The Los Angeles Dodgers will be doing more than just window shopping in the shortstop market this offseason, nursing a vacancy that’s been a non-issue since the team acquired Trea Turner at the 2021 deadline.
As nice as the eternally-blocked Gavin Lux’s 2022 breakout was, it would be difficult to believe the team would turn over the shortstop keys to him full time in 2023. The easiest Dodgers prediction of the offseason is that someone making plenty of money will be filling that role come Opening Day.
On the surface, the Dodgers can’t really go wrong here. Out of the top free agent options, there isn’t an outright bomb in the bunch. Anyone Andrew Friedman chooses will be feared by opponents and revered in the clubhouse when 2023 begins.
But what about 2025-26?
The Dodgers need to nail their decision here. The team must choose between keeping incumbent Trea Turner happy or shelling out a six-plus-year commitment to Dansby Swanson of the Braves, Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox or the reviled Carlos Correa, recently of the Twins, but really of the Astros.
Of the choices that lie ahead of them, cost and productivity considered in near-equal parts (productivity matters more, though, after all), Bogaerts would be the worst shortstop option for the Dodgers. Because … well … because there’s no telling how long they’d actually be purchasing a shortstop for, before the need arose again.
Xander Bogaerts would be worst free agent shortstop option for 2023 Dodgers and beyond
Bogaerts, now 30 years old, has long been expected to shift to third base in due time, much like Correa. He responded, of course, with a career-best season in terms of Outs Above Average (+5, after reaching the depths of -11 in 2021) and ended up a Gold Glove finalist.
Still, the advanced metrics are iffy on Bogaerts completely reversing course midway through his career — and they look even worse for his potential future at third. Despite Bogaerts’ 5 OAA overall, he registered a -2 when moving laterally toward third. That may have something to do with his diminishing arm strength, which only ranked in the 31st percentile among shortstops in 2022.
If Bogaerts isn’t a stunning shortstop, and his problems only increase when he’s shifted toward third base and forced to rely on his arm, then what exactly does he become as he ages? A certified “winner” who’s more intrinsic to the Boston clubhouse than anywhere else, that would seem.
In conjunction with concerns about his glove, it’s also worth noting that Bogaerts’ quality of contact declined precipitously in 2022 as well. He posted his worst expected slugging percentage since 2017, hitting .307 with a .377 OBP and .833 OPS in spite of some rather ghastly metrics. Bogaerts’ home run total decreased from 23, 33 and 23 in his three most recent 162-game seasons down to 15 in 2022, which makes sense when his average exit velocity (35th percentile), barrel percentage (37th) and hard-hit percentage (47th) are taken into account.
Swanson, long thought to be a defense-first/offense-questionable wild card, reached a new level in 2022 and dominated even Bogaerts’ best defensive season of all time. He also drilled 25 home runs at the age of 28, one year after socking 27. Though Bogaerts out-OPS’d him this time around, Swanson’s indicators are much more solid (82nd percentile hard-hit percentage, 73rd percentile average exit velocity).
Don’t believe in paying Swanson a king’s ransom to lure him away from the Braves? Don’t trust his track record? All well and good.
This isn’t an argument in favor of dishing out a contract to the Georgia native. It’s only meant to show that his trend lines eclipse Bogaerts easily, who appears to be on the way down.
Whatever decision the Dodgers make should sufficiently turn them into 2023 contenders. It’s the years that follow we’re worried about, and the numbers show Bogaerts is the least steady bet.