Mazz: If Red Sox are smart, they’ll keep their infield of dreams
September 7th, 2022
Triston Casas wasn’t at first base for even an inning on Sunday when differences for the Red Sox rapidly grew apparent. On his first two chances, Casas made one defensive play to his right and another to his left, and one couldn’t help but wonder if we were getting a snapshot of the future or a mere glimpse at what might have been.
An assortment of issues derailed the Red Sox this season, the most obvious weakness being a pitch staff that was weak at both ends. The Sox subsequently enter this offseason with a rather sizable collection of issues and holes, but there is one are that could remain a strength so long as the Sox are willing to invest in it.
With Casas alongside Trevor Story on the right side and Xander Bogaerts alongside Rafael Devers on the left, the Red Sox fielded an infield over the weekend that should inspire at least some optimism for the 2023 season. That is assuming, of course, that the Sox re-sign Xander Bogaerts and extend Rafael Devers, the former of whom could be a free agent after the season and the latter of whom could be a free agent at the end of 2023. If both are extended, the Sox could have the group of Casas, Story, Devers and Bogaerts together for the next five years: to right-handed batters and two-left-handed, all capable of play representative defense (or better) and hitting for bother average and power.
Of course, that is a big if.
First base: Triston Casas
In four minor league seasons before making his debut on Sunday, Casas batted .269 with a .382 on-base percentage and .863 OPS, showing both plate discipline and power. He is obviously still a work in progress given his youth and inexperience, but he already looks like a better player than Bobby Dalbec, who played first base for the majority of the last two seasons. And last night, Casas hit his first career home run in the Red Sox’ 8-4 loss at Tampa.
In Casas, the Sox might have a first baseman who can both hit and field for the first time in years, no small thing given the difficulties they have had at the position over the last two seasons.
Second base: Trevor Story
BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 4: Trevor Story #10 of the Boston Red Sox flips his bat as he hits a three-run home run against the Texas Rangers during the first inning at Fenway Park on September 4, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
Theoretically, Story could be the shortstop next season if Bogaerts departs via free agency, but the best team the Red Sox can field is with him at second base. (There is still the issue of Story’s arm strength at shortstop, given the questions raised in Colorado last year.) Story is a dynamic athlete who can play defense, run the bases and hit for power.
In that way, he is the perfect complement to Bogaerts, who entered the week leading all major league shortstops (minimum: 2,000 plate appearances) in OPS since the start of 2018. The second player on the list? Story.
Third base: Rafael Devers
BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 3: Rafael Devers #11 of the Boston Red Sox is congratulated in the dugout after scoring a run against the Texas Rangers during the seventh inning at Fenway Park on September 3, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
A year ago, among 32 major league third basemen who played at least 500 innings at the position, Devers ranked 32nd in defensive runs saved – which is to say he was a liability. This year, among qualifying major league third basemen, he has jumped all the way into the middle of the pack, ranked exactly in the middle (ninth) among a group of 17.
Is he Brooks Robinson? No. But he should be able to play there for the foreseeable future, giving the Red Sox tremendous offensive production from the left side. The signings of Jose Ramirez (Cleveland) and Austin Riley (Atlanta) seem to help the Red Sox’ cause with regard to his market value at third base, but he felt like a must-sign regardless.
Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts
BOSTON, MA – SEPTEMBER 4: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox tracks down a ground ball before throwing out Nathaniel Lowe #30 of the Texas Rangers during the eighth inning at Fenway Park on September 4, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
On Saturday, both Alex Cora (in his pre-game media session) and Dennis Eckersley (on NESN) raved about Bogaerts – and both sounded like pleas for the Red Sox to keep Bogaerts in Boston. What would it take? Good question. At season’s end, Bogaerts can opt out of a deal would pay him $20 million per season for the next three years.
If the Sox tack on some additional years – two with an option for a third? – and Bogaerts ends up with an average of something in the range of $25 million per year, the sides might be able to get something done. If Bogaerts is looking for something longer and larger, he could be elsewhere.