Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts named third-best shortstop in baseball by MLB Network

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts was ranked by MLB Network as the No. 3 shortstop in baseball headed into the 2021 season on Tuesday night.

Finishing behind the likes of Rockies star Trevor Story and Padres sensation Fernando Tatis Jr., Bogaerts is coming off yet another quality campaign in 2020.

Across 56 games played last year, the 28-year-old posted a .300/.364/.502 slash line to go along with 11 home runs and 28 RBI over 225 total plate appearances.

2020 marked the third consecutive season in which Bogaerts finished with an on-base percentage north of .360, a slugging percentage north of .500, and an OPS+ exceeding 130. He finished in the top-20 in American League MVP voting in each of those three seasons.

Going back to Opening Day 2018, the Aruban infielder has accrued 13.6 fWAR in 347 total games played, the second-highest fWAR total among qualified major-league shortstops behind only Francisco Lindor, who accrued 14.0 fWAR in 361 games played with the Indians over that same stretch.

Bogaerts would likely be at the top of FanGraphs’ WAR leaderboards if the defensive metrics fell in line with what he did on the field.

As MLB Network’s Brian Kenny put it Tuesday night, “the defensive metrics do not like [Bogaerts]. Maybe it’s accurate, maybe not quite. But otherwise he would be a WAR leader as well.”

Last year alone, Bogaerts posted negative-5 defensive runs saved and an ultimate zone rating of just 0.3 over 438 innings at shortstop. He also registered negative-2 outs above average at the position, per Baseball Savant.

With spring training set to begin in just a few short weeks, the two-time All-Star is certainly not at risk of losing his starting job, but that doesn’t mean lofty expectations will be placed upon him heading into the new season.

Just ask Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

“Xander, for instance, when you talk about about the shortstops around the league and now you add [Corey] Seager to that equation, he’s up there with them,” Cora said of Bogaerts back in November. “Maybe the next step for us is to push Xander to be a better defender — and he’s not a bad defender — but to become an elite defender.”

Bogaerts, who does not turn 29 until October, is entering the second year of the six-year, $120 million contract extension he signed with Boston shortly after the start of the 2019 season.

He also has the option to opt out of his contract and become a free-agent at the conclusion of the 2022 season.

(Picture of Xander Bogaerts: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox in ‘active discussions’ with free-agent right-hander Garrett Richards, per report

In the wake of reportedly agreeing to a two-year deal with utilityman Enrique Hernandez, the Red Sox are also in active discussions with free-agent right-hander Garrett Richards, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi.

Per Morosi, multiple clubs were talking with Richards as recently as Friday.

Richards, 32, is coming off a 2020 season with the Padres in which he posted a 4.03 ERA and 4.28 FIP over 14 outings (10 starts) and 51 1/3 innings of work.

The 2020 campaign marked Richards’ first ‘full’ season in quite a while, as the California native was limited to just three starts with the Pads in September 2019.

That was the case because the righty had been recovering from Tommy John Surgery, which he underwent as a member of the Angels in July 2018.

At one point in time, Richards — a former first-round pick of Los Angeles in 2009 — was viewed as the Halos’ future ace who would take over for longtime stalwart Jered Weaver.

That vision never came to fruition, though, as the one-time Oklahoma Sooner dealt with his fair share of injuries in his time with the Angels that was capped off by undergoing TJS in ’18.

With the Padres, however, Richards showed some flashes of what made him a special prospect in the first place, especially this past season.

Despite putting up a so-s0 4.03 ERA, the 6-foot-2, 210 lb. hurler placed in the 82nd percentile in fastball velocity, the 97th percentile in fastball spin, and the 99th percentile in curveball spin among major-league pitchers, per Baseball Savant. His pitch mix also includes a ‘wipeout’ slider.

To put it in simpler terms, Richards is somewhat of a ‘Statcast darling,’ as @RedSoxStats put it.

With that high upside potential in mind, it’s possible that Richards, who does not turn 33 until May, is currently in search of a multi-year contract.

MLB Trade Rumors predicted back in November that the ISE Baseball client would net himself a two-year, $16 million deal this winter.

Even after signing the likes of Martin Perez and Matt Andriese to one-year deals and adding swingman candidate Garrett Whitlock via the Rule 5 Draft, Boston still finds themselves in need of starting pitching help as spring training draws closer.

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said on the SoxProspects.com podcast earlier this week that he is hopeful the club will be able to make more moves between now and Opening Day.

“I think we have a chance to surprise some people in 2021,” he said. “And I’m hopeful and believe very much we’re going to do a few more things before Opening Day that will supplement this club.”

(Picture of Garrett Richards: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo named fourth-best center fielder in baseball heading into 2021 season by MLB Network

Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo has been named the fourth-best center fielder in baseball headed into the 2021 season by MLB Network.

