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Xander Bogaerts enters uncertain offseason

Xander Bogaerts, who can opt out of the three years and $60M remaining on his contract after the postseason concludes, said following the final game of the season that he hasn’t had any recent talks with the Red Sox about a new contract, via Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald. 

Bogaerts is planning to head home to Aruba in the next few days and enjoy a mental reset after a long season. “I need it more than a lot of years I’ve been here,” Bogaerts said of his upcoming time at home.

The 2022 season was a difficult one for the Red Sox, who went from missing the 2021 World Series by one game to a last-place finish in the American League East. Boston dealt with myriad injuries, as key names like Chris Sale, Trevor Story, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha  and Enrique Hernandez all spent ample time on the shelf. That said, there were far more than injuries at play. 

The Sox were hammered by bullpen issues all season, struggled to find quality rotation work beyond the quartet of Eovaldi, Wacha, Nick Pivetta and Rich Hill, and saw several hitters (e.g. Hernandez, Story, Bobby Dalbec, Alex Verdugo and J.D. Martinez) fall shy of their previous levels of contribution.

To a small extent, Bogaerts was part of that offensive downturn. Although he was excellent on the whole, hitting .307/.377/.456 in 631 plate appearances, he hit “only” 15 home runs this season — his lightest showing in the power department since 2017 (both in terms of home run total and ISO). Bogaerts saw declines in his exit velocity, barrel rate and hard-hit rate, further supporting the dip in extra-base pop. That said, Bogaerts also picked up the pace in the season’s final couple months, and he and Rafael Devers were still the team’s two best players by a wide margin.

Bogaerts’ postgame comments Wednesday contained two repeated themes: he hopes to remain with the Red Sox — the only organization he’s ever known — but is also a different player and person than he was when he signed his original contract extension. Bogaerts said at multiple points that he has grown and matured in recent seasons, adding that he’s “in a different mentality now than I was a couple years ago.”

Bogaerts is a veritable lock to opt out and test free agency. Nothing he said Wednesday suggested anything to the contrary, and while the dip in power may be something of a red flag for interested teams, it’s only fair to point out that said downturn was accompanied by a major uptick in his defensive grades. 

Bogaerts posted negative marks in Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast’s Outs Above Average in each of the four seasons heading into 2022 but was strong across the board at shortstop in 2022 by measure of DRS (4), OAA (5) and Ultimate Zone Rating (5.4).

That could work to his favor in combating the narrative that he’ll need to move to either third base or second base — perhaps sooner than later. Some suitors may still prefer him at another position, and a willingness to play elsewhere can certainly bolster one’s market — just ask Story or Marcus Semien — but the 2022 campaign is a point in his favor if Bogaerts is intent on remaining at shortstop for the foreseeable future.

Regardless of his defensive home, Bogaerts’ bat should carry him to a longer-term, more-lucrative deal than the club-friendly extension he originally signed with the Sox a few years back. He’s been at least 29% better than average at the plate in each of the past five seasons, by measure of wRC+, posting a combined .300/.373/.507 slash with 105 long balls in that time. He’s also been quite durable, incurring just one injury (a small crack in his ankle in 2018) and playing in 91% of the Red Sox’ total games in that span.

The Red Sox’ public position on the matter has repeatedly been that the team hopes to sign Bogaerts, though the most recent extension offer from the team casts doubt on the plausibility of that outcome. Boston reportedly offered Bogaerts one additional year at a price of $30M in Spring Training. That would have brought Bogaerts to four years and $90M in total commitment, and it stands to reason that he could more than double that overall guarantee on the open market this winter as he heads into his age-30 season.

Boston has a bit less than $102M in guaranteed contracts already on next year’s books, although Bogaerts accounts for $20M of that sum. By 2024, they’ll be down to about $57M (sans Bogaerts), and by 2025, Story’s contract is the last notable guarantee remaining on the books. The team is perhaps optimistically earmarking some payroll space for a Devers extension, but it’s plenty feasible that all three of Story, Bogaerts and Devers could fit onto the payroll — particularly for a big-market club with little in the way of other major guarantees beyond the 2024 season.

If and when Bogaerts opts out, he’ll be eligible to receive a qualifying offer. He’ll surely receive and reject that, positioning the Red Sox to receive some compensation if he departs as a free agent. However, because the Red Sox finished the 2022 season north of the $230M luxury tax line (by a reported margin of about $4.5M), they’d stand to receive a pick between the fourth and fifth rounds of next summer’s draft — as opposed to the pick between Competitive Balance Round B and Round 3 that they would have otherwise received.

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