Xander Bogaerts opting out of the last three years of his six-year, $120 million contract is pretty much a foregone conclusion. He is a key member of the Boston Red Sox and a Scott Boras guy, meaning his contract status and opt-out privilege has been headline news in sports sections across New England since the beginning of the season.
Bogaerts has been a model citizen in Boston, he’s been the de facto captain of the team since Mookie Betts was traded, and he’s made no secret that he would love to finish his career in Boston. And despite the misconceptions that many people have of Red Sox management post-2018, I expect Bogaerts to be the Red Sox shortstop for the next several years.
Chaim Bloom has been scapegoated by many Red Sox fans for the Mookie Betts trade, a heartbreaking move made unavoidable due to the inept long-term financial management of Bloom’s predecessor, Dave Dombrowski. Due to Bloom’s undeserved status as public enemy number one among many uninformed Sox fans, a large portion of the fanbase has already deemed Bogaerts’ departure as inevitable as Bobby Dalbec taking a 3-2 fastball down Broadway.
Why is that?
Some people believe that Chaim Bloom has made it his mission to win in Boston without paying out any premium contracts (although Trevor Story’s six-year $140 million contract seems to fly in the face of that theory). Some will tell you that Bloom signed Story to take Bogaerts’ place as the starting shortstop in 2023 and beyond. Some will even tell you that John Henry has made it company policy to not sign any homegrown players unless said player gives the Red Sox a significant hometown discount.
All of these theories are obviously nonsense, but this is Boston sports. If the team is not hoisting a trophy at the end of the year, there is clearly organizational malfeasance taking place and someone, if not many someones, need to be relieved of their jobs.
The Red Sox payroll situation is much different in October of 2022 than it was when Mookie Betts was dealt in February of 2020. Story (four years, $116.7 million) and Chris Sale (three years, $75 million) are the only significant contracts that currently remain on the Red Sox books. As a comparison, when Betts was dealt, Boston was still on the hook for $312 million guaranteed to Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi, three pitchers who contributed a total of one solid, complete season combined since the Betts trade (Eovaldi’s 2021). Adding Betts’ contract to that docket in 2020 would have made it virtually impossible to field a competitive team until now, when the contracts of Price and Eovaldi have finally expired.
Just think about it.
It’s February 2020. A global pandemic has put the entire baseball season in doubt. You’ve guaranteed $312 million to Sale; who is on his way to Tommy John surgery, Price; a perennial underachiever who missed the last month of 2019 with a wrist injury, and Eovaldi; who finished 2019 with an ERA just under 6.00. How would you feel about adding Betts’ $30-$35 million per year to that swollen payroll for the most formidable years of Mookie’s new contract? How are you going to fill out your roster for the next few years with approximately $110 million per year already committed to four players, three of which are starting pitchers who will likely not be making positive contributions to the team for quite awhile?
Nearly $80 million came off the Red Sox payroll last week. For the first time since he was hired, Chaim Bloom now has the luxury of great payroll flexibility and a pretty good farm system that he can use to build his team. When asked about parallels between Betts’ exit in 2020 and the contract situations of Bogaerts and hitting savant third baseman Rafael Devers, Bloom said, “We are in a different situation and a better situation, I think, as far as how the organization is set up. So I don’t think we’re going to have the exact parallel to that situation again.”
Translation: “We lost Mookie because the guy I replaced couldn’t plan more than five minutes into the future. I had to work around his screwups until now, when I can finally spend money the way the Red Sox are supposed to.”
For further clarification that Bloom plans on re-signing Bogaerts, look no further than his own words. Upon being hired, Bloom’s rhetoric about Betts never strayed far from “he’s a great player and we’d love to keep him here if possible.” The Bogaerts situation, on the other hand, has been much different.
Bloom has taken every opportunity of late to reinforce not only the idea that he wants Xander Bogaerts in a Red Sox uniform for the long haul, but that he is a crucial part of what he is trying to build in Boston. “He is one of the best players in the game. He has shown the ability to perform on the biggest stages and to do it here, and he is someone we want to build around.”
Bloom and Alex Cora are said to be as in sync with one another as any GM/manager combination in baseball, and Cora’s thoughts on Bogaerts have largely mirrored Bloom’s. “He’s the most consistent player and the most consistent person in our organization. Everybody knows he’s the one who takes care of people in that clubhouse, takes care of people on the field, takes care of the manager. Just putting that name in the lineup makes you feel comfortable we’re going to have a good player in the lineup on a daily basis. If you want to name him the captain without putting the ‘C’, you can go ahead and do it.”
Now, you could take Bloom’s comments as his way of putting pressure on Bogaerts to not hold out for every last dollar. You could also take Cora’s comments as his way of pressuring Bloom to just get a damn deal done. But that’s not the way I see it.
Keep this in mind: despite working wonders to build an overachieving 2021 team that managed to make the ALCS with $60 million of essentially dead money on the payroll, Chaim Bloom is not revered by many Red Sox fans at this point in time. No matter what kind of smear campaign he and Boston ownership could organize against Bogaerts should he depart, they could never hope to position themselves as the good guys if X were to opt out and then sign elsewhere.
Between Betts leaving, this season’s last place finish, and Rafael Devers still without an extension in an environment where more and more teams are locking players in long term before the expiration of their rookie contracts, losing Bogaerts just could be the final log that sets the relationship between yahoo Red Sox fans and Fenway Sports Group ablaze. Bloom is fully aware of how tenuous his position is with fans, as unfair as that position may be. Bogaerts can still play at a high level, and giving him a fair market deal would be a compromise that I think Bloom will find worthwhile. With so much room currently in the budget, the goodwill that signing X would buy the organization will more than outweigh any reservations Bloom may have about the deal.
And make no mistake, there should be reservations aplenty about re-signing Bogaerts. High batting average notwithstanding, Bogaerts is one of the main culprits for this season’s lackluster offense. His annual summer vacation has become downright infuriating, especially amid the swath of injuries that derailed the team just before the All Star break. His defense improved this season, which silenced a lot of the manufactured sabermetric nonsense that claimed he was a bad defensive shortstop, but X’s defense has never been an issue for me.
My issue with Bogaerts is this: if you want to be paid like a middle-of-the-order superstar, you have to consistently deliver all season long. You can’t continually regress back to offensive mediocrity for half of every season. One look at Xander’s career numbers in the months of June, July, and August, however, will show you that this is the pattern he has established.
It’s important to get off to a good start (as we were all painfully reminded of this year), and it’s critical to finish strong. Bogaerts has achieved both of these objectives for virtually his entire career. More importantly, he is dependable. He makes all the routine plays at short, and you can count on him to play 145 games or so per year at a physically grueling position. But can you pay a guy who gets cold for three months per season a top-of-the-market shortstop deal at age 30?
The contract Bogaerts is about to opt out of would pay him $20 million for three more years, with a vesting option for 2026 if he makes 535 plate appearances in 2025. I’m on record saying Bogaerts is worth no more than a six-year contract at $25 million per year ($150 million). Boras will demand more, so it will come down to how much Bloom and the Red Sox are willing to overpay for an aging shortstop that has infinite cache in the clubhouse and with the fanbase, but whose offensive production generally slots him in the “very good,” rather than “great” category.
With money to spend this season, a slew of new faces about to be indoctrinated into the Red Sox universe, and a ravenous fanbase to please, I think Chaim Bloom will do whatever it takes to keep Bogaerts in Boston.
Will we all come to regret that decision in a few years? I don’t believe so … as long as another, more important piece of business is completed within the next 17 months.