The Red Sox, after long last, made their big splash for the roster over the weekend, bringing in one of the top free agents on the market to fill the hole in their infield. On Sunday, reports emerged and were eventually confirmed that Boston had signed former Colorado infielder Trevor Story to a six-year deal worth $140 million. There is an opt-out after the fourth season, which the Red Sox can negate if they so choose by adding a seventh year worth $20 million. This is far and away the biggest move the Red Sox have made this winter, and the biggest they’ve made in a few years, so it’s time to dust off the scattered thoughts format.
- I want to start with the oft-discussed home/road splits for Story, who over his career has put up a .402 wOBA at Coors Field compared to a .321 wOBA on the road. That’s a stark difference, and basically just an average hitter on the road. A lot of people, it seems, tend to look at Rockies players’ stat lines on the road as representative of their true talent, and thus see Story as a league-average hitter who has benefitted from playing at Coors. That’s, frankly, just the incorrect way to look at this.
There has been plenty of research to suggest that the hangover effect leaving Coors for road games is actually larger than the positive effect of playing at Coors, especially since the humidor was added in 2002. There are some theories about why, though no one knows for sure, but the one that makes the most sense to me is that breaking pitches don’t move as much at home, so it’s an adjustment moving back and forth between that and then seeing regular movement on the road. I’ll drop a bunch of links with longer explanations than this at the bottom of this story, but I wanted to get that out of the way with the first bullet.
- So now that we have the home/road stuff out of the way, it’s worth looking at the player the Red Sox are acquiring here, which is a very good one and one who contributes in many different facets of the game. At the plate, he’s coming off of a down season by his standards, but one in which he had the lowest batting average on balls in play of his career and also dealt with injuries. And, even with all of that, he was still a league-average bat. At his best, he hits for power and draws walks, but it’s hard to know how his typically-high BABIPs will transfer away from Coors. This is the area in which the Rockies home park has the biggest effect.
And on top of being a league-average bat, Story was also a 3.5-win player by FanGraphs WAR, which speaks to how valuable he is as a defender and a baserunner. With the glove, yes he’ll lose some value moving down the defensive spectrum, but he’ll stay up the middle at second base so the value still exists, arguably more so than usual given how bad the rest of the infield defense is. And as a base runner, the Red Sox are known to make some frustrating mistakes in that respect, so adding a plus in that department should, at the very least, make watching this team more enjoyable.
- I think I fall into the camp that a lot of people do in which this was not my ideal signing coming into the offseason. In fact, among the top free agents he was probably near the bottom of my list. I still think an outfielder was a bigger need and if they could only sign one I’d have preferred Sieya Suzuki. But none of that makes this a bad signing. Even if outfield was a bigger need, it’s not as though second base was a perfectly settled position. This undeniably improves the team’s lineup and its defense, and brings in a marquee name that so many of us were waiting for. It’s not a deal above criticism, but I have a hard time at this point complaining about a move that clearly makes the team better.
- One of the more underrated reasons to like this deal, I think, is what it does for the team’s bench. Prior to this deal, their top infield bench option — and arguably their top bench option overall — was someone like Jonathan Araúz, Jeter Downs, or Rob Refsnyder. That’s not acceptable for a contending team. With Story at second, Christian Arroyo moves in as the top bench bat who can spell anyone on the infield. It’s hard to overstate the degree to which this improves that area of the roster.
- The infield defense is now a fascinating one and certainly brings back some memories of the Yankees from the early 2000s when they acquired Alex Rodriguez. Derek Jeter was clearly the worse defensive shortstop, but maintained his desire to stay at that position, moving the superior Rodriguez to third base. Similarly, Xander Bogaerts is certainly the worse defensive player but stays at shortstop. That kind of puts the team in a weird spot this year where the infield defense is better than it had been before the signing, but it’s hard to ignore that it could be better. Now, Trevor Story has recently dealt with an elbow injury, so who knows how well his arm can play on the left side of the infield right now anyway. Plus, I think you have to keep your stars happy and if Bogaerts doesn’t want to move then he shouldn’t. But even as a huge Bogaerts fan it’s a conflicting feeling between wanting to do everything to keep him long-term, which means keeping him happy now, and fielding the best version of this team, which has Story at shortstop.
- Speaking of the long-term effects of this, that is probably the aspect about which I am most curious and which could shift my thinking of this deal the most. Bogaerts, as everyone reading this likely knows, has the ability to opt out of his contract after the season. He was always going to use that opt-out whether or not the Red Sox brought in Story based on the way he’s played the last two seasons. He can get a big pay raise, and he absolutely should go for that. But with a possible replacement already in-house, it’s hard to think this doesn’t make it more likely he’ll walk rather than signing a new deal. My guess — and this is pure speculation not based on conversations with anyone in the know — is that it’ll come down to whether or not he’ll change positions next year. He says he won’t now, but the tune may be different next year after securing a big contract. If he doesn’t, my guess is he walks and that will be very conflicting for little ol’ me.
- I’ve also seen some speculation that the Red Sox could trade Bogaerts before the season. I suppose we should never say never, but I’d give that about a 0.5 percent chance of happening. At the deadline if it seems like he’s going to walk and the Red Sox are out of contention? Sure, I could see that. But before the season coming off a surprising ALCS berth? I can’t see that happening.
- There’s also the matter of 40-man room to fit Story onto the roster. James Paxton has already been transferred to the 60-day injured list to make room for Jake Diekman. They do have two more injured pitchers they could move. Bryan Mata will be out for the 60 days, but they opted not to make that move last year in the same situation to avoid having him accrue service time. I’m not sure they’re thinking will be different this year. There’s also Chris Sale, but they still haven’t given a super firm timeline there so it’s hard to say whether or not he’ll be out long enough for that to make sense. If it’s not a 60-day IL move, I’d look for someone like Hudson Potts, Jeisson Rosario, or Austin Davis to be designated for assignment.
- I’ve seen some talk about how this affects some of the top prospects in the Red Sox system like Marcelo Mayer and Nick Yorke. Maybe it makes them a little more likely to trade one of them, but they are also multiple years away. It’s fine to just let them continue developing and cross the bridge of repetitiveness if and when it comes. There are worse problems to have than multiple good players at a position.
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the complaints about this front office being cheap that came from here and other places. There are still valid criticisms of this front office and how they think about money, I think, but the cheap complaints can go away for a bit. They made a big signing, and that’s really what we’ve been asking for. Again, this deal can be criticized. The Bloom way of thinking can be criticized. But “Tampa North” or whatever other sideswipe you prefer needs to be retired, at least for a little while.
- All of that said, the Red Sox still have needs to address. Jackie Bradley Jr. is still, as things stand now, an everyday player in this lineup. He doesn’t need to be replaced by a middle-of-the-order hitter as it seemed like he should be prior to this signing, but an upgrade still needs to be found. Someone like Wil Myers (in a trade where Boston also gets a prospect) or Tommy Pham could make sense as mid-tier additions. They also still need a late-inning righty, by my estimation. If they could find someone who could walk fewer than five batters per nine innings, that would be nice. And with the Sale injury, looking for another starting pitcher should be on the priority list. I don’t think they are desperate for another arm, but they should at least be making calls. Story was a huge move and a needle-mover, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the offseason work.
Here are some links about the Coors home/road splits.