11:40am: The Athletic’s Peter Gammons cites front office officials from three other teams who are of the belief that Bogaerts will not return to Boston (Twitter link). As he did with regard to Bogaerts playing another position, however, Boras outwardly denied the report, telling Alex Speier of the Boston Globe that Bogaerts is “open to any and all voices in the free agent market” and adding that he and Bogaerts “have not closed any doors on anyone.”
10:04am: Next week’s Winter Meetings are generally expected to serve as a catalyst for what’s been a slow-moving free agent market. As the league’s biggest offseason convention approaches, the interest for some of the top players available is beginning to come into focus.
Xander Bogaerts is part of a loaded shortstop class, and a number of teams have checked in with his representatives at the Boras Corporation. Jeff Passan of ESPN reports the Diamondbacks and Cubs have expressed interest, while adding that previously-reported suitors like the Phillies and Dodgers are in the mix. Meanwhile, Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reports Padres president of baseball operations A.J. Preller recently checked in with Scott Boras about Bogaerts’ willingness to play a position other than shortstop. Boras, however, flatly rejected the possibility; the agent tells Rosenthal “Xander is playing shortstop” and denied that San Diego would prefer to move him off the position.
San Diego’s interest in Bogaerts isn’t a new development. Marino Pepén listed the Padres as a suitor last week, while Jon Heyman of the New York Post has suggested they’re involved in the top of the shortstop market more generally. The Friars are seemingly serious enough in their pursuit to gauge Bogaerts’ amenability to move off the position.
The infield mix at Petco Park is already crowded, although there are a number of multi-positional options who can move around. Manny Machado is locked in at third base, while the rest of the current infield figures to be made up by some combination of Fernando Tatis Jr., Ha-Seong Kim and Jake Cronenworth. Kim has proven himself an excellent defensive shortstop and earned an everyday role with a .251/.325/.383 showing this past season. Tatis was expected to be the franchise shortstop after a brilliant start to his career earned him a $340MM extension, but he’s now under consideration for a move to second base or the outfield after missing all of 2022 due to injury and a performance-enhancing drug ban. Cronenworth is a quality defender at the keystone, but the Friars have floated the possibility of kicking him over to first base with Josh Bell and Brandon Drury hitting free agency.
Adding a first base/designated hitter type might be the most straightforward path to building out the offense, but there’s no harm for Preller and his staff in considering other avenues. Adding another middle infielder while kicking Cronenworth to first base would give San Diego an elite defensive infield, while Bogaerts is among the top offensive players available regardless of position. He’s long been mentioned as a candidate to move off shortstop towards the end of a free agent deal after years of subpar defensive marks, but he quieted those concerns (at least in the short term) with arguably the best season of his career with the glove. Bogaerts rated as four runs above average in more than 1200 shortstop innings by both Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast this past season. He hasn’t played anywhere else since 2014 and while there’s little question he could handle a less demanding position like second or third base, it doesn’t seem he’s willing to do so.
There are a number of other teams with worse internal options than the Padres that’d surely be willing to plug Bogaerts in at his longtime position. The Diamondbacks relied on rookie Geraldo Perdomo this year, and he looked overmatched to the tune of a .195/.285/.262 line in 500 plate appearances. Nick Ahmed is under contract and can play excellent defense, but he’s always been a below-average hitter and lost almost all of this past season to surgery on his throwing shoulder.
Arizona general manager Mike Hazen is plenty familiar with Bogaerts from his previous work in the Red Sox’s front office, so it’s little surprise they’re interested in adding him given the uncertain shortstop outlook. The question is whether a Diamondbacks team that has had a payroll south of $100MM in each of the past two seasons would be willing to commit a deal of that magnitude. MLBTR predicts a seven-year, $189MM contract for Bogaerts. The D-Backs already have roughly $98MM in salary commitments for next season, per Roster Resource, so adding a salary in the realm of $27MM annually would require owner Ken Kendrick signing off on a major spending hike relative to recent levels.
The Cubs have a cleaner long-term payroll outlook that makes them a viable fit for any of the top shortstops. Nico Hoerner is a quality incumbent, but he’s already expressed a willingness to move to second base to accommodate a big-ticket acquisition. Roster Resource projects Chicago’s 2023 commitments around $127MM, and they’ve opened each of the past two seasons with payrolls in the $140MM to $150MM range. Chicago has pushed spending north of $200MM in the past. There’s room for an aggressive offseason, but president of baseball ops Jed Hoyer and his front office have to weigh whether to invest in the middle infield against other weak points on the roster like center field, first base, catcher and the back of the rotation.
Bogaerts rejected a qualifying offer from the Red Sox, so any signing team will have to forfeit draft choice(s) and/or international bonus pool space to sign him. Boston has consistently maintained retaining him is their top priority, though extension talks dating back at least to Spring Training haven’t gotten anywhere. The Phils are widely expected to be in play for a top shortstop, but reports suggest they’re more dialed in on Trea Turner at the moment. The Dodgers could certainly turn to any of the other shortstops if Turner walks, while the Twins reportedly have Bogaerts as their top fallback if they can’t retain Carlos Correa.