The 24-year-old, finishing behind the likes of Mike Trout, former teammate Cody Bellinger, and George Springer, only started one game in center field for Boston last year during his debut season with the club.

In said start, which came on the road against the Marlins on September 16, Verdugo went 1-for-1 in his defensive chances, recording a putout on a Miguel Rojas pop fly in the first inning of what would turn out to be an 8-4 defeat.

Per Baseball Savant, Rojas’ pop fly off of left-hander Mike Kickham left his bat with an exit velocity of 84.7 mph, giving Verdugo a 99% chance to catch it, which he did after jogging a few steps to his left.

Other than that, the rest of Verdugo’s playing time came in 2020 came in left or right field, where he did a decent job showing off his arm strength en route to recording seven outfield assists.

Prior to coming over from the Dodgers in that infamous trade last February, the former second-round draft pick patrolled center field quite a bit for Los Angeles in 2019.

Over a 61-game sample size (52 starts), Verdugo logged 475 2/3 innings in center, where he posted a positive-3 defensive runs saved as well as a 1.1 ultimate zone rating, which translates to an ultimate zone rating of 3.6 over 150 defensive games, per FanGraphs.

In that same stretch of games in center for the Dodgers, Verdugo was worth zero outs above average, according to Baseball Savant, which essentially means he was average at that position defensively.

Even with those numbers in mind, the Arizona native appears to be the frontrunner to become the Sox’ everyday center fielder in 2021.

This being the case because Jackie Bradley Jr. still remains unsigned while Andrew Benintendi could apparently be traded any day now.

Take those two options away, and outside of Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe, J.D. Martinez are the only other two outfielders on Boston’s 40-man roster who have major-league experience.

Having said all that, it’s safe to assume that The Shredder, MLB Network’s “player rating formula,” ran with the notion that Verdugo will fill the void left by Bradley Jr. come Opening Day in April.

Seeing how Bradley Jr. is a Gold Glove Award winner and one of, if not the best defensive center fielder in baseball, that could be a sizable void to fill, but Red Sox officials seem confident that Verdugo could handle it if given the opportunity.

“I think Verdugo’s probably the one who — if we were starting today — would probably be most suited to it,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said last month when asked who on the Red Sox could play center field on a consistent basis. “But, it’s just great to have a group of athletes that you feel confident that they could all cover it.”

Red Sox general manager and Bloom’s right-hand man Brian O’Halloran echoed this same sort of sentiment when speaking with reporters in early December.

“I think he did a really good job. He’s obviously a very athletic outfielder who moves around very well,” O’Halloran said of the fiery outfielder. “I have not seen him play center field, but I believe that he could do it. And in terms of evaluations, this year I thought he did a terrific job both offensively and defensively.”

Verdugo’s manager, Alex Cora, also expressed optimism that the 6-foot, 192. lb. left-handed hitter would be able to handle things as the anchor of the Red Sox outfield this coming season.

“We do believe that he’s athletic enough to do that,” said Cora, when appearing on MLB Network Radio in December. “He’s got the instincts. His first step is pretty good. He can do it… We do feel comfortable with Alex playing center field.”

There is still plenty of time for the Red Sox’ outfield outlook to change during these winter months, but for now, let’s just roll with the idea that Verdugo will be Boston’s Opening Day center fielder, likely batting leadoff or out of the two-hole.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Red Sox Close to Trading Mookie Betts, per Report

The Red Sox are close to trading star outfielder Mookie Betts, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, who said on Monday’s installment of MLB Network’s Hot Stove that, “This is going to happen, Mookie Betts is getting traded. The only question is when and where.”

The Dodgers and Padres appear to be the favorites to land the 27-year-old Betts, who will make $27 million this upcoming season before becoming a free agent for the first time next winter.

Per Rosenthal, Los Angeles has “the ability to do this a little bit cleaner” since San Diego would be looking to include outfielder Wil Myers, who is owed $61 million over the next three years, in any trade.

Any deal involving the Dodgers would most likely be headlined by 23-year-old outfielder Alex Verdugo and 21-year-old infield prospect Jeter Downs coming back to Boston.

Of course, any return the Red Sox get could depend on whether or not David Price is packaged with Betts in any potential trade.

Price, 34, is set to make $96 million over the final three years of the seven-year, $217 million deal he signed with the Sox back in December 2015. If he were dealt, Boston would probably be responsible for a majority of that $96 million.

Bundling Betts and Price in the same deal could help the Red Sox reach their goal of getting under the $208 million luxury tax threshold for the 2020 season, but it could also hinder the compensation for giving up an elite talent like Betts.

On Sunday, MLB Network’s Peter Gammons tweeted that he spoke to three different National League executives who said that Betts going to the Dodgers is “inevitable” at this point, with Verdugo, Downs, and a pitching prospect going to the Red Sox.