The 2000s were the most successful decade in the modern history of the Boston Red Sox, especially when considering the context that the first of their two championships in the 10-year stretch was one of the most historically significant in the sport’s history. There’s not too much to complain about when talking about that era of the franchise’s history, but one of the consistent pain points of that time was the team’s inability to find a long-term solution at shortstop. After Nomar Garciaparra’s tenure at the position came to an end, Boston spent the better part of a decade looking for a steady replacement until finally getting Xander Bogaerts to come up through the system and start solidifying the position in 2014 and 2015.
It’s not the same in terms of scale as we’re not quite looking at a decade yet at this point, but the Red Sox are finding themselves in a somewhat similar situation at second base. Dustin Pedroia, like Nomar before him, had his career cut short by injury, albeit with a little bit of a longer healthy period than Garciaparra. But Pedroia has not been able to man second base on anything resembling a regular basis since the 2017 season, and while the Red Sox have again have success in his stead (most notably the 2018 season, which was their best in franchise history), the instability at the position has been a running theme for the last four seasons and continues as we sit here today.
Looking back to 2018 as the start of the post-Pedroia era, there are a lot of placeholder type players getting the bulk of the playing time at the position. We should point out that particularly in the first year or two of this it was not really clear Pedroia would never be available again, but the names filling in are still not exactly awe-inspiring. The 2018 season saw Eduardo Núñez and Brock Holt spend most of the time at the position until a deadline deal for Ian Kinsler. The following season saw a lot of Holt and Núñez yet again. The shortened 2020 season was a combination of a lot of players, with José Peraza and Christian Arroyo getting most of the looks. Last season started with Enrique Hernández as the plan to get a big chunk of that playing time until he moved to the outfield with the keystone position being handled by Arroyo and José Iglesias.
All of this is to say that none of these options have been considered as potential long-term options. It’s much easier said than done to have every position taken by your long-term choice at that spot, of course, but theoretically it is the idea of building of a roster. And as we sit here looking ahead to the 2022 season (whenever that may be), the same questions persist. The difference this time is that there is finally some hope that the long-term solution may be here sooner than later. Below are four realistic options who could fill that spot.
It’s entirely possible that the player who ended the long drought at shortstop could be the guy to end the waiting at second base as well. Depending on who you ask you’ll get different opinions on Bogaerts’ defense at shortstop, but even the very high end of that spectrum simply would say he’s fine. It’s a foregone conclusion at this point that he will move off shortstop at some point in the relatively near future, but it’s not yet clear where he’ll move, nor when. That said, second base has been an oft-mentioned possibility.
Personally, I’m not sure his range issues would really be solved by simply moving him to the other middle infield position, but the throws would obviously be easier and the increased usage of the shift around the league puts less of an onus on a second baseman’s range. Bogaerts most likely wouldn’t be an option to solve this position as soon as 2022 as it appears he will stick at shortstop for at least one more year. But by 2023 he may be moved over to the other side of the bag taking over for a second franchise legend well after the fact.
Story isn’t the only second baseman from outside the organization who could qualify here as the trade market could potentially open up a few options, but the free agent is the most likely out-of-the-org player so he’ll take all of their places. Story is one of the best free agents who will still be on the market when the league opens back up after the lockout, and he brings an intriguing power/speed combination who will get paid a handsome sum but not totally break the bank. There’s always a question about how a player will translate to playing outside of Coors Field, but projections still have him as roughly a four-win player heading into his age-29 season.
The final two names are prospects, with Yorke being the most obvious of the two. Coming off a huge breakout season in his first real taste of pro ball, Yorke has launched himself into the national conversation as a consensus top 100 name, with some evaluators having him safely in the top 50. To be clear in this case we are not talking about a player who would take this spot as soon as 2022, or even 2023 for that matter. But he could be here more quickly than you’d expect from someone who graduated high school in 2020. The former first rounder could end next season in Double-A, potentially putting Yorke on track for a late 2023 debut and a 2024 timeline for a true impact.
He’s the forgotten man, but at this time last year he was the guy who was going to end that post-Pedroia keystone slump. In fact, there was a real possibility that he would be up and taking the job by midseason last year. Of course, the top prospect who came back in the Mookie Better trade had one of the toughest 2021s in the Red Sox farm system, and the stock has dropped quite a bit. All that said, Downs is still only 23 years old and is only a couple years removed from his big 2019 when he brought his prospect status to a new level. If he can avoid the contact issues that plagued him in 2021 (he finished with a 32 percent strikeout rate) then Downs can put himself back on the map and potentially be in the picture to get at bats at second base by the second half next season.