Swapping Xander Bogaerts would be a mistake

Hey, Boston Red Sox – don’t trade Xander Bogaerts!

The Boston Red Sox stumbled in the second half of the season when they were swept at home by the Toronto Blue Jays, dropping three games from last Wild Card spot with a frustrating .500 record. With the trade deadline approaching next week, the Red Sox may be forced to sell.

Boston has several desirable assets on expiring contracts who could be on the table for trade talks should they give up the white flag for the 2022 season. Among them is shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who has an opt-out. in his contract that allows him to give up the remaining $60 million over the next three years of his contract to test free agency after this season.

The Red Sox half-heartedly tried to sign Bogaerts for an extension last spring, but their low-ball offer was quickly rejected, bringing negotiations to an abrupt end. They basically offered to give him the same contract he had already signed with an extra year at the end for $30 million. Obviously that wasn’t going to do it.

Without the security of an extension locking him into the Red Sox lineup for the foreseeable future, a growing perception among the fan base and the media is that Bogaerts already has one foot out. If their team is not in contention by the deadline, they must trade their star shortstop in order to avoid losing it to free agency.

It would be a mistake.

His home run power has mysteriously diminished but Bogaerts remains an offensive force. He leads major league shortstops with a .364 wOBA, is second with 134 wRC+ and fourth in position with 3.7 WAR, by FanGraphs. His much-maligned defense has also improved towards league average levels rather than a liability. Why wouldn’t the Red Sox do everything possible to lock down this type of player?

While the teams seemed to be miles apart before the start of the season, there’s no reason to believe the gap will remain that wide. Negotiation can be a slow process that often comes to a head when the pressure of a deadline pushes both parties into action. Boston has yet to put its best offer on the table. Just because the Red Sox failed to reach agreement in the spring doesn’t mean they gave up on keeping Bogaerts.

The task of bringing Bogaerts back for the 2023 season and beyond becomes much more difficult if they trade him now. Xander pleaded with the front office for help at the deadline for a playoff push. It doesn’t sound like the words of a player who wants to be traded. Going against his wishes by sending him packing risks further damaging the relationship, which could reach a breaking point.

Haven’t we learned anything from the Jon Lester debacle? The Red Sox downgraded him with a ridiculous extension offer, then traded him to the Oakland A’s at the deadline when Boston’s season went down the drain. The Red Sox made a much more reasonable offer when Lester entered free agency after the season, but they couldn’t top the lucrative contract the Chicago Cubs gave him.

Although they fell short in the free agency bidding war, at least the Red Sox finally made a fair bid. Lester later hinted that he would have accepted Boston’s deal if it had been offered before they traded him. He never considered wearing another uniform, but tasting life with another big league club opened his eyes to other possibilities.

The Red Sox can’t make the same mistake with Bogaerts. If they let him go now, they can’t expect him to come back. Bogaerts won’t accept a deal as good for the team as his last extension with the Red Sox, but he’s also not determined to grab every last dollar. A reasonable offer is all he asks. His preference would be to stay with the only organization he’s ever known as long as their offer is at least in the same range as his other suitors. If he finishes the season with another team, that advantage goes out the window.

Boston has a major loss of payroll money after this season. They currently have a little more $60 million guaranteed salary committed to next year’s roster if Bogaerts steps down. Arbitration and pre-arb wages will further inflate the payroll, but they will remain well below the luxury tax threshold. The Red Sox have plenty of money to lock Bogaerts and Rafael Devers into new contracts with enough money to fill out the roster.

The Red Sox have also been engaged in contentious negotiations with Devers over a long-term extension. Letting Bogaerts walk could hamper their chances of keeping their superstar third baseman. Xander and Raffy are close friends who want to be here together. If Bogaerts were to leave, Boston might suddenly seem less attractive to Devers.

Bogaerts’ trade at the deadline indicates the Red Sox are not interested in re-signing him. If they don’t intend to keep it, they need to get assets for it now. However, it would be disconcerting if the Boston brass had already decided they were no longer interested in one of the best shortstops in the game who also happens to be a leader for the club.

Many seem too willing to assume that Bogaerts is about to leave Boston. Call me optimistic, but I think they can still negotiate a fair deal even if they wait until the end of the season. That optimism will quickly fade if Bogaerts is traded at the deadline. If the Red Sox have any desire for a long-term deal with their star shortstop, they should hang on to him for the rest of the season.

Garland K. Long