Saying goodbye is hard. So let’s raise a glass, cue up The Body Of An American, and do it together. It’s the Over The Monster Irish Wake in celebration of Xander Bogaerts.
Xander Bogaerts, The One
Don’t ever fall in love with a prospect. They tantalize. They tease. They promise you the world.
But they just don’t love you back.
That’s a difficult lesson to learn for a young baseball fan who clicks through Soxprospects.com and sees nothing but All-Star Games and MVP Awards in the future. But the truth is that baseball is incredibly, unimaginably hard. It is exceedingly rare that any of the precocious, toolsy, raw 17-year-olds who begin to pop up on your Twitter feed when their faces are still scarred with acne will one day make it to the big leagues. It’s even more rare that they’ll make it to the big leagues and be good. It’s rarest of all that they’ll make it to the big leagues and be great.
Xander Bogaerts was one of those exceedingly rare exceptions.
I was always the prospect guy in my group of Red Sox fans, the one who worried about Kevin Youkilis blocking Lars Anderson. And once or twice a season (especially in the down years) I would email a half-jokey/half-informative rundown of the top Red Sox prospects to friends who were otherwise completely out on the team thanks to Bobby Valentine, or Julio Lugo, or Nick Green. Here’s the last thing I wrote about Xander before he made his debut:
He’s now played 35 games as the youngest player in AAA and, although he’s hitting just .254, he still has his power stroke, as he’s hit a ridiculous 7 homeruns during that span. Importantly, his walk rate has actually improved since his promotion and, going into this season, that was really the only aspect of his game that he needed to work on. No Red Sox prospect in our lifetime has ever been this good, this young. Not Pedroia, not Hanley, not Nomar, not Mo. Hell, when Nomar was in AA (as a 21 year-old, not 20 like Xander) he hit just .267/.368/.384 with 8 home runs in 124 games. In other words, Xander is kicking Nomar’s ass harder than even Mia can (hiyo!).
What’s most notable about the particular email that paragraph appeared in, though, is not what I wrote about Xander. No, what’s most notable are the names of the other prospects I highlighted after him:
- Garin Cecchini
- Henry Owens
- Allen Webster
- Ruby de la Rosa
- Anthony Ranaudo
- Matt Barnes
- Trey Ball
One single big leaguer in the whole bunch, and he’s nothing but a mercurial middle reliever at that. That’s how hard it is to merely make it to the big leagues, let alone be good, let alone be great.
Don’t ever fall in love with a prospect. Unless that prospect is Xander Bogaerts.
Xander Bogaerts, Underrated Star
One of the first pieces I ever wrote for Over the Monster was essentially a manifesto on why Xander Bogaerts was being underrated compared with his shortstop contemporaries. I wrote it in the winter of 2017 following the 2016 season when Bogaerts had just wrapped his third full season in the majors. (Technically, it was his fourth year, but despite his key role in the 2013 World Series run, he only played 18 regular season games that year).
At the time of writing that piece, Bogaerts was still on the come up. He produced a career-high 114 wRC+ in 2016 and accrued nearly four fWAR for the second-straight season, but he was far from the star he would become. In fact, Bogaerts wouldn’t actually level up and make my argument look sage-like until 2018 when he posted a 133 wRC+ and produced 4.4 fWAR. He’s been as good, if not better, ever since. In fact, since that 2018 season when he really established himself as the All-Star shortstop he is today, Bogaerts is 14th among all MLB players in fWAR, not just shortstops.
The Red Sox saw how good Bogaerts was becoming in 2018 and after he helped them win yet another World Series, they signed him to a six-year, $120 million deal prior to the 2019 season. As part of the deal, however, Bogaerts had an opt out clause he could exercise after the 2022 season, but that was for future Red Sox management to worry about.
Unfortunately, although Bogaerts kept producing at an elite level after signing that contract, the Red Sox went through a tumultuous run of baseball, with a pair of last place finishes and an entire regime change in the front office over the last four years. As the foundations of the organization crumbled, Bogaerts grew closer and closer to that opt out and the Red Sox failed to do enough to avoid him taking it. That’s what got us to him signing an 11-year deal with the San Diego Padres. While such a length is a bit beyond the pale, the Red Sox had plenty of time to reach agreement on a more palatable extension, but they never got there while also making some moves that seemed in direct conflict with keeping him on long term.
