The Red Sox have already declared Xander Bogaerts their No. 1 priority of the offseason, but the decision no longer rests solely in their hands.
Bogaerts has officially been on the market for nearly a month now, and with baseball's winter meetings set to kick off next week in San Diego, the push to secure his services should intensify.
The question that makes Red Sox executives and fans sweat is who plans to express legitimate interest. Recent reports (including this one over the weekend from Marino Pepén) have generally identified five teams as contenders, with a sixth, the St. Louis Cardinals, on the periphery.
Let's break down that quintet in order of likelihood. Should Bogaerts choose any one of them, there will be some explaining to do on Jersey Street.
5. Minnesota Twins
Minnesota shocked baseball by signing All-Star Carlos Correa to what amounted to a one-year deal last winter, and the Twins reportedly hope to retain him long-term. It's hard to imagine they have the resources to make that happen, however, since he will be seeking at least $300 million.
And that's where Bogaerts enters the picture.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Bogaerts is Minnesota's fallback. The Twins have periodically surprised us over the years in granting massive contracts -- in addition to Correa's three-year, $105.3 million deal, they gave homegrown catcher Joe Mauer a $184 million extension more than a decade ago -- but it's hard to see how the Twins would appeal to Bogaerts.
If they spend big at shortstop, they won't have the resources to build a team around him, and Bogaerts has already proven with a below-market extension in Boston that he values winning at least as much as money. There will be better opportunities to win elsewhere.
4. Chicago Cubs
This is not one of them. The Cubs are in the early stages of a rebuild, and play in a marginally tougher division than Minnesota alongside the Cardinals and Brewers. But the Cubs have some factors working in their favor.
One is familiarity, since president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer was a Red Sox executive when Bogaerts signed in 2009, and other assistants include ex-Red Sox exec Jared Banner, as well as Bogaerts's former teammate, Craig Breslow.
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Another is tradition. If Bogaerts wants to pull on a storied uniform in an historic ballpark, the Cubs and Wrigley Field can check both boxes.
It's also worth noting that Chicago kickstarted its last rebuild by signing left-hander Jon Lester away from the Red Sox, a move the John Henry ownership still regrets, and which contributed directly to a title in 2016. Maybe Bogaerts makes two?
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
Now come the heavy hitters. The Dodgers are what the Red Sox and Yankees used to be -- the powerhouse spenders linked to every big free agent, because why wouldn't they be? They must decide whether or not to retain a free agent shortstop of their own in Trea Turner, but Bogaerts makes a compelling fallback.
One reason to doubt L.A. is the age of the roster. Outside of catcher Will Smith and second baseman Gavin Lux, the core offensive players will be in their 30s next year. Adding another one in Bogaerts might not make as much sense as, say, going harder after the 28-year-old Correa.
That said, there has been talk about the Dodgers targeting right fielder Aaron Judge in free agency, with Mookie Betts open to the possibility of moving back to second base, his position in high school and the minor leagues.
Imagine a double play combo of Bogaerts and Betts in L.A. and then try not to vomit.
2. San Diego Padres
San Diego has done more to expose the lie of big market/small market dynamics than any team in baseball. The Padres were a small-market team until they weren't, and the result is one of the most exciting rosters in baseball, built around $300 million men Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., as well as future $500 million man Juan Soto.
When the Padres say they want someone, they're immediately a threat to get them, and Bogaerts could easily move incumbent Ha-Seong Kim to a utility role while allowing Tatis to become a full-time outfielder, once his PED suspension ends.
Imagine a lineup built around Machado, Tatis, Soto, and Bogaerts. That's as good a top four as any offense in the game, and Padres GM A.J. Preller has a bit of a fantasy approach to lineup construction; ie., go get the best players and figure out how they fit later.
There's no reason the Red Sox should lose a bidding war with the Padres, of course, but times have changed.
1. Philadelphia Phillies
Dave Dombrowski vs. Chaim Bloom: Who ya got?
That's why the Phillies are No. 1 on this list. Bloom may remain the better bet to build a sustainable farm system, but when it comes to getting their man in free agency, Dombrowski is going to win that showdown 450 out of 10 times.
Dombrowski's strength is identifying holes and moving aggressively to fill them. While Philly's lineup is stacked, it includes a massive hole at shortstop, where rookie Bryson Stott hit just .234 before going hitless in the World Series.
Speaking of which, Philadelphia's near-miss vs. the Astros gives ownership just the motivation it needs to boldly target the missing piece.
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In Bogaerts, the Phillies would get a proven winner and player Dombrowski knows well. They'd also bolster a stacked lineup that includes All-Stars Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Kyle Schwarber.
And let's not discount the revenge factor. Dombrowski would never sign Bogaerts just to stick it to the Red Sox for firing him, but it can't hurt as a side benefit.
If there's a team that scares me most, this is it. They've got the money, the roster, and the baseball-mad city that could all appeal to Bogaerts. The Red Sox never should've let it get this far, but here we are.