– Xander Bogaerts, not Carlos Correa, should be top priority for Red Sox


Xander Bogaerts has been an All-Star on the field and a leader in the clubhouse. The Red Sox priority, if the lockout ever ends, should be to extend Bogaerts, not try to acquire Carlos Correa Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

If there’s any loyalty remaining in sports, the Red Sox will have a chance to prove it with Xander Bogaerts in the next 12 months.

But in reality, loyalty is a silly word to use in sports.

The Red Sox, like other professional teams who have become so valuable there are only a handful of people in the world rich enough to own one, have one priority and one priority only: maximizing profit potential. The owners’ lockout of the 2022 season has once again proved that.

That’s why the Red Sox had the paperwork drawn up immediately in April 2019, when Bogaerts had his agent, Scott Boras, told former Red Sox boss Dave Dombrowski he wanted an extension and was willing to take a discount to stay in Boston.

Done deal. The Sox extended him for $20 million a season.

In three years since then, shortstops have signed contracts with annual average salaries of $34.1 million (Francisco Lindor), $32.5 million (Corey Seager), $25 million (Marcus Semien), $24.3 million (Fernando Tatis Jr.) and $23.3 million (Javier Baez).

Also since then, Bogaerts’ .899 OPS ranks second among all qualified shortstops. Trea Turner, with a .900 OPS, narrowly sits at the top.

His fielding percentage ranks eighth among qualified shortstops. And while errors are a number few people pay attention to anymore, instead preferring advanced metrics that will show you Bogaerts doesn’t have the range of the elite infielders, there’s still value to a shortstop who doesn’t make many mistakes.

Especially one who has captured two of the last three Silver Sluggers and has received MVP votes the last three years.

But the Red Sox find themselves at a crossroads now, with Carlos Correa still on the free-agent market and pundits wondering where he might land if this lockout ever comes to an end.

One of the best, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, just penned a piece in which he argues Correa isn’t a perfect fit in Boston, but would make sense for a lot of reasons, one of which is that Bogaerts isn’t likely to continue at shortstop and would need to play another position soon.

“The cleanest approach might be trading Bogaerts, who can opt out of his contract at the end of the season, to clear a spot for Correa, who is a better defender and at 27 is two years younger,” Rosenthal writes.

It’s one of those paragraphs that’ll have you spitting out your coffee before you finish reading it.

The Red Sox just spent the 2021 season over-performing in a way we haven’t seen the local nine over-perform since maybe 2013, when former general manager Ben Cherington put together a team of B-level free agents and watched newbie manager John Farrell lead them to a World Series title.

The 2021 team was surely fueled by the return of manager Alex Cora, but it’s not just him. The team had a cohesiveness that, if locker room access was still provided to reporters, we’d probably have a better feel for. One could venture it was as close-knit of a group the Sox have had since the ’18 squad.

There is only constant from 2013 to 2018 to 2021: Bogaerts.

Known as the glue of the clubhouse for his generous attitude with rookies, the respect he commands from veterans and his ability to connect with people from all over the world (he speaks English, Spanish, Dutch and Papiamento), Bogaerts isn’t someone who can be jettisoned out of town without careful thought and consideration.

To pull the plug on perhaps the organization’s most important player – and, one could argue, who has been their most important player for four years – would be a ridiculous gamble for a team that just came two wins short of the World Series.

The Sox addressed their pitching concerns by making three risky signings early in the offseason: Rich Hill, who turns 42 in March, James Paxton, who is out at least half the season recovering from Tommy John, and Michael Wacha, a back-end starter who allowed nine hits and six runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Sox in the AL Division Series.

They upgraded their outfield defense by swapping Hunter Renfroe for Jackie Bradley Jr. and are likely to add another outfielder, perhaps Japanese sensation Seiya Suzuki, before the season starts.

They have not addressed their infield defense, which hasn’t been great, particularly because of Rafael Devers at third base. Moving Bogaerts from short to third doesn’t necessarily solve that problem, though. He wasn’t a particularly good third baseman during his brief stay there in 2014, but more importantly, where would Devers play?

Designated hitter J.D. Martinez has one more year in Boston while top prospect Triston Casas is almost ready to take over at first base, second base prospect Nick Yorke is more than two years away, and shortstop prospect Marcelo Mayer probably needs three or four years in the minors before he’s ready.

Since Cora and Bogaerts were united in 2018, Bogaerts’ .894 OPS triumphs over Correa’s .811 OPS. He has played in 491 games compared to 391 for the oft-injured Correa.

And most importantly, he’s played them in Boston, a place that’s not easy to adapt to and has several times before provided an obstacle between elite free agents and success.

Yes, the Red Sox need to renegotiate with Bogaerts between now and the end of the season to ensure he doesn’t opt out before 2023 and yes, they need to figure out what to pay Devers before he’s a free agent ahead of 2024.

The weird part is trying to make sense of why the Red Sox would now be ready to spend $350 million on Correa only to create a new problem of moving Bogaerts and/or Devers.

It’s the kind of splash that would send an earthquake through the clubhouse and the fanbase.

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