As Xander Bogaerts ascended the minors like a rocket nearly a decade ago, evaluators marveled not so much at how far he hit the ball, but where.
Bogaerts launched plenty of home runs in the minors, including 20 at two stops as a teenager in 2012, but he was by no means a dead pull hitter. Awestruck scouts described shots he lofted effortlessly to dead- and left- center. When he arrived in the big leagues for good at age 20 in 2013, his first homer was one to behold, a mammoth shot over the left field bullpen in Yankee Stadium.
I was there that September afternoon, and as Bogaerts rounded the bases wearing No. 72, I remember wondering if I was watching the next Alex Rodriguez. It ended up taking Bogaerts a few years to truly develop his power -- first he had to hit .320 and nearly win a batting title -- but once it blossomed, he officially arrived as a superstar.
His 33 homers and 117 RBIs in 2019 made him one of the few players on the roster not to experience a World Series hangover, and the Red Sox clearly had no regrets over their decision to build around him after he agreed to a six-year, $120 million extension.
On Monday night in Fenway Park, Bogaerts came alive at the plate as we knew he would after a slow opening weekend, going 4 for 5 with a run and RBI and lasering a ball off the top of the right field fence, barely missing an opposite-field home run. His production keyed an 11-2 victory over the Rays, and it also renewed a question we're going to be asking a lot over the next two seasons -- how much time in Boston does he have left?
Of all the reasons to feel lousy about the team's 0-3 start and opening weekend sweep at the hands of the Orioles, the one with the biggest long-term implications wears No. 2 and bats cleanup.
Bogaerts can opt out of his contract after next season, and he has seen the shortstop market explode since signing the team-friendly deal that could keep him in Boston until he's 34.
The Padres showered superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. with $340 million. The Mets followed by giving Francisco Lindor $341 million. All-Star shortstops Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, and Trevor Story could be free agents this fall and they are going to get paid.
If Bogaerts opts out following next season, he will be the class of the market, but he'll also be 30 and potentially looking at a move to third base. There's still value there, but he won't make $300 million.
Of course, he'll be far more inclined to remain in Boston if the Red Sox build a team worthy of his two World Series rings. Bogaerts has never once complained about his salary, because he knows that $20 million annually is life-changing, even if it doesn't measure up to some of his counterparts.
Assuming the world is somewhat back to normal by the fall of 2022, Bogaerts would be crazy not to opt out, even if his intention is to remain in a Red Sox uniform. With fans once again filling the stands, the American economy humming, and baseball (hopefully) beginning a new collective bargaining agreement, there should be plenty of money for a player and person of his caliber.
His value to the Red Sox is undeniable, and not just because of what he does on the field. Even after Monday's breakout performance, for instance, he deflected questions about himself in order to pump up struggling teammate Rafael Devers, who went 0 for 5 to remain hitless on the season.
"We have one guy that is not getting the knocks as of now, but I told him, 'Listen, when your knocks come, they're going to come in bunches, you know, because that's the type of leader you are,'" Bogaerts said. "'You know how to hit.' It's not like he forgot how to hit."
The slugging Devers has the potential to be a lot of things, but leader isn't necessarily one of them. That job belongs to Bogaerts, and in a perfect world, he'd continue to do it in Boston for a very long time.
It won't just happen on its own, though. The Red Sox need to give him a reason.