The Red Sox expect infielder Yu Chang to return from a hamate fracture this week, reports Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com (Twitter link). The team plans to deploy Chang as its starting shortstop once he’s reinstated from the 60-day injured list. Chang has been out since undergoing surgery in late April.
Chang’s status as the team’s starter at short figures to be tenuous, at least in the long run. Trevor Story is hoping to return from elbow surgery sometime this month and ease back into things as a designated hitter at first. However, he’s expressed optimism about being able to return to shortstop at sometime in August. Beyond the potential impact of Story’s return, the trade deadline looms on Aug. 1 and could obviously impact Boston’s middle infield outlook.
Utilizing Chang as the starter at shortstop, even if only for a month or so, highlights the middle-infield problems that have plagued the Sox throughout the year. Boston found out late in the offseason that Story would miss at least the first half of the season. Subsequent moves to bolster the middle infield depth — acquiring Adalberto Mondesi and signing Adam Duvall, thus pushing Enrique Hernandez from center field to the infield — haven’t had the intended effect. Mondesi hasn’t played in a game this season due to injury, while Hernandez has been pushed out of the starting shortstop role due to defensive struggles.
Of late, the Red Sox have used rookie David Hamilton at the position, but he’s batted just .120/.241/.160 in his first 29 Major League plate appearances. On the whole, Boston shortstops have posted a .212/.281/.325 batting line this year, which translates to a 63 wRC+ that ranks last in the Majors. They also rank 20th in Defensive Runs Saved and 27th in Outs Above Average.
Chang’s return should, at the very least, help on the defensive end of the coin. The 27-year-old is regarded as a versatile and above-average infield defender, with positive DRS and OAA grades in his career at each of second base, shortstop and third base.
At the plate, however, Chang probably won’t provide much of a boost. He’s appeared in 213 big league games and tallied 585 plate appearances but managed just a .206/.271/.358 batting line with a 7% walk rate and 28.4% strikeout rate. That production would grade as a slight upgrade over Boston’s cumulative shortstop output in 2023 — a damning statement on the team’s middle-infield play as a whole — but still grades well below league average.
The Sox will hope that defensive gains made by installing Chang at shortstop can help keep their playoff hopes afloat. A 13-game deficit in the American League East seems nearly insurmountable, but Boston is a more manageable five games back of the final Wild Card spot in the American League, currently sporting a .500 record. Their play over the next several weeks will be of particular note, as it’ll likely determine the front office’s approach to the 2023 trade deadline on Aug. 1.