On August 13 Red Sox team President Sam Kennedy made a seemingly innocuous radio appearance on the “The Greg Hill Show.” This is not an unusual thing for a team president to do, but what spiked the anxiety of Red Sox fans everywhere was when he told Hill what we are all too aware of following the trade of Mookie Betts: No player is “untouchable.”
Maybe this statement should have come with a trigger warning considering the fact that I still can’t scroll through my Twitter timeline without seeing a handful of sad/whiny comments about the Betts trade. Red Sox fans are clearly ready for some players to be untouchable and certainly aren’t ready to discuss sending away any more stars and they definitely aren’t over the Betts trade.
Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom took everyone’s anxiety down a touch later in the week when asked about the team’s commitment to star players Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers by saying, “That’s simple. Those guys are core players for us. They’re incredibly important to our future just as they’ve been important here for a while. I think philosophically I don’t like to think in terms of absolute no’s, but those guys are key players for us. We are very hopeful that they are going to be part of our next championship.”
If that had been it for the trade chatter regarding those two stars, it would have been swept under the rug and we could’ve moved on. Unfortunately we weren’t that lucky. On August 18, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic published a story citing Bogaerts’s impending opt out following the 2022 season and his no-trade rights that he will earn on September 6 as reasons for the team to consider shopping the player. When Rosenthal floats an idea, it just hits a little differently considering how plugged in he is to the MLB rumor mill.
If this all wasn’t enough to start really freaking out Bogaerts’s biggest fans, of which I am one, then Jon Heyman saying there was a 20 percent chance he would get traded pushed me over the edge. The question remained in my mind; Why would the team even consider this? There are three clear reasons why they absolutely should not consider this:
1. Bogaerts is the best player on the Red Sox and is getting better.
2. Bogaerts is the vocal team leader of this group and he means more to this team than he would any other team.
3. Bogaerts has already shown a willingness to work with ownership on a long-term deal to stay with the team.
Let’s look at the baseball first. Dating back to 2015, Bogaerts’s age-22 season, going up to today, he has been the third most valuable shortstop in baseball by FanGraphs WAR. Bogaerts’s mark of 25.2 fWAR trails only Manny Machado (25.9) and Francisco Lindor (27.7) over that time frame, and Machado has played far more of his games at third base. Bogaerts is also just 27 years old and right in the middle of his prime.
The only three shortstops in baseball I can definitively say I would prefer over Bogaerts from a performance standpoint are Fernando Tatís Jr., Francisco Lindor, and Trevor Story. Again, between 2019 and the baseball played in 2020 Bogaerts is ahead of all three of those players in FanGraphs WAR at 7.7. Story is next at 7.4 followed by Tatís at 5.6, and Lindor at 4.9. Much has been made of Bogaerts’s unspectacular defense, but by most defensive metrics he grades out as a near neutral defender and has delivered positive defensive value every year since 2015. If you watch him regularly you know that he makes all of the plays he’s supposed to make despite not making the flashy plays.
As a leader Bogaerts has tremendous value that can be hard to quantify, but what is obvious is that he does things the right way and brings people together. Over The Monster alum Joon Lee recently wrote about Bogaerts’s emerging role as a leader in a story for ESPN. In that article he cites the fact that Bogaerts speaks four languages and is the son of a social worker as just a few of the many reasons that he is so adept at bringing people together. At a time when the Red Sox are tearing down the team he represents a bridge builder between current Red Sox and any new players joining the team.
Chavis has a great quote in Lee’s article saying, “He’s boys with all the pitchers, he’s boys with all of the position players, he’s boys with the Latin guys, [Taiwanese infielder Tzu-Wei] Lin, all the American guys,” said infielder Michael Chavis, who adopted Bogaerts as a mentor during his rookie season last year. “Glue is a good comparison for it, just because he is that. He brings everyone together.” This was followed up by an absolutely heartwarming quote from his pseudo little brother and best friend on the team Rafael Devers who said “Out of everyone, he’s probably the best person I’ve ever met in my life,” Devers said, “so the fact that he’s always so happy and the fact that he does speak different languages helps bring everyone together.”
If you take a guy like that out of the Red Sox clubhouse that gives players like Devers one less reason to want to stay with this team long term. Bogaerts is a building block not only because of his skills on the field, but because of his presence in the dugout, clubhouse, on the buses, on the team plane, and anywhere else he makes his affable and magnetic personality available to his teammates.
Lastly, Bogaerts who first signed with the Red Sox in August of 2009 has shown an appreciation for this organization and a willingness to work with the team on long term deals. In March of 2019, one of the last moves that then president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made was to ink Bogaerts to a new contract. That deal was for six-years and $120 million dollars and includes an opt out after the 2022 season. It was signed before he had his best season in 2019 and many believe that Bogaerts will and should opt-out.
I believe he has earned the right to opt-out of the deal, but that ownership should reward him with a lucrative long-term deal that keeps him here through the remainder of his career. Unlike Betts, Bogaerts doesn’t have the pressure of signing market-setting deals as the top player at his position. Aside from Mike Trout, it has been clear over the past five years that Betts is pretty clearly the second best player in baseball. Bogaerts is a great player, but he is not Betts.
I do, however, believe that Bogaerts is arguably more important to this team moving forward than any other player. As Bloom builds the next great Red Sox team he will need an anchor, someone current players and incoming players can gravitate towards and look to as the Red Sox set the tone of their next winning culture. Players will come and go, heck coaches will come and go, but Bogaerts must remain the one constant. He’s an excellent player and an even more excellent human being and in a sport where guys play 162 games a year and spend more time with their teammates than they do their families, this matters immensely.
Bloom seems like a very smart guy and I believe he understands this. Baseball is a sport of numbers and individual performances, but to win at the highest levels you need to be more than the sum of your parts. Bogaerts is one of those special pieces that brings the clubhouse together as a unit and one that will help guide the Red Sox to future success. You can’t trade that away.