Over the course of this series, Jake Devereaux will go position by position around the diamond to look at the Red Sox options for 2023. He’ll look at players who are currently under team control or under contract, who’s in the upper minors, and free agent options. And finally, he’ll give his suggestions for how the Sox should approach each position. We hope this will serve as a useful primer to what we expect to be a pivotal offseason for the team. Here’s his look at the third base situation, and here’s our complete hot stove coverage.
Players On The Roster In 2023
With Xander Bogaerts opting out the remainder of his contract and becoming a free agent, the Red Sox are left with nothing at this position. Seriously, nothing. Trevor Story likely lacks the arm at this point to play shortstop. Christian Arroyo is not a full time player from a skill or durability standpoint. And Jeter Downs is on the verge of being declared a non-prospect. This position will need to be addressed by signing a free agent.
Players In The Upper Minors With A Chance To Contribute In 2023
While middle infield, particularly shortstop, is a strength of the Red Sox system, none of the impact names will be ready to come to Boston to begin the year. Since Downs has looked so lost at Triple-A over the past few years, he no longer represents a viable solution to replace Bogaerts. Other names in the upper minors like Christian Koss, Matthew Lugo, and Ryan Fitzgerald do not project as major league regulars.
Further down in the minor leagues, the system’s top prospect Marcelo Mayer looks like a real impact player with a chance to be an All-Star, however, he just reached High-A last season. Mayer, along with fellow So-Cal native and recent draftee Mikey Romero, need more time to develop before either can be considered. Mayer is at least a year away and Romero may be two-to-three years behind him. The solution at shortstop for 2023 will not come from within.
Options In Free Agency
Shortstop is absolutely loaded with quality free agents who, if acquired, could serve as one of the cornerstones of any franchise. These options are Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson, and Bogaerts
Let’s start with Bogaerts, the signing that makes the most sense. Bogaerts has played his entire career with the Red Sox organization, after being signed out of Aruba as a 16 year old. Not only is Bogaerts an All-Star level player, he is invaluable as a leader of the Red Sox clubhouse and represents the lone link to the 2013 World Series team. His value goes far beyond what a great player he is on the field, and, along with Rafael Devers, he carries the torch as one of just two players on this team who has a chance to have his number adorn the right field porch at Fenway.
Since 2019, Bogaerts is second among this group in FanGraphs WAR at 18.0, and ranks first in home runs, RBI, and wRC+ at 134. He also ranks second in runs scored and is only four games behind Swanson in terms of games played. His slash line of .304/.376/.503 is elite and is tops among this group in OBP. Bogaerts is a durable player who is proven in his ability to handle the fishbowl/marketplace that is Boston and he is undoubtedly more valuable to the Red Sox than he is to any other team. Defensively, his reputation has always been suspect, and, outside of UZR, he trails the other major free agents in most advanced metrics.
Over the past four seasons, dating back to 2019, Turner leads the way in fWAR at 20.0. During this stretch Turner has been the best overall hitter of the bunch slashing .311/.361/.509 with a 133 wRC+. He has also led the way in runs scored and stolen bases. His 106 stolen bases are more than the other three combined. In addition to playing shortstop, he has started nearly 50 games at second base. If the Red Sox are serious about getting more athletic, then Turner is a great option.
The guy with the most physical skills and raw ability of this group is certainly Correa. The 2012 number one overall pick has a cannon for an arm and has been elite at fielding his position. Moreover, his 132 wRC+ is barely lower than the marks set by Bogaerts and Turner. The knock on Correa has been his ability to stay on the field. Over the past four seasons, he has played in just 417 games (the next lowest among the big free agents is Turner with 489). Despite this gap in games played, his counting stats are all extremely comparable to the other names we are discussing. When he’s on the field, Correa may be the most valuable on an inning-by-inning basis, and it’s likely his contract will reflect that. He is also only 28, the youngest player in this group.
If defense is your first priority at shortstop, then Swanson is your guy. He leads this group in innings played at the position while also leading them in both FanGraphs Def and StatCast Outs Above Average. Swanson is the second youngest player of this group and is also projected to be the least expensive. There is a good reason for his reduced price tag though. Despite his excellent offensive year in 2022, he has slashed .261/.325/.444 with a 105 wRC+ over the past four seasons. Defensive prowess is usually the first skill to decline, and I’m just not sure that the bat is elite, in fact, it may be closer to average.
Sign Bogaerts to a deal between 6-8 years in length and enjoy him as a steady force in the lineup, in the clubhouse, and in fans’ hearts. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that, despite his defensive shortcomings at shortstop, he has been the position’s best slugger. Bogaerts won his fifth Silver Slugger award this past year, putting him in the same category as players like Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter.
Last season, Bogaerts experienced a defensive renaissance by working on his positioning and doing more fielding drills, and the result was his second best defensive season ever. He can certainly play at shortstop for at least the next couple of seasons until Marcelo Mayer is ready to take over. Wherever the team decides to move Bogaerts in the future, his bat is good enough to play anywhere on the diamond.
Paying Bogaerts sends a strong message to the clubhouse, the fans, and the rest of the league. In the clubhouse, it tells players like Devers and future talented young players that the Red Sox do take care of their guys. No matter what people say about the paycheck being the only reason why players choose their long term home, I believe it is much more complicated than that. I find it impossible to ignore the impact that Bogaerts being here long term would have on Devers and his decision to sign an extension or leave for more money and a better baseball situation.
The message it sends to fans is that the Red Sox do care about what it means to be a Red Sox legend and that the team does care about more than just the bottom line. If the team stops holding on to its own homegrown stars, then eventually the right field porch stops having numbers added to it. Legacy should matter to the Red Sox, because it certainly matters to many of their fans.
Lastly, the message that it sends to the rest of baseball is that Chaim Bloom and the Fenway Sports Group are still serious about being a competitive force in the league. Since John Henry purchased this team they have consistently spent money, often carrying a top five payroll. The team’s payrolls have remained high the last few seasons, but much of that money was tied up in players who were either not on the field or no longer in this organization. Paying Bogaerts would go a long way towards putting the rest of the league on notice that the Red Sox are still here and are still a force to be reckoned with.
Letting both Bogaerts and Devers get away just a few years after trading Mookie Betts would be unforgivable. For me, a fan who has dedicated much of my free time writing and podcasting about this team, my fandom would be replaced with apathy and cynicism.