Xander Bogaerts came up as one of the top prospects in baseball, and he has more-or-less lived up to expectations. Perhaps anybody who expected him to be a perennial MVP candidate might be disappointed, and he has flown under the radar a bit amidst a golden age of young shortstops, but he has been highly a productive player, specifically for a middle-infielder. A .283/.342/.429 career line from a shortstop is excellent, and he has accumulated 17.8 WAR, per FanGraphs over the last four years. He even used to add significant value on the basepaths, though that fell off track a bit last season.
Bogaerts is coming off a career year at the plate, setting career highs with a .360 OBP, .522 SLG, 45 doubles, 23 HR, and a 133 wRC+. Only Manny Machado had a better season offensively among shortstops! The biggest improvement was in the power department, as his .234 ISO was more than 80 points higher than his previous career high. Things were looking really good for Bogaerts going into his contract year this season.
After the past two offseasons, who knows how free agency will play out next winter, but Bogaerts was set to be one of the top free agent targets, especially after Nolan Arenado agreed to an extenstion with the Rockies. Bogaerts was going to be a slick hitting shortstop going into his age 27 season. Now teams have one fewer option after this season.
The Red Sox signed Bogaerts to a six-year, $120 million extension. The deal includes an opt-out half way through the deal after the 2022 season, as well as a vesting option for 2026 for $20 million. That opt-out will come after the next CBA, so even though Bogaerts will still only be 30 years old, who knows if it will be worth his while to execute it, regardless of how well he might still be performing.
Honestly, this deal looks like a steal for the Red Sox. Given Bogaerts’ age, position, and talent, I would have paid over $200 million for him. But as we all know, free agency is not working properly for position players who are not superstars. He made it no secret that the state of free agency was a concern for him, but he did genuinely want to stay with the team that developed him.
Bogaerts had some leverage here, too, because the Red Sox have no one to replace him. They do not have any viable shortstop options in the farm system that will be even close to ready next year. Their other free agent options next winter would have been older, inferior players.
The only concern I would have if I were the Red Sox is how long Bogaerts will stick at shortstop. As I have mentioned many times before, living in Boston and being married to a die-hard Red Sox fan means that I end up watching a lot of their games (a benefit when they are fun to watch, like last year). I say that because by my eye, he seems to be a lot better defensively than DRS or FRAA rate him. My wife and I think he is average there, which more or less lines up with his career UZR. That beings said, it is hard to imagine that he will last the entirety of this contract at shortstop. In the future it would be no problem to move him to third base and Rafael Devers to first, but the Sox had better hope they come up with a solution to shortstop before then.
This is money well spent by the Red Sox after extending Chris Sale earlier, but they have more impending free agents to worry about. Rick Porcello is one of them, and J.D. Martínez is practically a lock to opt-out. In addition to that, Andrew Benintendi will be eligible for arbitration, not to mention the raises that players who are already arbitration eligible are going to get. Finally, of course, is the looming specter of Mookie Betts’ free agency after 2020. Usually this is when I say that a team can afford anyone and has no excuse for being cheap, but the Red Sox are one of the few exceptions to that, having the highest payroll in baseball for the second year in a row.
The Red Sox might have some tough choices ahead, but Bogaerts at $120 million was an easy one. One of the richest and best teams in baseball paying a $20 million AAV for a player of Bogaerts’ age and caliber is a tremendous value. Personally, I would have liked to see him get paid more, but at least he got paid.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.