Rosenthal: Xander Bogaerts deal is odd but understandable for the Padres


Here is my instant analysis of Xander Bogaerts’ 11-year, $280 million agreement with the Padres. Great for Bogaerts. Bad for the Red Sox. And odd but understandable for the Padres.

Before we get into all of that, though, let’s take a moment to assess the latest wacky trend in baseball economics. It seemed only yesterday when teams shied away from players in their 30s. They still do, when it suits them in salary negotiations with lesser talents. But for the big free agents, it’s suddenly all about flattening the average annual value in absurdly long deals.

The superstar seeks a certain guarantee. The team says, “OK, as long as we stretch it out over a number of years to lower your annual luxury-tax number.” The superstar says, “Sure,” and everyone agrees to worry about the ramifications years later, when the owner and front office might be gone.

Bryce Harper and his agent, Scott Boras, started this trend, agreeing to a 13-year, $330 million contract in Feb. 2019. Harper, though, was only entering his age-26 season, so his deal will expire when he is 38. Aaron Judge’s and Jacob deGrom’s new contracts will end when they are 39, Trea Turner’s and Bogaerts’ when they are 40. Boras also represents Bogaerts.

Judge was the only one of the above free agents to get a lengthy term and monster AAV, his $40 million average setting a record for position players. While deGrom will average $37 million over five years, the third-highest for a pitcher, Turner and Bogaerts will practically be indentured servants, checking in at $27.27 million and $25.45 million, respectively.

After missing out on José Abreu, Turner and Judge, Padres general manager A.J. Preller was the equivalent of a rich kid in a toy store, itching to spend on something. Bogaerts, viewed in isolation, is an excellent choice, arguably the best hitter of the big four shortstops, and, at least in 2022, an improved defender, too. But it’s the fit that is odd, just as it would have been with Turner.

Bogaerts is probably not as good a defensive shortstop as Ha-Seong Kim, who likely will move to second base, with Jake Cronenworth sliding to first. He might not even be as good as Fernando Tatis Jr., who likely will move to a corner-outfield spot once he returns from his suspension for performance-enhancing drugs on April 20. But Preller’s goal in roster construction is to find the most stars, not build the most cohesive 26-man unit.

Unconventional as that approach might be, it got the Padres to the National League Championship Series last season, even without the injured and then suspended Tatis. And now, as the Dodgers seem poised to mix in young players and lower their payroll, Preller almost certainly sees an opening. “They’re all-in now,” one rival official said of the Padres. “Because it has flipped.”

The arrival of Bogaerts might appear a threat to team chemistry, but Tatis is in no position to fight a position change. And Machado, while a fan of Kim at short, surely won’t object to Bogaerts’ contract, or any of the other recent deals. Machado, entering year five of his 10-year, $300 million deal, can opt out at the end of the season. He would become a free agent again entering his age-31 campaign, roughly the same age Judge was when he hit the open market. Call him Money Machado.

Bogaerts is a hedge not only against the departure of Machado, but also that of outfielder Juan Soto, who is under club control for two more seasons and highly unlikely to sign an extension when he will be a free agent at 26. This Padres team might not stay together for long. It is still in need of another starting pitcher and a first baseman. But it will be awfully fun to watch in 2023, which is more than might be said of the post-Bogaerts Red Sox.

Sox president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom spent the entire season and offseason talking about how re-signing Bogaerts was the team’s top priority. Yet in the end, the Sox’s offer to Bogaerts, according to the Boston Globe, was six years and $160 million. A higher AAV than the Padres guaranteed, sure. But in these negotiations, the Padres operated like a multinational bank, the Sox a mom-and-pop store. The difference in their respective bids was a cool $120 million.

The Red Sox could argue, and others in the industry might agree, that the Padres’ bid was excessive. But the Sox’s miscalculation on Bogaerts dates to last offseason, when they lowballed him on a possible extension. Now they face a significant hole at shortstop, at a moment in the offseason when the options are dwindling.

Carlos Correa, nearly two years younger than Bogaerts, is not going to make a sudden appearance in Boras’ bargain bin, as if such a thing existed. Maybe the Sox could get Dansby Swanson for about what they offered Bogaerts. But the Giants, Cubs and Twins are among the teams still looking for shortstops, all with money to burn.

Bloom, who spoke this week about adding seven, eight or nine players this offseason, is not exactly off to a roaring start. He struck out on Abreu and Zach Eflin. He signed Chris Martin, Kenley Jansen and Joely Rodriguez to fortify his bullpen. But The Athletic’s Keith Law wrote that Bloom’s lone offensive addition, the 5-foot-8, 176-pound Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida, was overpaid at $90 million over five years, particularly when that money could have been spent on catcher Willson Contreras, who signed with the Cardinals for slightly less.

With the Sox coming off a last-place finish, their fifth in 12 years, this offseason could prove to be Bloom’s Waterloo. The Sox need a shortstop, another bat and at least one starting pitcher. Alas, 16 of Jim Bowden’s top 25 free agents are off the board. Bogaerts was to be the centerpiece of it all. And now Bogaerts is gone.

Great for Bogaerts. Odd for the Padres. Bad for the Red Sox.

(Top photo of Bogaerts: James A. Pittman-USA TODAY Sports)


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