The Red Sox Will Miss Bogaerts Soon and for the Rest of Their Lives

© Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

For most of Winter Meetings, the San Diego Padres vigorously pursued a few of the best free agents available only to come up short on Trea Turner and Aaron Judge. Well, they finally made their big splash after most of the reporters and analysts had returned to their climatologically inferior home cities, signing shortstop Xander Bogaerts, formerly of the Boston Red Sox, to a monster 11-year contract. Bogaerts now stands an impressive $280 million richer and a lot of the Padres’ positional dominoes have fallen into place for the 2023 season.

If you’re ever prone to thinking that a player opt-out is mere frippery, like Roy Oswalt’s tractor or the mustache wax benefit that Rollie Fingers received, Bogaerts’ prior contract extension ought to firmly disabuse you of the notion. Bogaerts would have originally hit free agency after the 2020 season, but he came to terms with the Red Sox on a six-year, $120 million deal to keep him in Boston for what was likely to be the rest of his prime. Here’s what the projection looked like if we go back to that blessed time when we might have mistaken “Covid” for the first name of a Swedish scientist:

ZiPS Projection – Xander Bogaerts (Pre-2020)
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2020 .288 .360 .499 601 102 173 42 2 27 104 66 120 8 123 -5 4.1
2021 .283 .357 .504 575 97 163 42 2 27 100 64 117 7 123 -6 3.8
2022 .284 .357 .505 560 94 159 40 3 26 98 62 110 7 124 -7 3.7
2023 .282 .356 .504 542 91 153 38 2 26 95 60 102 7 123 -7 3.4
2024 .280 .353 .492 522 86 146 35 2 24 90 57 96 6 119 -8 2.9
2025 .276 .346 .476 500 79 138 33 2 21 82 52 89 5 114 -9 2.3

At the time, ZiPS would have suggested that a six-year, $160 million contract was a fair offer, representing $169 million of performance value with $9 million lopped off because 2020 would have otherwise been Bogaerts’ final year of arbitration. Coming off his best season as a pro in 2019, Bogaerts chose to forgo some possible money now and possibly more later — since the extension meant he would reach free agency for the first time just before his age-33 season — in return for a solid guarantee. But the Red Sox took on an additional risk of their own, conceding a player opt-out for Bogaerts after the 2022 season, giving him an out just in case he ended up being extremely underpaid relative to his performance rather than just moderately so.

If we turned the clock back eight months, it was by no means certain that Bogaerts would actually opt out of his deal after this season. Coming off a long lockout, teams weren’t exactly in an exuberant mood regarding their wallets. Entering 2022, ZiPS gave Bogaerts an 82% chance of doing better by opting out of the last three years of his deal, projecting him to make $220 million over the rest of his career if he opted out and $167 million if he didn’t. But it might have been most profitable to go the third way and use the threat of the opt-out clause to convince the Red Sox to move towards a lucrative extension or reworking of his existing deal. In the end, that didn’t happen.

Instead, what actually happened during the 2022 season made the decision a slam dunk. Unlike some medium-power hitters, Bogaerts suffered little from the changes in the offensive environment as he became more of a line-drive, spray hitter than he had been in the past (though he was never a traditional uppercut slugger). Despite having his worst homer season since 2017, Bogaerts sported a 134 wRC+, better than either of his previous two seasons and bested only by a career-high 141 in 2019. Also helping was his work to improve defensively at shortstop, which the Red Sox had been vocal about wanting. That work seemed to pay off, as he had the best season of his career in the field. It’s not just an OAA quirk either; both UZR and DRS, which frequently disagree with OAA, also rate 2022 as his best defensive campaign so far.

ZiPS Projection – Xander Bogaerts
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB + DR WAR
2023 .269 .347 .428 547 85 147 30 0 19 74 63 119 6 118 -2 4.5
2024 .266 .345 .433 564 88 150 31 0 21 76 65 121 6 119 -2 4.7
2025 .261 .341 .423 556 85 145 30 0 20 74 65 118 5 115 -3 4.3
2026 .256 .337 .413 543 82 139 28 0 19 71 63 115 5 111 -3 3.8
2027 .253 .332 .408 525 77 133 27 0 18 66 60 111 4 108 -4 3.3
2028 .247 .326 .392 502 71 124 25 0 16 61 57 107 3 103 -4 2.7
2029 .244 .323 .381 472 65 115 23 0 14 56 53 102 3 99 -5 2.2
2030 .243 .322 .381 436 59 106 21 0 13 51 49 95 2 98 -5 1.9
2031 .243 .320 .373 437 58 106 21 0 12 50 48 96 2 96 -6 1.6
2032 .241 .320 .367 390 50 94 19 0 10 43 43 87 2 94 -7 1.3
2033 .240 .318 .365 342 44 82 16 0 9 37 37 77 1 93 -7 0.9

