The Red Sox and star shortstop Xander Bogaerts didn’t agree on a contract extension before the start of the offseason. The four-time All-Star officially opted out of the final three years on his deal with Boston this morning, sending him to the open market for the first time in his career. The Sox still have exclusive negotiating rights with Bogaerts through Thursday, but there’s little question at this point his representatives at the Boras Corporation will soon be in contact with other teams.
Speaking with reporters (including Alex Speier of the Boston Globe) this evening, Boston chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom reiterated that retaining Bogaerts would be the Sox’s ideal choice for addressing shortstop. “We want him here. He makes us better,” Bloom said. “We respect his right to exercise [the opt-out] and to explore the market. We want him back and we will stay engaged with him.”
Boston’s baseball operations leader acknowledged the presence of a few other star free agent shortstops — namely Carlos Correa, Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson. While Bloom suggested the team would explore the market for potential alternatives, he didn’t mince words when expressing the front office’s overall preference. “He’s our first choice. That’s not going to change,” he told reporters. “Part of our jobs is to explore every option to field a contending team next year and put together a really good group. We need to explore every possible way to do that, but Bogey’s our first choice.”
Bloom indicated he believes either Trevor Story or Enrique Hernández would be capable of playing shortstop if necessary but made clear the team would prefer to keep them at other positions to keep Bogaerts around. Story moved to second base this past season. While he’d played his whole career at shortstop with the Rockies prior to this year, Story has spoken about his desire to stick at the keystone if it means the Red Sox re-sign their longtime shortstop. That’d presumably keep Hernández in center field primarily, with the lackluster free agent market at that position seemingly playing a role in Boston’s decision to keep the utilityman around with a $10MM contract extension on Labor Day.
Of course, this is far from the first time Sox’s brass has gone on record about their affinity for Bogaerts. Immediately after the season, Bloom called re-signing the four-time Silver Slugger winner before free agency the team’s top priority. That obviously didn’t happen, and Speier writes that while the sides did have some discussions after the season wrapped up, it became clear fairly early on they wouldn’t get a deal done before the opt-out date.
Boston is sure to kick off the offseason by tagging Bogaerts with a qualifying offer. They’d receive only minimal compensation if he were to sign elsewhere, however. Because the Red Sox exceeded the base luxury tax threshold this past season, they’d add only an extra draft choice after the fourth round. Conversely, signing a player like Turner or Swanson who rejects a qualifying offer from another team — Correa is ineligible to receive a QO because he’s previously received one in his career — would lead Boston to forfeit both their second and fifth-highest picks in next year’s draft and $1MM in international signing bonus space. Certainly, the front office will weigh their long-term projections of each of the top free agents more heavily than the draft choices in deciding how to proceed, but they’d pay a heavier draft penalty for adding either Swanson or Turner than they would for retaining Bogaerts (and thus forfeiting the compensatory pick).
Bogaerts heads into his age-31 season coming off a .307/.377/.456 mark through 631 plate appearances. His power production dipped relative to his best seasons, but he hit above .285 with an on-base percentage at .360 or better for the fifth straight year. He also earned slightly above-average marks from public defensive metrics, an important step towards quieting some concerns he’ll have to move off shortstop in the relatively near future.