Rumors: Red Sox making a “quiet play” for star infielders in free agency

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 30: Carlos Correa #1 of the Houston Astros turns a double play against the Atlanta Braves during the fourth inning in Game Four of the World Series at Truist Park on October 30, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - OCTOBER 30: Carlos Correa #1 of the Houston Astros turns a double play against the Atlanta Braves during the fourth inning in Game Four of the World Series at Truist Park on October 30, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox have these free agent infielders on their radar

There’s a strong possibility that the Boston Red Sox will make a “quiet play” for either Carlos Correa or Marcus Semien in free agency, according to Jim Bowden of The Athletic.

This speculation comes in response to a mailbag question in which Bowden was asked how the Red Sox could address their shaky defense on the left side of the infield. He suggests that if Correa lands in Boston, Xander Bogaerts would move to second base. Semien would cover second if the Red Sox signed him instead.

The defensive alignment would make a lot of sense. Correa led major league shortstops with 20 defensive runs saved this season to earn a Gold Glove at the position. Signing Correa with the intention of moving him to another position would be laughable.

Bogaerts ranked in the bottom-10 in the American League with -5 defensive runs saved. It has long been speculated that a position change is inevitable and Bogaerts has indicated he’s open to it at some point down the line. Bogaerts makes few mistakes in the field but has limited range. That’s problematic for a shortstop but he would be less of a liability at second base.

Semien spent most of his career as a shortstop but proved he was willing and able to switch to second base during his one-year stint with the Toronto Blue Jays. He was above-average defensively at shortstop but elite at second base, tying for second in the majors at the position with 11 defensive runs saved and earning a Gold Glove award.

Either player would significantly upgrade an infield defense that was a glaring weakness this season but adding their bats to the lineup would be equally appealing.

Correa hit .279 with an .850 OPS, 26 home runs and 92 RBI this season. He led AL shortstops with 134 wRC+ and 5.8 WAR, narrowly edging Bogaerts in both categories (130 wRC+ and 5.2 WAR), per FanGraphs.

Over the last five seasons, Correa is third among major league shortstops with 128 wRC+ and seventh with 16.5 WAR.

His history of clutch playoff performances would also appeal to the Red Sox. Correa has hit .272/.344/.505 with 18 home runs in 334 plate appearances on the postseason stage.

Semien hit a modest .265 this season but he brings a tremendous amount of power to a position where it’s traditionally lacking. His 45 home runs set a major league record for second basemen.

His 131 wRC+ ranked second among AL second basemen and 15th in the league at any position. Semien tied for third among major league position players with 6.6 fWAR. He would have been a viable MVP candidate if it weren’t for playing in the shadow of teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

The Red Sox have shown interest in re-signing Kyle Schwarber despite that he’s a clunky fit on the roster with J.D. Martinez opting in to clog the designated hitter role for another season. Schwarber was outstanding after he was acquired at the trade deadline and established himself as an instant fan-favorite. It’s clear why they want him back. However, Correa and Semien both offer similar offensive upside in addition to elite defense. As much as we all enjoy rooting for Kyle from Waltham, these star infielders are a better fit on the field.

Would the Red Sox pay the price in free agency?

We’ve established that both free agent infielders would be welcome additions to the lineup and significantly upgrade the defense. The question is whether or not the Red Sox are willing to pay up for either player.

MLB Trade Rumors has Correa listed as their No. 1 free agent, predicting he will sign a 10-year, $320 million deal. Is he worth that staggering salary? That partially depends on what the next collective bargaining agreement looks like but assuming it doesn’t severely restrict spending, it’s reasonable to expect Correa to top Manny Machado’s 10-year, $300 million deal. Machado benefited from hitting free agency at an early age but he turned 27 in July during his first season with the San Diego Padres. Correa turned 27 in September so he’ll remain that age for most of the 2022 season.

An offer in the ballpark of $300 million might be too rich for Boston’s budget. The Red Sox have some money to spend with salaries falling off their books in the near future but they also need to prepare for a new contract for Bogaerts when he inevitably opts out after next season plus a possible extension for Rafael Devers. That will soak up much of those anticipated savings, leaving little room for another $30+ million salary unless the new CBA unexpectedly relaxes the luxury tax penalties.

The lengthy commitment should also make the Red Sox hesitant. They selected shortstop Marcelo Mayer with the No. 4 overall pick this year and scouts have raved about his superstar potential. He’s still a teenager who is several years away from the big leagues but projecting him as Boston’s shortstop of the future means it makes no sense to block his path with a free agent who is locked into the same position for the next decade. 2020 first-round pick Nick Yorke flew up the prospect rankings with an excellent season and could take over second base within the next few years, which means moving Correa to that position isn’t a long-term solution. If Devers sticks at the hot corner, there isn’t room for all of these infielders once their top prospects are ready.

This is why Semien is more appealing. The 31-year-old isn’t going to get the massive contract that Correa will command. MLB Trade Rumors projects Semien to receive a 6-year, $138 million deal. Not only is $23 million average annual value easier to squeeze into the budget, the shorter contract reduces the concerns about blocking their top prospects. Boston could still use an infield upgrade for at least a few more seasons before the kids are ready to graduate to the majors. Six years might be longer than the Red Sox would prefer but they could make it work if that’s what it takes.

The Red Sox would pay a penalty for signing either player if they decline the qualifying offer extended by their former teams. While that’s an additional coast they will need to factor into any decision, Boston is better positioned to pay that price than they have been in recent years.

Boston may very well get outbid on the open market for both players. They might ultimately prefer to re-sign Schwarber or focus their financial resources on pitching instead. There are many paths that the Red Sox could take this offseason but this latest rumor provides further evidence that having Bogaerts on board won’t stop them from considering a shortstop in free agency.

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