ZiPS see Bogaerts aging extremely well, both offensively and defensively. While the system still has some skepticism about just how good his glove is right now — a single season really is a very small sample for anything defense-related — the computer expects him to retain his ability to play short at an acceptable level for a long time by virtue of the fact that his strength — namely, avoiding errors — is less prone to age effects and because his range isn’t speed-reliant. Bogaerts has a well-rounded offensive skill set, and the top of his comp list is littered with Hall of Famers and near Hall-ers (Lou Whitaker, Joe Sewell, Joe Cronin, Alan Trammell, Lou Boudreau, Barry Larkin, Robin Yount, Craig Biggio, Arky Vaughan, Nomar Garciaparra). The projected drop in batting average might seem disappointing on its face, but this is largely a park effect and not a value thing; contrary to the conventional wisdom, for the last 40 years or so, Fenway has been mediocre homer park, even for righties, but has regularly been one of the best batting average parks outside Coors Field.

ZiPS projects this deal as “worth” $261 million, so $280 million isn’t a wildly high number for Bogaerts’ services. The Red Sox appear to have technically beaten the Padres in terms of AAV, but you obviously should when you’re offering several fewer years. No, the end of an 11-year contract isn’t likely to be pleasant when the player who signs it isn’t 25 or 26. But on a fundamental level, I don’t really think of this as an 11-year contract. While I don’t have specific knowledge of the team’s exact feelings on this point, I’d be surprised if the Padres expect Bogaerts to be even a league-average starter in 2033. To me, on a de facto level, this is something like an eight-year, $280 million contract, with some money deferred interest-free for three years in a scheme that allows the team to spread the luxury tax hit over 11 years instead of eight. I think something similar is in play with the Trea Turner signing. Contracts result from the system that incentivizes those contracts, and when there’s a very punitive, steeply graduated tax structure, any dollar you can shift to a future year can have an impressive multiplier attached to it. If not for the fact that it would likely annoy Rob Manfred in a way that may not end well for the team that offers it, I think we’d see some wacky contracts, like, say, a 30-year, $400 million deal for a $200 million player.

Prior to the Bogaerts signing, there was a lot of uncertainty about just what the Padres would do about their defensive alignment. Ha-Seong Kim is a better defensive shortstop than Fernando Tatis Jr. and given the latter’s recurrent, serious shoulder problems, San Diego seemed more than willing to move him off short if they felt it was beneficial. This signing is confirmation that they do. At the time I ran the projections for the Padres, left field was a giant gaping hole for the Friars, with Taylor Kohlwey and José Azocar the then-projected primary left fielder, combining for replacement-level performance in ZiPS. That’s not a problem that can be left unaddressed if you’re going to go after the Los Angeles Dodgers in a divisional race.

Nor did the Padres ignore that problem. They went after Judge in the late bidding, and while Bogaerts may not play left field, signing him is just as good as acquiring a Bogaerts-equivalent corner outfielder, as Tatis will eventually play one of those positions (or shift another player to that position). Kim becomes the team’s starting second baseman, and Jake Cronenworth becomes the presumed starter at first. While I think Cronenworth at first isn’t necessarily the best use of his talents, considering that he can adequately play second base, there’s no first baseman in free agency who I think is the equal of Cronenworth even when he’s not at his maximized value.

Prior to Thanksgiving, I ran some very preliminary ZiPS projections for the league as rosters currently stood. The Padres had a four-win projected deficit against the Dodgers. ZiPS now thinks that that gap has been closed, with the Padres ahead on decimal points (0.6 wins). I don’t expect that the Dodgers are done in free agency by any stretch of the imagination, but with Trea Turner gone, there’s at least some small value in taking another option away from Los Angeles.

As for the Red Sox, they appear to be about $40 million under the first luxury tax threshold and $60 million from the second after signing Masataka Yoshida yesterday. In theory, they could still replace the production lost by not bringing Bogaerts back. But even if the team had adequately replaced him with a combination of signings, it still hurts to see Bogaerts leave Boston, in much the same way that wouldn’t have felt quite right if Judge had moved on from the Yankees. In terms of the great shortstops in Red Sox history, Bogaerts had been moving up the ladder very quickly. Joe Cronin is a Hall of Fame shortstop, but he played nearly half his career with the Senators, and Nomar Garciaparra’s career was hampered by injuries. It seems strange, but Bogaerts was already second among Red Sox in career games at short, behind just Rico Petrocelli, and was third in WAR, behind Petrocelli and Nomar. ZiPS projected Bogaerts to become the team’s all-time leader in shortstop WAR early in 2024 and in games near the start of 2025. Simply put, Xander Bogaerts is a player of significant note in the franchise’s history, so a premature goodbye, even if efficient, just feels awful. And coming just a couple years after losing Mookie Betts — and with the prospect of Rafael Devers following before long — it’s even worse.

