If there’s an argument against the Red Sox paying Xander Bogaerts a fair-market value contract to keep him in Boston for the duration of his career, it isn’t a good one.
It isn’t a popular one.
And when the Sox inevitably let him sign with another team this winter – OK, so it’s not a sure thing, but it’s looking likely – we’ll remember games like the Sox’ 5-4 win over the Yankees on Friday night to recall the kind of irreplaceable player this team will be losing.
Less than two weeks after Bogaerts’ left thigh was on the receiving end of a spike-first slide that tore open the skin and required seven stitches to suture, the best shortstop in Sox history single-handedly won a game with his legs.
It’s important to note that he wasn’t supposed to be using his legs this much, and that Bogaerts told us last week that the training staff told him to take it easy out there and, more specifically, not to be diving for a while.
So what was Bogaerts doing on Friday night at Yankee Stadium, when the team that refuses to pay him was on the verge of a fifth straight loss to a division rival and becoming a laughing stock with a 10th series loss against American League East competition?
He was diving all over the place, of course.
Boston Red Sox’s Xander Bogaerts rounds the bases to score on an RBI-double hit by Alex Verdugo during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics in Oakland, Calif., Saturday, June 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
He saved John Schreiber’s bacon in the fifth inning when Bobby Dalbec made an off-the-mark throw to second base on a double-play attempt. Bogaerts was falling off the bag as he received it and yet somehow made the throw back to first base in time to secure an inning-ending twin killing.
Bogaerts could’ve won the game with his bat in the top of the 10th, when he struck out with the bases loaded and the go-ahead run on third base. Then he took matters into his own legs.
Starting the 11th as the ghost runner on second base, he made a lightning-quick decision to dart back to second base and tag up on a line drive to deep left field by Alex Verdugo. The throw might’ve been in time, though it was off the mark. Bogaerts went diving into third base anyways, putting himself 90 feet away from home as the go-ahead run.
With two outs and Dalbec at the plate against Michael King, the Yankees’ version of Garrett Whitlock, Bogaerts watched carefully as Dalbec fell behind in the count on back-to-back sliders.
Expecting him to throw another one, Bogaerts took an aggressive secondary lead and didn’t blink when King spiked a slider into the dirt. Immediately, he took off. Catcher Jose Trevino blocked the pitch but it bounced back towards the pitcher’s mound and Bogaerts beat both Trevino and King in a footrace to home.
He went against doctor’s orders and again dove head-first as he scored the eventual game-winning run, all without the Red Sox getting a hit in the inning.
It was the kind of play usually reserved for the speedsters of the game, the guys who maybe aren’t the best hitters but are in the big leagues because they have elite speed and are adept baserunners. Every now and then, teams find a guy who can hit like a batting champion and has great instincts and runs the bases well, and those guys are usually winning MVP awards.
Bogaerts has received American League MVP votes in each of his last four seasons, finishing as high as fifth in 2019, when he hit .309 with 52 doubles, 33 homers, 110 runs and 117 RBIs.
His OPS-plus that season was 139. This season, it’s 134, despite his low power numbers. With seven homers, on pace to finish with his fewest home run total since 2017, the year before he found his power stroke.
Even without it, he remains one of the game’s best hitters, is better than he gets credit for at the shortstop position and, as Friday night reminded us, remains one of the game’s smartest players.
He’s an elite talent. He does all the little things well. And he plays the most important position on the diamond on a daily basis, no matter how hurt he is.
He’s played through wrist injuries and leg injuries and hand injuries, among others we probably don’t know about.
Athletes play through injuries all the time. This isn’t to suggest Bogaerts deserves $200 million-plus because he gutted through seven stitches.
But when you look around the league and realize how few shortstops there are who play every day, hit at an elite level, handle the defensive responsibilities well enough and can single-handedly win a game with their instincts, it makes you wonder what the Red Sox are doing if they let Bogaerts test free agency this winter.
“He’s a complete package,” manager Alex Cora said on NESN after Friday’s game. “He has great baseball instincts… We needed to score there, let’s put it that way. Understanding who is on the mound and the count, that’s why he was more aggressive with his primary lead. He saw it right away and as soon as the ball bounced, he took off.”
Bogaerts told NESN he was “just making something happen.”
The Red Sox’ all-time leader in games played by a shortstop, Bogaerts continues to look like the kind of franchise player worth investing in.
Even if it’ll take another franchise to recognize it.