The Red Sox are riding high through their first nine games and three series of 2018, and (most) fans are riding right along with them. Sunday’s win was the most thrilling portion of this eight-game win streak as that comeback came out of nowhere and gave a boost to a fanbase that was pretty down after most of that game went poorly in multiple ways. Early on in the season, pretty much everything is going according to plan for Boston, easy schedule or not. There are some concerns here and there, but the results don’t show it. Unfortunately, amid all the excitement on Sunday there was one major piece of bad news when Xander Bogaerts, the hottest hitter on the team, left in the seventh inning with an ankle injury. Things didn’t look great when he was being helped off the field and his limp was getting progressively worse, but as of this writing we still don’t know the extent of the injury. It’s entirely possible this is much ado about nothing, but it’s only natural to think about what happens if this is more serious and at least requires a stint on the disabled list. Let’s take a look at how this could affect the Red Sox and how they’d react if this was the case.
The first ripple effect of a DL-stint from Bogaerts would obviously be how to fill out the roster. The Red Sox don’t have a ton of position player depth on their 40-man roster, and Tzu-Wei Lin is honestly the only option to take Bogaerts’ spot. The utility player impressed Alex Cora and the rest of the staff in spring training after his breakout 2017 season, but ideally he’d be able to get some more time in Pawtucket and hopefully get some more time in the outfield to enhance his versatility. There really aren’t any other options, though. For one thing, Lin is the best defensive shortstop on the 40-man roster — Bogaerts included — and a major upgrade over anyone else who would play there in Bogaerts’ absence. Furthermore, the other two ways the Red Sox could go would be promoting Sam Travis or carrying an extra reliever. Travis would give Boston their third first base-only player on the roster, which wouldn’t make sense, and another reliever doesn’t seem super necessary with the way the rotation is performing. Calling up Lin is a pretty easy first move to make.
From here, the Red Sox then would have to decide how to align their defense, and things get a little more complicated from here. As mentioned above, Lin is easily the best option with the glove, and if they are looking at things from a pure run prevention standpoint then he is the easy choice. Of course, run production matters too, and Lin’s could very well be the worst non-pitcher on the active roster with the bat. Essentially, the Red Sox would have three players — Lin, Eduardo Nuñez and Brock Holt — to split time between the two middle infield spots. Ultimately, the most likely scenario would be that they form some sort of rotation through these spots, with Nuñez playing much more often than not. One could certainly make an argument that Lin should get more playing time than Holt, though, depending on how you feel about the former’s 2017 breakout or the latter’s 2017 underperformance and how much it had to do with his head injuries. Of course, if the Red Sox deemed that Lin was the better option here, it would call into question why Holt made the roster over Lin in the first place. There’s also the matter of Blake Swihart, who was mentioned as a second base option in spring training, though he never actually played there in the Grapefruit League. If Bogaerts’ injury were to be longer term, then we would start to factor Dustin Pedroia into this discussion, and upon his return we’d likely see Pedroia at second with Nuñez at shortstop for most games. That would be giving up a ton of defense on the left side of the infield, but it would be shocking if that wasn’t the team’s approach given the offensive upside and the fact that both are much more established major-league regulars than Holt or Lin. Like it or not, veterans get this kind of preferential treatment.
After all of this is figured out, we look at the effect on the Red Sox lineup. In terms of how the lineup looks, the solution would probably be pretty simple. Rafael Devers has been hitting sixth most days behind Bogaerts, and he would almost certainly move up into the five-hole behind J.D. Martinez. Then, everyone else would move up behind him and whoever played out of Holt or Lin would hit ninth. That’s not too complicated, but it is some bad news for the Red Sox. Ultimately, this would unsurprisingly shorten the Red Sox lineup by a significant margin, making the entire bottom-third of the order a non-threat on most nights, at least as long as Jackie Bradley Jr. is scuffling like he is. Things would start to look a little better with Pedroia, at least, who would probably slot in behind Devers or Nuñez upon his return.
Obviously, the Red Sox don’t want any injuries on their roster, especially when they’re on the kind of roll they find themselves on to start this 2018 season. That being said, this potential injury to Bogaerts seems particularly deflating. Most of this is because the shortstop has been such a revelation to start the year and has seemingly acted as the sparkplug of this lineup for most games. It’s not just that, though. While the Red Sox have plenty of versatile options on their roster and can fill in at most spots, shortstop was arguably the shallowest position on the roster, which is a big reason Bogaerts is the only regular to start every game to begin the year. This isn’t an injury that dooms the roster or the season or anything, but it would have a significant impact in multiple ways and it goes without saying that everyone is crossing their fingers and toes in hopes that this is nothing serious.