Let's take two members of the 2021 Red Sox and play a game of snap judgments. If I ask what kind of defenders Hunter Renfroe and Xander Bogaerts were, you might answer "above average" and "mediocre," respectively.
And yet the metric that everyone suddenly treats as gospel -- outs above average -- graded them as roughly the same. Bogaerts ranked 35th among big league shortstops and Renfroe, despite leading the American League in assists, placed only 30th among right fielders.
The answer why is simple, and points to value that Bogaerts provides that we shouldn't discount. He makes virtually all of the routine plays, his demerits owing to a lack of range, especially to his right.
Renfroe, meanwhile, converted a series of highlight-reel plays, but absolutely butchered far too many pedestrian ones. In chasing virality, Renfroe turned doubles into triples, airmailed cutoff men, and allowed runners to take extra bases. His best plays conjured images of Roberto Clemente, but his worst cost the Red Sox games.
So as we ponder how willing the Red Sox should be to extend Bogaerts and how much they should consider paying him to do it, it's worth asking if we're focusing too much on his defensive shortcomings and not enough on the complete package.
If you're going by WAR, which attempts to provide a picture of a player's total worth, Bogaerts was the best position player on the Red Sox last year at somewhere in the 5.0 range. If you're going by the eye test, he might win there, too, thanks to his sure hands-on defense and well-rounded offensive game.
He is one of the best offensive shortstops in the game and he might be the best, if myriad injuries force San Diego's Fernando Tatis Jr. to move permanently to the outfield. He's a proven winner who already owns two World Series titles before his 30th birthday. He is the closest thing to a captain the Red Sox have had since Jason Varitek retired more than a decade ago, and a brilliant ambassador for the team, the city, and the game.
Maybe it's time we start focusing on all the things he can do and less on the fact that he doesn't have great range in the hole.
I'm as guilty as anyone of pushing the "Bogaerts can't play short" narrative, but that doesn't mean you simply wave goodbye if/when he opts out this fall. Manager Alex Cora likes to note the Red Sox nearly won a World Series with Bogaerts at shortstop last year and there's no reason to think they can't contend with him there again this year.
The arrival of Trevor Story gives the Red Sox insurance in case Bogaerts leaves, but their focus should be on cementing that partnership for the next five years, not forcing one to snatch the baton from the other. Even with exciting prospect Marcelo Mayer opening eyes in Fort Myers with a recent home run off All-Star right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, no 19-year-old should influence the team's long-term thinking with Bogaerts, especially since he can eventually move to third base on a more natural timetable that doesn't batter his pride.
There's value in that, even if Bogaerts isn't playing shortstop. The team has already made out insanely well on the six-year, $120 million extension he signed before the 2019 season that has proven to be absurdly below market. Bogaerts, it's worth noting, has not once complained that he's underpaid.
It's sometimes easy to fixate on a single wayward brushstroke at the expense of the entire painting. Such is the case with Bogaerts. He may not be perfect defensively, but the Red Sox can live with his deficiencies when they're taken against the totality of his contributions.
So he may not reach every groundball. He's a winning player who loves Boston. That should count for a lot.