’ Elvis Andrus averages $15 million per season on an eight-year, $120 million contract — at least until Lindor signs his next deal. But the Red Sox secure a core player in his prime who plays a premium defensive position capably and is coming off career highs in OPS (.883), extra-base hits (71), and slugging percentage (.522).
And his annual salary is less than what they paid Hanley Ramirez last year? I’d guess the Red Sox are pretty happy with these terms.
Red Sox fans should be pleased too — and finally recognize that Bogaerts is a cornerstone player who really does want to be here. I think part of the reason fans might have been slow to appreciate Bogaerts is the perception — based largely on the fact that Scott Boras is his agent — he would hit free agency after this season and probably bolt Boston.
Not all of Boras’s clients go for the max money in free agency — Jason Varitek told Boras to get him the best deal he could with the Red Sox upon hitting the market in 2004, and Jered Weaver eschewed Boras’s advice and remained with the Angels rather than testing the market in August 2011. But most do, and it was easy to foresee a goodbye in Bogaerts’s future. We assumed he was a goner. I mean, he wears No. 2 in honor of Derek Jeter. How loyal could he be?
Turns out, more than we knew.
I understand the other reasons it’s taken Bogaerts some time to win over Sox fans. When he came up late in the 2013 season, he was regarded as a can’t-miss prospect, a surefire future superstar. That October he went out there in the spotlight, wide-eyed, and he didn’t miss, hitting .296 in the postseason (with three doubles and a triple) while playing an unfamiliar position (third base) dependably. It seemed the projections of greatness would be fulfilled imminently.
Then Bogaerts hit .240 in the lost 2014 season, and he was treated as a disappointing player on an enormously disappointing team.
Bogaerts’s struggles as an official rookie — and his acknowledgment of frustration when he got moved to third base again when Stephen Drew was brought back to supposedly stabilize shortstop — hurt his public perception. He wasn’t necessarily treated like a chief culprit, but he didn’t escape blame, either. His image was bruised at least by association.
What we should have recognized, even in the maelstrom of aggravations with that 2014 team, is that it was a natural part of a learning process for a player who had fewer than 700 plate appearances above Single A to that point.
Bogaerts had a fine season in 2015 at 22, finishing second to the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera in the AL batting race and pounding out 196 hits, though just 7 homers. The power came along in 2016, when he hit 21, scored 115 runs, posted an OPS of .802, and made his first All-Star team.
But Bogaerts’s 2017 season brought another unexpected hiccup — he hit .273 with 10 homers, and batted just .235 in the second half. But there was a valid reason: He played through a hand injury suffered in early July when he was hit by a pitch from the Rays’ Jake Faria.
Still, fairly or not, it made Bogaerts’s development path seem uneven. Teammate Mookie Betts had become the superstar Bogaerts was supposed to be.
It should be noted, in the middle of this supposed surprise, that Bogaerts has told us before that he wanted to stay in Boston.
“I enjoy my time here,’’ he said this spring upon arriving in Fort Myers, Fla. “[Boston] is a place that I think anyone and everyone would want to play and stay.”
Maybe we didn’t believe him them. But Red Sox fans can make up for that by believing in him now. It’s already overdue.