Last weekend, the Red Sox suffered a major blow to their roster when Xander Bogaerts went sliding into the Tampa Bay dugout to keep a ball in play and ended up chipping a bone in his ankle/foot. The good news is that the projection from the team is good and they suggest that he won’t miss more than 10-14 days, which would put him on track to return in about a week. It seemed like it could have been much worse, and having Bogaerts only miss this relatively short amount of time is a win. It’s also a major surprise, as a fracture in an ankle — even one as small as the shortstop’s — seems like it would cause a longer absence. I have zero (0) medical expertise, and thus no reason to doubt the Red Sox doctor’s diagnosis. That said, I really hope the team isn’t going to rush their shortstop back. Patience is key here.
While patience is the prudent approach, it’s not hard to see the temptation of rushing Bogaerts back. We’ve discussed this plenty since the injury occurred, but it is a big loss for this lineup. For one thing, he was carrying the lineup at times in the early going this year and he looks as good or better as any other point in his career. Losing his bat hurts this lineup, particularly compared to the replacements — Brock Holt or Tzu-Wei Lin. On top of that, it seemed like he was building some real momentum. Some will poo-poo the idea of momentum and there’s a chance those people are correct (I buy it as a concept a little more than maybe I should), but it’s definitely more bad than good that he has to sit for an extended period of time after getting off to such a hot start and building that early confidence. On top of all that, his absence means a lot of games with Holt and Eduardo Nuñez in the middle infield, and while Bogaerts isn’t really a Gold Glove caliber shortstop, that duo is a downgrade from the Bogaerts/Nuñez combination.
So, there’s at least some temptation there for the organization to bring him back as quickly as possible, prioritizing the short-term product on the field over the long-term outlook for both Bogaerts and the team. We don’t really need to look very far back to see what that looks like, as the shortstop had a similar issue last year, at least in that he was injured. In 2017, he of course was hit in the hand with a pitch and played through pain the rest of the year. He didn’t get off to the same kind of start last season that he has in this one, but he was still playing well overall and it’s clear in hindsight that playing through that injury destroyed his production. Maybe rest wouldn’t have allowed that injury to heal any faster, but that sounds hard to believe. (Though, again, I don’t know shit about anything even tangentially medical.) The Red Sox really don’t want to go through a repeat of all that, one would think.
The rebuttal to that point, of course, would be that these are different injuries. It’s true! Hands and feet are different parts of the human body that perform different tasks in both daily life and on a baseball field. It doesn’t mean that Bogaerts doesn’t need both at full health to be at his best, though. I will concede that hand injuries are probably more impactful for a hitter, particularly if we’re only talking about the hitting. That said, I’d think having constant pain in your foot, particularly a left foot for a right-handed hitter, would probably be bad. This is the foot with which he plants on impact on every swing, and if there’s pain every time you plant you’ll A) swing lighter and B) be more passive with your drive to the ball. That’s not great! Plus, a foot injury would presumably harm his baserunning — and underrated part of his value — and his defense, which is important given the rest of the infield’s glove work.
The biggest point here is that while the Red Sox could really use Bogaerts on their active roster as much as possible for the reasons listed towards the top of this post, they can get by in the early going without him. They showed in the Yankees series (and maybe on Friday against the Orioles! I’m writing this before first pitch) that they can plate plenty of runs in his absence. This isn’t last year’s team where losing any bat seemed catastrophic. On top of that, they’ve banked a few wins, and while they obviously don’t want to take their foot off the gas pedal, they aren’t in a desperate enough position where they need Bogaert’s injured foot to be the one on the pedal.
Ultimately, there’s no real way for me to know if they are rushing him back or not if they stick to the original 10-14 day timetable. I don’t have his medical information, and even if I did how would I know what to do with it? I’m inclined to believe that Alex Cora wouldn’t push to rush him back after preaching rest and playing for the long haul since the moment he was hired. Still, there’s always some temptation to get the best team back on the field as soon as possible, and that will only grow if they hit any sort of slump in the next week. Bogaerts is too important to this team and there’s too much of the season remaining for them to do anything but take their time and be patient with their young shortstop’s foot injury.