Red Sox must prepare for inevitable Xander Bogaerts opt-out

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts makes a throw. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts makes a throw. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts could opt-out after 2022 season

While Xander Bogaerts is focused on the present, the Boston Red Sox must keep an eye on the future. Bogaerts addressed the media on Monday for the first time since his arrival at spring training. Naturally, the topic of Fernando Tatis Jr.’s massive 14-year, $340 million extension came up. Bogaerts replied that it’s great to see his fellow shortstop get “a boatload of money,” but the Tatis deal has no impact on whether or not he’ll opt out of his own contract when he gets the opportunity.

"“I haven’t even been thinking of that,” said Bogaerts. “It’s so far down the road.”"

The decision isn’t that far down the road though. Bogaerts has an opt-out clause in his contract that he can trigger after the 2022 season, leaving him with potentially only two more seasons in a Red Sox uniform.

He’s made no indication that he wants to leave Boston but it will be incredibly tempting to seek a raise after Tatis set a new standard for what star shortstops are worth. The six-year, $120 million extension he signed at the beginning of the 2019 season was already viewed as team-friendly but Bogaerts is now woefully underpaid in the wake of the Tatis contract. That perception isn’t going to improve with a loaded crop of shortstops potentially entering next year’s free-agent class.

Since 2017, Bogaerts ranks second among major league shortstops with 16.8 WAR, according to FanGraphs. There are a dozen other shortstops who have compiled 10.0+ WAR over that time frame and of those 12 players, eight of them are currently scheduled to hit free agency next offseason.

That puts the Red Sox in a difficult position. There’s a chance that they could lose their star shortstop in two years. The problem is that the best opportunity to find a replacement will be next winter, a full year ahead of when they will find out what Bogaerts will do.

We should assume that as long as he’s healthy and productive over the next two years, Bogaerts will opt-out. He’ll be turning 30 years old by that point so it could be his last chance to secure one last pay day.

That means the Red Sox should be aggressively proactive by targeting one of the top shortstops on the market next offseason. They have some salary coming off the books after this season with only about $126 million committed to 2022 before accounting for arbitration-eligible and pre-arbitration players under team control. Boston should have money to spend and most of the top position players on the market are shortstops.

If Boston misses out on that loaded free-agent class, it could be a while before they find their next franchise shortstop if Bogaerts leaves. Aside from Bogaerts, the game’s top shortstops who aren’t on the market next year are mostly locked up long-term, several years away from free agency or will be past their prime by that point.

Top prospect Jeter Downs should be ready for the big leagues within a year or two and could easily slide into the shortstop position. He’s currently projected for second base where he would pair with Bogaerts for an exciting middle infield combo. If Bogaerts leaves and Downs moves to shortstop, it creates another hole the Red Sox need to fill.

Signing a shortstop next winter creates a temporary logjam at the position but it’s one that the Red Sox can easily rectify. Several of those free-agent options have the versatility to play other positions. Bogaerts has never been known for being a great defensive player so it’s not unfathomable for the Red Sox to consider asking him to move to second base in order to sign someone with a superior glove to handle a premium position. They could also slide Bogaerts over to third base and have Rafael Devers step into the designated hitter role when J.D. Martinez’s contract ends.

As long as the Red Sox can convince some players to switch positions, they can create an impressive amount of flexibility moving forward. If Bogaerts doesn’t opt-out or renegotiates a new deal with the Red Sox, he can stick around to pair with next year’s free-agent addition in a star-studded infield. They can find room for Downs at another position or use him as a trade chip. If Bogaerts does leave town, they already have his replacement on board.

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We’ve seen what happens when the Red Sox aren’t prepared to replace a star player at a key position. From 2004 when Nomar Garciaparra was traded away until the arrival of Bogaerts at the end of the 2013 season, Boston cycled through shortstops on an annual basis. Bogaerts has stabilized the position for the last eight years but in order to prevent history from repeating itself, they must prepare themselves for the possibility that he could leave.