Ultimately, the Red Sox’s front office must not have thought Bogaerts was worth a bigger deal or signing to an extension. I’m not sure why given his track record, but that’s the takeaway because this wasn’t just a matter of the Padres blowing a competitive offer from the Red Sox out of the water. So, while I wrote about how the rest of baseball was underrating Bogaerts in 2017, I didn’t know that it would be the Red Sox themselves who would underrate him just five years later.
Taking off my analyst hat here for a second, losing Bogaerts obviously hurts. He has been a pillar of the Red Sox for more than a decade and to me personally, he became one of my all-time favorites. I’d even put him in the same league as Nomar Garciaparra, and as someone who grew up in the ‘90s, that’s about the highest praise you can give. Thanks for everything, Bogey.
— Phil Neuffer
Xander Bogaerts, Leader
Even though I was in favor of not re-signing Xander Bogaerts at a $30M+ AAV, I still absolutely love the guy. The 2013 World Series make some of my favorite, and earliest, memories of baseball, and it seemed like Xander was frequently mixed into them: wearing #72 and playing third base, of course, because why not?
I remember watching Game 3 with my dad, that “clutch”* triple in the fifth to finally get the Red Sox back into what had been a rocky game (with Joe Kelly as the opposing starter!).
*clutch in quotation marks, but that’s something I’ll leave for another article
Then there was that crazy 2019 season that totally sucked all but for Bogaerts’ top-5 MVP finish. The man carried that sad, sad team, and, being a loyal fan, it was nice to have at least one thing to look forward to during those frustrating games.
All of this, of course, falls into the background when we remember what Bogaerts meant (means?) beyond the field. He was always proud to play for Boston, proud to take over a leadership position at such a young age after learning from his more experienced colleagues. And beyond this, he spread those same values along to his teammates. Seeing him interact with Mookie, J.D. Martinez — even veterans like Mitch Moreland and Brock Holt — I think they all learned something from him, and he was always willing to teach.
Baseball can be hard. Especially for players like Bogaerts who are away from home, speaking their non-native languages all while trying to learn and compete. But he never took his opportunities for granted and used his knowledge and quadrilinguality to mesh a team filled with differences into a cohesive, cooperative unit. That’s invariably important, if you think about it, for a shortstop: someone that the game greatly relies on. But Xander always seemed to take it to another level.
I’ll always love Bogey, and I genuinely believe that he is a great person to look up to in a leadership sense, but also in the aspect that he’s just an amazing dude.
So thanks for the mems, Xander Bogaerts— my family and I will still always text each other “Quadruple Bogey” whenever you hit a home run!
— Avery Hamel
Xander Bogaerts, Fan Favorite
Growing up, I didn’t really have a favorite baseball player. I collected baseball cards and liked that Rob Deer had impressive strikeout totals (lead the league four times!) but was still always good for 20-30 home runs (I was two-thirds of the way towards the enlightenment of Three True Outcomes in the early 90s, I guess). I had a Wade Boggs poster because...that’s what I happened to pull out of the poster box at the Red Sox store one day while attending a game with my family. And Boggs was good, but he wasn’t really my Favorite Player. That wouldn’t happen until later...
...And it would be Nomar. Those first few years were incredible. Rookie of the Year. Always in the MVP race. Hitting nearly .400. The gloves. The throws. But the Nomar era came to a crashing end with the trade at the deadline on July 31, 2004. Of course, winning the World Series and breaking the curse, and 86 years, etc. etc. etc. made that all worth it. But the question of favorite player was back on my mind.
The position was vacant for a few years (outside of my fantasy baseball favorite, Nick Markakis) but I finally settled on “Mookie Betts. [imagine sad trombone here].
I own two Red Sox jerseys. Nomar and Mookie. With the debut of the City Connect uniforms I really wanted to get a #2 for Xander Bogaerts. Not necessarily out of superstition, I kept holding off. Waiting to see if he’d opt out (he did). And then I was really waiting on news of re-signing (he didn’t).
Good luck in San Diego, Xander. The Padres are a good team and, if you can overcome the Dodgers, you could add to your championship count.
— Mike Carlucci
Xander Bogaerts, Symbol
What can you say about Xander Bogaerts that hasn’t already been broadcast into our homes by Dave O’Brien, Dennis Eckersley, Jerry Remy (long live the legend), and various other Red Sox talking heads of the past decade? First and foremost, he was a true leader of the team. He had respect from everyone, from veterens down to the rookies. He could pull out a hit from the most unexpected scenarios. He matured at the plate and swung significantly less at pitches outside the zone than he did as a prospect. He was a sound baserunner even if he wasn’t particularly quick, and he carried himself with a purpose.
