Now on the surface, okay, this doesn't look terrible. You move Bogaerts over to third base and let Drew handle the position that he's best at. The Red Sox knew that no one would sign Drew until after the Amateur Draft in June. Because the Red Sox offered Drew a $14.1 million qualifying offer in the off-season, any team that signed him before the early June draft would have to surrender a first-round draft pick and the Red Sox would receive a compensatory draft pick in return. Because of the situation, the draft pick would have been no longer applicable. There were teams that wanted Drew, but were patient enough to wait. But the Red Sox, with their season not going so well, decided to pay Drew the pro-rated amount of the $14.1 million they originally offered him. Scott Boras really must have talked Ben Cherington into it.
At the time, I was not crazy about the move, but I couldn't have even imagined how badly Drew would go on to play, and how destroyed Xander Bogaerts' confidence would become.
Bogaerts was not a very good defensive shortstop in those first two months. But he would be even worse at third base. He would rack up -7 Defensive Runs at the position in only 385 innings (read: very bad) with a -28.8 UZR/150 (read: very, very bad.) In June his batting line would be .135/.176/.250, something resembling a pitcher's batting line in the National League. In July, he started to come around, but not by much, batting .228/.253/.342. By this point, Drew was already playing himself off the team, with his own .176/.255/.328 batting line. To be fair, defensively he was okay, recording a modest 2 DRS saved with the Sox in around 300 innings. He saved the Red Sox perhaps a few runs in the field. But his lack of offense was so bad that they shipped him off to the Yankees on July 31st - plus cash - for Kelly Johnson. Johnson didn't even last 10 games before being shipped off in a waiver wire deal to the Orioles that included Jemile Weeks.
With Bogaerts now free to play shortstop again, in August, he played in fewer games and did even worse. He was perhaps the worst offensive player in baseball, with a .123./.195/.167 batting line in 21 games. In September, though, Bogaerts regained his confidence and in 24 games, he hit .313/.317/.490 with 4 home runs. While it’s not good that the plate discipline evaporated, it’s good to see the power and average return. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury ended his season early as they held him out in the last few games as a precautionary measure.
The good news is that it appears Bogaerts was not irreparably broken by the Red Sox's clear mistake in seeming to give up on him. They never actually gave up on him. But they didn't bother to realize how much signing Drew and not letting a young player that was excelling on offense a chance to work through his struggles. Brian Butterfield is a legendary infield coach. Derek Jeter has for years been below average defensively as a shortstop - at least according to the defensive metrics - and he's a sure-fire Hall of Famer! Bogaerts was displaying incredible plate discipline and while the power wasn't developing quite as quickly as the Sox had hoped, he was showing exactly why a 21-year old was in the Major Leagues.
Clearly, being forced over to third base with the looming prospect of Will Middlebrooks - who the Red Sox have given far too long a leash to - returning from injury really got inside Xander's head. Fortunately for Xander, Middlebrooks kept having complications, so he still kept playing - and playing - and playing very badly.
But you had Stephen Drew making $10 million and playing a solid defensive shortstop. So, nope, sorry, Xander, keep sucking at third. His defensive struggles clearly destroyed his focus at the plate and he turned into a nearly useless hitter for three months. The Sox could have had an above average starter at shortstop despite his defensive struggles. Instead, they got a replacement level shortstop and a below replacement level third baseman - for $10 million and a lot of grief on poor Xander's part.
I put the blame squarely on Ben Cherington for allowing himself to make such a stupid desperation move to sign Drew and put manager John Farrell in the impossible position of having to continue to play a young player whose confidence had been destroyed at a position where he was clearly uncomfortable and blowing seemingly easy plays.
Of course, the struggles of the Red Sox go far beyond that. Dustin Pedroia was playing all season with a bum left hand, destroying his power numbers. Mike Napoli, likewise, displayed next to no power this season due to his own ailments. David Ortiz was fantastic, yes. But for a long time, Brock Holt was the second-best hitter on the Red Sox, playing way over his head. Mookie Betts was that man for the rest of the season.
The good news is that shortstop belongs to Xander Bogaerts in 2015. Now he has to rediscover his plate discipline, as he has clearly become far more aggressive at the plate. Honestly, they should let Bogaerts be the player he was clearly becoming in May. This guy has the ceiling of a Derek Jeter-like player. You can lose a few runs on defense to have an extraordinary offensive shortstop. Remember Derek Jeter!? The guy that Xander idolized? The guy that you honored at Fenway in his last ever Major League Baseball game? Yeah, that guy.
The Red Sox definitely blew this season for Bogaerts. It was just one major mistake in a season full of nagging injuries, poor performances, absolute disasters and lack of execution on the part of most of the roster. Besides Joe Kelly, the Red Sox starters have been awful since the departure of Jon Lester and John Lackey. Buchholz had four good starts in a row before returning to his previous form. This team hasn't been mediocre. They've been atrocious. Without John Lackey’s and Jon Lester’s performances, they easily would have had the worst record in baseball.
I just hope they didn't break Bogaerts. I don't think they did, but wow, they failed him this year. As for what will happen with Will Middlebrooks, I'd rather take my chances by signing Chase Headley - who should be an off-season bargain. I'd rather have a Gold Glove third baseman with league-average offense than a guy who just strikes out all the time and is below average at the hot corner. Fortunately, Xander is still a special player and should be a fixture up the middle in Boston for years to come.
(Postscript December 4, 2014 - Fortunately for Xander, the Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval to play third base for the Red Sox for at least five years and Hanley Ramirez to play left field. So Xander's future at shortstop for the Red Sox looks quite secure.)