Red Sox reported pursuit of Marcus Semien raises questions about Xander Bogaerts' future

John Tomase
·4 min read

Tomase: Pursuit of Semien raises questions about Bogaerts' future originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Red Sox reportedly have interest in plugging their second base hole with free agent shortstop Marcus Semien.

It would be an outside-the-box choice, for sure. Semien is only one year removed from finishing third in the AL MVP race, and even if he experienced a down 2020, he compensated with an excellent postseason. If he's open to playing second base, that's one hell of a middle infield.

Except . . . does the pursuit of Semien tell us something about the future of Xander Bogaerts?

Bogaerts is virtually everything the Red Sox could want in a star player. He's homegrown, he's an elite hitter with power, patience, and production, and he has embraced a leadership role as the face of a franchise.

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He has already contributed to a pair of titles and he could be the centerpiece of a third, except there are two questions hovering over him that make me wonder if Semien could arrive as the second baseman of the present and the shortstop of the future.

The first is Bogaerts' defense. The advanced metrics do not treat him kindly. By Statcast's outs above average, Bogaerts has progressively declined over the last three years, ranking 23rd, 24th, and 31st, respectively. By Baseball Info Solution's defensive runs saved, he has ranged anywhere from minus-10 to minus-14 since 2016.

And by the eye test, it's clear that while he's decent on balls up the middle, he struggles moving to his right. One of Alex Cora's last proclamations before stepping down as Red Sox manager last year was that he intended to work on Bogaerts' first-step quickness. The team's poor infield defense is only partly the fault of a post-Pedroia world order at second base or Rafael Devers' inconsistency at third. Bogaerts contributed, too.

The other issue is an opt-out that looms after the 2022 season. When Bogaerts signed a six-year, $120 million extension in 2019, it was hailed as team friendly, but we had no idea. Rather than count his money, he finished fifth in the MVP voting while hitting .309 with 33 homers and 117 RBIs, earning a starting spot on the inaugural all-MLB team (beating out Semien, by the way).

By signing that contract, Bogaerts committed to the Red Sox. However, by 2022 he may have reason to question their commitment to him, depending on the state of the rebuild. He turns 30 that October and would be primed to cash in as the premier shortstop on the market, assuming that baseball's economic landscape has returned to normal, post-pandemic.

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These two issues cast the pursuit of Semien, first reported by the MLB Network's Jim Bowden, in a different light.

Statcast hates his defense, too, but there are extenuating circumstances. Because he plays next to the most brilliant defensive third baseman in the American League in Matt Chapman, Semien is consistently penalized on balls hit to his right, even though that's actually his strong side. Chapman's range allows Semien to shade up the middle and "miss" balls towards the hole that other shortstops hoover up; it doesn't matter, because they just end up in Chapman's glove.

Baseball Info Solutions is much more bullish, crediting Semien with 26 defensive runs saved between 2018 and 2019. It helps that he has slashed his errors from 35 in 2015 with the White Sox to just 12 in 2019 despite playing 100 more innings.

At this point in their careers, it's safe to say the 30-year-old Semien is a better defender at short than the 28-year-old Bogaerts. It's equally safe to say the Red Sox aren't going to move their heart-and-soul leader off of his position to make way for a newcomer, especially since Bogaerts still carries some scars from being punted to third base in 2014.

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But long-term, Semien would provide insurance against a Bogaerts opt-out. He's nowhere near the hitter Bogaerts is -- his breakout 2019 (.285-33-92) represents the only above-average offensive season of his eight-year career -- but he's a solid, dependable player.

I just can't help but wonder what his arrival would mean for the future of his ostensible double-play partner.