Late Sunday, the Boston Red Sox and Xander Bogaerts agreed on a $120 million extension, keeping the team’s star shortstop in Boston until at least 2025. While the deal is being reported as worth $132 million, that figure already includes the $12 million Bogaerts was going to make in 2019, so it’s kind of cheating for the sake of headline inflation. There are two other significant contract stipulations: a vesting option for 2026 worth $20 million, and an opt-out for Bogaerts following the 2022 season. The opt-out ensures that Bogaerts will at least have the option to test free agency once somewhere near his prime during his career, his first year of free agency otherwise being his age-33 season if the option doesn’t vest.
Bogaerts is in a curious position for a star player at a key position on a very popular team: he might actually be underrated. When people discuss the top shortstops in baseball, the list rightly starts with Francisco Lindor, who is the best shortstop in baseball, but then you’ll generally hear Carlos Correa and Corey Seager’s names, then maybe some talk about Andrelton Simmons because of his glove. It’s only then that Bogaerts might be thrown in as a “oh yeah, him too” selection. Bogaerts still only has one All-Star appearance, one fewer than Scott Cooper, and only received back-end MVP votes in a single season. Even in 2018, a season in which Bogaerts was hitting .284/.353/.535 in the first-half, he failed to be named to the midsummer classic’s roster.
But over the last five years, by WAR, only Lindor has clearly contributed more on-the-field than Bogaerts has among shortstops. So why this lack of recognition? Call it the Curse of the Well-Rounded. Bogie does nothing truly poorly, but like a number of other all-around talents, he doesn’t have that one obvious highlight to point to in a culture that likes the ten-second soundbite. He’s topped out short of 25 homers, and only hit .300 the one-time. His glove is middling as shortstops go — there’s significant disagreement between UZR and DRS here — and in sabermetric language, his WAR hovers between three and five a year, so no crazy season like Lindor’s 2018 as of yet. There’s no signature postseason home run to hang his hat on. Bogaerts has played the enchilada in a world obsessed with tacos and burritos.
At just 26, Bogaerts ranks highly enough among shortstops through the same age that he’s on a realistic Hall of Fame trajectory. He’s not on the “hit by a bus and get in” path that Mike Trout finds himself on, and there are players who also ranked highly who have fallen or will fall well short of the Hall (Hanley Ramirez, Garry Templeton, Donie Bush, probably Elvis Andrus), but it’s still an impressive list of Cooperstownerati.
At $20 million, the Red Sox get a particularly good deal. Bogaerts likely left some money on the table given the fact that he’s not a two- or three-year player, but one who was only a single season away from free agency. Indeed, as someone who would have hit the market at age 27 and almost certainly is in the top five at his position, one might even characterize $20 million a year as a steal. But don’t take my word for it; what’s the fun of having the magic computer that makes projections if I’m not going to use it?
ZiPS has tended to be fairly close with Red Sox signings this era (for example, it came within $2 million of Dustin Pedroia‘s extension), but this one is a very large aberration. The projections from ZiPS estimate — and this includes the risk of projecting 2020-2025 now rather than after he actually has his 2019 season in the books — that Bogaerts left roughly $50 million on the table. If the projections prove to be accurate, as free agency-year contracts go, Bogaerts’s contract will rank in the upper-echelons of big contracts that worked out well for the team, in the territory of Miguel Cabrera’s first contract. Some of that money comes back to Bogaerts in the form of his opt-out, but his downside is much better than, say, Eric Hosmer, a player with a similar opt-out clause, so it’s less of a hit to the team.
Bogaerts will likely speak more on the subject, but two issues seemed to loom large for him in the decision-making process. By all accounts he enjoys playing for the Red Sox and has shared his concerns about the Bryce Harper/Manny Machado market this winter. Add in uncertainty about baseball’s next collective bargaining agreement and it’s understandable why Bogaerts and other free agents to-be have prioritized getting long-term deals done and in the books.
Does Bogaerts end up in Cooperstown? At this point, ZiPS would say no, projecting him to end up with around 45 WAR with 2429 hits and 264 home runs, a career reminiscent of Toby Harrah’s, who was way better than you think. It’s likely some of that will take place at third base as well, which will probably hurt how he is perceived by voters. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility; ZiPS gives him a 20% chance of passing 65 WAR, a number that would make him a likely Hall of Famer, though not a first-balloter. There are 18 shortstops with 60 WAR and the only ones not in the Hall are Alex Rodriguez (who is not yet eligible and will struggle for non-playing reasons), Bill Dahlen, and Jack Glasscock. I swear I didn’t make up the last guy. A one-in-five chance at a summer speech in Cooperstown ain’t bad.
Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.