Boston’s loss is San Diego’s gain. By landing Xander Bogaerts, the Padres have clearly thrown down the gauntlet to the Dodgers. The NL West is looking like a lot of fun.





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.

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BenZobrist4MVP
1 month ago

The Padres just spent $280 million on a player who is probably the fourth best player on the team.

I don’t know if that says more about the superstar depth of the Padres or the insanity of this deal.

baubomember
1 month ago
Reply to  BenZobrist4MVP

Is it an insane deal though? I mean it’s an overpay but FAs are always overpaid because players pre-FA are severely underpaid. The question isn’t whether the deal will go bad, just a matter of when. The Padres are clearly looking to win now damn the consequences later, so it makes sense they’re concentrating their spending in one time period.

The bigger question is whether such a top-heavy team can get enough cheap production around it to contend for the next few years before their stars decline too much for contention. You have to be pretty cheap around the edges if you’re spending so much money/prospects to build this core

sandwiches4evermember
1 month ago
Reply to  BenZobrist4MVP

Honestly, this starts to make the Rockies’ whole “eh, let’s just keep butts in seats” approach to things make sense. If the other teams in your division have money, a good farm system or both, and you don’t have the inclination to spend that level of money or hire competent scouting/player dev, might as well just keep the fans happy enough to keep them coming in the door.

shultz
1 month ago
Reply to  BenZobrist4MVP

See my note above about moving Bogaerts to third if and when Machado options out after 2023. The Padres are about winning this year, but no need to leave the cupboard *completely* bare after this season.

sadtrombonemember
1 month ago
Reply to  shultz

I used to think this was plausible, but his arm just doesn’t support it. They could plausibly put Cronenworth, Kim, or Tatis Jr at third though.

JSJohnSmithAnon
1 month ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

3rd and SS have the same arm strength in the MLB. Longoria’s been playing a decent 3b with one of the worst arms in the league for the past 3 years. You would think Bogaerts would be best at 2b though.

https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/leaderboard/arm-strength

sadtrombonemember
1 month ago

Similar arm strength, although probably not the same. In any case, Bogaerts’ arm is just not very good–I don’t think he’s really a candidate for shortstop either, at least not in the medium-term.

JSJohnSmithAnon
1 month ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Did you look at the link, MLB average is 85.9mph for SS, 85.7 for 3b.

A 126 foot throw would take the average MLB SS about 1sec in the air (assuming constant 85.9 speed the whole time for simplicity. For Bogaerts, it would take 1.046s. That difference is less than the difference between the fastest and third fastest players in the MLB. Release time is probably more important, and my eye test says Bogaerts’ release time is solid.

Joe Brady
1 month ago
Reply to  shultz

But then why not use Bogaerts money to pay Machado? I consider Machado a decent bit better.

hormel
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Brady

Bogaerts instantly makes the team better, especially with Tatis back. Too early to do anything with the Machado contract and if the Padres go deeper into the postseason, aka the WS, Machado will want to stick around. I imagine it is pretty special to play for an owner who has no fear to sign these guys to big contracts.

JohnThackermember
1 month ago
Reply to  BenZobrist4MVP

Heck, depending on how things go he’s possibly the fourth best shortstop on the team.

shultz
1 month ago
Reply to  JohnThacker

Yeah, that might be the case. Third or fourth defensively.

Tatis can make spectacular plays Bogaerts can’t, but Bogaerts isn’t error prone like Tatis.

BenZobrist4MVP
1 month ago
Reply to  shultz

Heck, one could even try to make the case that he is the 5th best defensive shortstop on the team.

Ha-Seong Kim: 8 outs above average in 1,352 MLB innings at SS.
Manny Machado: 3 OAA in 1,940 innings at SS since 2016.
Jake Cronenworth: 0 OAA in 428 innings at SS.
Fernando Tatis: -6 OAA in 2,047 innings at SS.
Xander Bogaerts: -34 OAA in 8,097 innings at SS since 2016.

stanmember
1 month ago
Reply to  BenZobrist4MVP

Fourth best position player. And they have a few pitchers that you could consider on that list too.