Missing the X-(Man) Factor: Red Sox Have a Hole at Shortstop

A series of roster construction missteps and miscalculations have left a giant hole in the middle of Boston's lineup, infield, and clubhouse.

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 5: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox takes the field ahead of a game against the Tampa Bays Rays on October 5, 2022 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

On April 12, 2023 Bobby Dalbec started at shortstop for the Boston Red Sox. The series of events which led the former college pitcher, turned third baseman, turned first baseman, to start at the premiere position for one of the most historic franchises in the sport is one of the greatest collections of roster mismanagement in recent memory.

After the Dalbec debacle, the Red Sox called up Yu Chang, who is hitting .077. Now they have called up Enmanuel Valdez, who was hitting .179 for Triple-A Worcester, but the team is simply out of alternatives, and are hoping Valdez may be able to get hot and produce at the Major League level.

It is worth examining the production (or lack thereof) that Boston has gotten from the shortstop position thus far. Through the first dozen games of 2023 the Red Sox shortstops committed more errors (6) than produced hits (3). Their production has not improved much since, as Red Sox shortstops have hit a combined .158 with an OBP of .230, and have committed 8 errors.

These are the numbers that can be expected when a team takes their center fielder, Kiké Hernandez, and asks him to be their primary shortstop. Not only is he playing a position he has virtually no experience in, the effort of learning a new position has impacted his offense. It is not a coincidence that the game he moved back to center field he ended up going 2-for-4.

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What makes the situation that much more frustrating is that homegrown, All-Star, Silver Slugger shortstop Xander Bogearts, who spent the first decade of his career in Boston, is hitting .337 with 10 RBI and 10 runs scored to start the season in San Diego.

The debacle can be traced to the offseason before the 2022 season, when Bogearts expressed his desire to remain with the Red Sox, implying that he would be more than willing to take a hometown discount to stay with the club that had signed him as a 17 year old international free agent.

For most franchises, locking up their face of the franchise and team leader would have been a priority, and it was widely believed a deal would get done.

Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, though, met Bogaerts with an extension that only added one additional year at $30 million to his existing contract. The relationship only soured from here, laying the groundwork for the impending disaster.

What makes the situation even more infuriating from a Red Sox perspective is the fact that they then signed Trevor Story to a six-year, $140 million contract during the same offseason. If this deal was offered to Bogaerts, he would almost certainly still be in a Red Sox uniform. Bloom, though, chose Story as his shortstop of the future despite concerns surrounding the health of his elbow and his lack of production outside the friendly confines of Coors Field.

Story proceeded to slash a whopping .238/.303/.434 in his first season in Boston, and will miss the majority of the 2023 season due to an elbow injury. This of course is the result of the continued deterioration of his throwing arm, which kept other franchises from pursuing him the year prior.

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Bogaerts’ free agency loomed like a dark cloud over the team, and no doubt contributed to the dismal and listless 2022 Red Sox performance. Morale was so low during the season following Bloom’s insulting offer that Rafael Devers had to take Bogaerts, his teammate and mentor, out for drinks numerous times after games to help him clear his head.

Bloom and the Red Sox front office failed yet again after the 2022 season, greatly underestimating the value of their de facto captain. 

Admittedly, the Padres overpaid for Bogaerts’ services, but a deal should have been made before the four-time All-Star hit free agency. Somehow this blindsided the Red Sox, who were so surprised that Bogaerts was leaving they actually retracted an offer to pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, deciding to remain under the luxury tax and use 2023 as a bridge year.

The problem with this is that they had already made win-now moves, like shoring up the back end of the bullpen with veteran arms and overpaying for international free agent Masataka Yoshida. The team ended up stuck in no-man’s land, somewhere between rebuilding and competing. The result has been predictably brutal for Sox fans, as the team has wallowed around .500 to start the season.

I also think it is worth it here to debunk the ludicrous belief that ownership deserves more blame for Bogaerts’ departure than Bloom. While it is true that John Henry and Co may have prevented Bloom from matching the Padres offer, they certainly did not prevent Bloom from getting the deal done during the 2022 offseason.

Again, Bloom handed out the contract that would have made Xander a Red Sox for life, but he handed it to the wrong player. The problem the organization faces is not cheap ownership, but an inability to evaluate talent and the market-value of their own players.

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Now Red Sox Nation is forced to suffer the consequences of Bloom’s decision to value defensive metrics over offense, team dynamic, and the eye test, as we watch game after game of disastrous shortstop play.