Funny enough, I used the past tense there, insinuating that the day he signed that contract with the Padres was a death of the shortstop, a departure from Red Sox nation never to see him again. In reality, that isn’t true... but it certainly feels like it.
The San Diego Padres are a National League team on the west coast. Geographically, you can’t get much further from Boston than San Diego. But moreover, Bogaerts’s departure renders the Red Sox unrecognizable. Under Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox were a club that would see a hole somewhere in the roster and fix it. Under Chaim Bloom, another path is taken, one that supposedly prioritizes the future and smart metrics but leads to goodbyes to players that may still have had an entire future of being beloved by Boston fans ahead of them. The Padres have now assumed the old profile of the Red Sox. They’re a team that has committed over a billion dollars to a fraction of their roster. To mourn the sight of Xander Bogaerts in brown and yellow (or blue and orange and white, if they’re sporting those cool alternate uniforms), we must first mourn what we thought a team in a primary market like Boston would be... but I have the feeling a lot of you have been mourning that loss since Mookie Betts was sent to the west.
But to harp on the team’s inability to reach into their pocket to preserve the team culture would be to fail to honor the culture that Xander Bogaerts brought. In 2013, he had 11 hits in 50 plate appearances. Those numbers don’t stand out, but even in that small sample, there was just something special about the 21-year-old standout with a purposeful demeanor who came up from Pawtucket. By 2015 he was a Silver Slugger. By 2016, he was an All-Star. And the 2018 season would not have been quite as miraculous if not for Bogaert’s clutch hitting.
Xander became synonymous with the Red Sox, just like the Green Monster, and Wally, and everything else that the region loves about its team. He won fans over with every at bat. And now, all those things we love about Xander — that sweet swing, that “aw shucks” warm leadership — he’s taking them somewhere else. But, he’ll be getting paid until he’s 41, which is a consolation for a guy who gave us many seasons of memories.
Thanks for 2018, and for so many other years, Xander! Tell Don we said hi.
— Dean Roussel
Xander Bogaerts, Wunderkind
My most lasting memories of Xander Bogaerts will be my first memories of Xander Bogaerts. A 20-year-old kid who was thrust into a pennant race and then into countless key moments in a World Series run, without once looking flustered. Playing out of position at third base, Bogaerts wrestled the job away from Will Middlebrooks as the 2013 playoffs rolled on. For whatever reason, his ability to draw a walk during late-game at-bats as a rookie in the playoffs (while wearing #72 on his back which seemed out of place in itself) sticks out in my mind most. He had six walks and eight hits, four of which were for extra bases, in 34 plate appearances during those playoffs. Bogaerts appeared in 12 playoff games (starting 8) and finished with a .296/.412/.482 slash line.
You’d think that would be enough to convince the Red Sox that they had the shortstop of the future, but the franchise’s never-ending obsession with the Drew family popped up again the following summer. After Stephen Drew couldn’t get any takers in free agency all the way into the month of June, thanks to an attached Qualifying Offer, he was brought back and Bogaerts moved over to third base again. This easily could’ve sent him down the road of Blake Swihart or Daniel Bard, but Xander took the switch in stride. After Drew hit for a blistering .176 batting average for the Red Sox, he was moved to the Yankees at the trade deadline (where he hit .150), and Bogaerts mercifully took over the shortstop position for good.
The ultimate professional, I can’t think of a single moment in Bogaerts’ career that felt off-putting to me. He was accountable in post-games, a quiet leader in the clubhouse, and a winner on the field, gaining another title in 2018 in a far more prominent role. He did this all while handling the relentless Boston media and fans, something that can’t possibly be understated. In his final moments as a free agent, while attending a Boston Celtics —Phoenix Suns game, Bogaerts was asked by a fan for a picture, but needed five minutes to take a phone call. That phone call was presumably the one where he was putting the finishing touches on agreeing to become a San Diego Padre. A moment where one could be forgiven for being distracted or needing some space. Bogaerts followed through on the picture and revealed to him that he would not be coming back to Boston.
All of this still feels like it was so avoidable. I look forward to hearing Don Orsillo call a couple hundred Bogaerts hits next summer, while falling asleep to my official “west coast team” on MLB TV.
— Bob Osgood