When Trevor Story signed a six-year, $140-million contract entering the 2022 season, there was a sigh of relief that at least some significant move had been made. After a flurry of free agent signings in November of that offseason, an interminable lockout ensued, during which we all made ourselves plenty familiar with the free agents that remained. As Freddie Freeman, Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Nick Castellanos, and old friend Kyle Schwarber all were snatched up by other teams, only Trevor Story remained as a significant hitting target, at a position of need for the team no less, if he was willing to play second base.
What was the plan if Story got a better offer elsewhere, wasn’t willing to play second base, or didn’t comply with the team’s mandate to get vaccinated in order to play in Toronto? We will never know, although the most likely result would have been something similar to what we saw play out in 2023 when the team swung and missed on their first ten or so targets at starting pitcher and middle infield and ended up with Corey Kluber and a whole lot of nothing at shortstop.
The Red Sox knew about Trevor Story’s declining arm when they signed him. I mean, anyone with access to a web browser knew about Story’s arm.
His arm was trending towards firing a ball and hitting a photographer in the groin, which wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen that at Fenway.
So, when the news came out this past January that Story could miss 4-6 months with a “modified” Tommy John procedure, it should not have been a shock to anyone. The only question was why this wasn’t taken care of at the end of the 2022 season, a year in which the team was out of it for all of September. According to Chaim Bloom, Story first experienced pain in late December while ramping up for the season. Bloom also said in a press conference a day after the surgery, “I certainly would not rule out a return sometime during 2023. But it’s also not something at this stage we want to bank on.” That sure sounded like a whole lot more than 4-6 months.
As Story rehabbed, Bryce Harper returned from a full Tommy John surgery that occurred in November in a record-setting 160 days. Harper is a bit of a different animal, but 160 days would have been on the higher end of the 4-6 months that Story was estimated to be out from his modified procedure. Harper chose not to go on a rehab assignment. He played first base in July, a position that the team needed him to play due to numerous injuries and he promptly dove into the photographer’s well on his first start to make a spectacular catch.
As June rolled around, there was discussion that Story may be able to contribute at times as a Designated Hitter or play some second base while he continued to gain enough strength to play shortstop. He made it clear that he would not be coming back as a second baseman when talking to reporters, but DH? That was a “real possibility” in July, according to Story: “I think that’s as early as we’ve looked at it. That’s obviously exciting to me. To be able to just impact the team with my bat is something I feel like I can do, so we’ll make that decision soon.”
Narrator: Story did not come back to Boston in July as a DH. Nor did he come back as a second baseman, or shortstop that month, despite the team having a revolving door in the middle infield. This was in part due to a slew of injuries, as well as moving on from Enrique Hernandez at shortstop, who led all of baseball in errors. Story began his rehab at Double-A Portland on July 21st, where he played three games, and then played ten games at Triple-A Worcester. In his ten games at Worcester, Story had a slash line of .313/.421/.719 with three home runs and a 13.2/21.1 BB/K% through August 6th. Meanwhile, the season up in Boston was falling apart. The Blue Jays completed an embarrassing sweep at Fenway on the 6th, the 7th loss in 8 games for Boston. After it was reported that Story would need the full 20 days of rehab, the Red Sox reversed course. Story returned to the lineup for the first time on August 8th, a day shy of seven months after he had his procedure.
Since returning, Story has struggled mightily, slashing .176/.219/.286 in 96 plate appearances, with a 5.2/36.5 BB/K%. He has been particularly woeful against the curveball, against which he is hitting .053 with a 49.3 Whiff%. Teams have noticed, and have upped the curveball usage to 38.2% this season, after throwing the pitch just 32% of the time to Story in each of the previous two seasons. This is most likely a result of the need for more reps coming off of injury but it is troubling, and perhaps why Story felt he needed more time in the minors. While Story has never been elite against the pitch, he has never struggled to this degree.
Fortunately, Story has been back to his early career self defensively at shortstop. He’s contributed a +6 Outs Above Average in just 19 games playing shortstop, a number that seems almost impossible in that short of a span but is backed up by his +5 Defensive Runs Saved metric. Story also is in the 87th percentile in Sprint Speed, a metric that he has been in the top-20 percentile for his entire career, and has found a way to steal six bases on the year despite his limited time on base.
It is hard to know how much we should be concerned about Trevor Story long-term because he’s never truly been “right” while in Boston. He signed in late March in 2022, then got food poisoning in the days leading up to the season, before going on paternity leave. After some scorching streaks at the plate, Story was then hit by a pitch in the right hand and missed 63 days, and also dealt with a left heel injury. All-in-all, Story missed 68 games a year ago. He missed the first 112 games of the 2023 season recovering from modified-Tommy John. We won’t be able to fully evaluate the Trevor Story that we expected to see until the 2024 season. That being said, Story will be 31 later this year. He will be four seasons removed from his last elite season, the short 2020 year. We also still don’t know how much of an effect Coors Field had on his numbers in his prime. Story had a 62-point jump in his batting average at home in his time at Coors, and a 220-point discrepancy in his OPS. He was a 13.1 fWAR player with a 124 wRC+ from 2018-2020 (which included the partial 2020 season) and has been just a 5.0 fWAR player with a 92 wRC+ in the three seasons since.
As part of that 6-for-$140M contract, the Red Sox included an opt-out after 2025 (his age-32 season), the fourth year of the deal. However, the team can void that opt-out by picking up a 2028 option, his age-35 season. It will be interesting to see how the next two seasons unfold to determine if the Red Sox choose to add the extra year, or if Story will even be interested in opting out and looking for a fresh start in free agency. By the time of the opt-out, it is likely that top prospect Marcelo Mayer will be up with the team but there are a lot of unknowns with the roster and where Mayer would play (i.e. third base if Devers moves off the position). Whether there are two, four, or five years remaining in Trevor Story’s time in Boston, let’s hope that it’s a smoother ride with Trevor Story than what we’ve seen thus far.