FORT MYERS, Fla. — Xander Bogaerts wasn’t old enough to take a legal gulp of celebratory champagne when the Red Sox clinched the American League East championship in 2013. His 21st birthday came during the playoffs, and his first World Series ring a few weeks after that.
When Bogaerts took the field on Monday for the first full-squad workout of the season, it was as the longest-tenured player on the team.
At only 28, Bogaerts is the new caretaker of institutional knowledge, a testament both to his value and how much the roster has been turned over the last few years.
Bogaerts and Christian Vázquez (drafted in 2008, a year before Bogaerts signed, but who didn’t reach the majors until 2014) are the only position players remaining who were teammates with David Ortiz.
“It’s strange. When I came here, I was a young kid in the big leagues,” Bogaerts said.
The veterans on that team told Bogaerts to soak up every moment because his career would be over before he knew it. Now, Bogaerts is 30 games away from being the 30th player to appear in 1,000 regular-season games for the Sox.
“It’s kind of crazy to think of how time flies by that quick,” Bogaerts said, “but they were right.”
Bogaerts has become a team leader over time, growing comfortable with holding teammates accountable and making his opinions known via the media. That will be even more important this season as the Sox break in a group of new players.
“I’m going to let guys know that this city expects winning at a huge clip,” Bogaerts said.
His fluency in four languages, English and Spanish among them, allows Bogaerts to make an impact in all corners of the clubhouse. It was a role Cora envisioned for him in 2018 and has gradually come into focus. As older players leave the organization, Bogaerts has stepped forward a little more each time.
“He understands,” Cora said. “We talk a lot in the offseason. We kept him in tune with everything we were trying to accomplish. And he’s happy. He’s happy to be here.”
Bogaerts agreed to a six-year, $120 million extension in 2019. The deal allows him to opt out following the 2022 season.
Fernando Tatis Jr. landing a 14-year, $340 million extension from the San Diego Padres was good news for shortstops in general.
“He got a boatload of money. Good for him, good for his family,” Bogaerts said.
The Mets are eager to make a deal to retain Francisco Lindor before he hits free agency. Javy Báez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story also are in their contract seasons.
Bogaerts instructed agent Scott Boras to make a deal in ’19 because he wanted to avoid free agency and stay with the Sox. Could that change?
“When that time comes, we’ll go over that and see how that works,” Bogaerts said.
Bogaerts has hit .300 with a .907 OPS the last three seasons. He leads all shortstops with 248 RBIs and 105 doubles in that time, and is third with 67 home runs.
Some defensive analytics [UZR] show Bogaerts as an adequate defender. Others [DRS] suggest he’s a poor one.
“He’s not perfect. There’s not a perfect shortstop out there,” Cora said. “Whatever he touches, he turns into outs.”
Cora feels positioning mistakes have hurt Bogaerts and that he is sometimes penalized for factors out of his control.
“Do you guys see him as a bad defensive shortstop?” Cora asked reporters. “You guys probably don’t see that. He’s just a shortstop who hits .300, hits 30 [home runs], and drives in 100.”
Cora is close to Báez, Lindor, and Correa, all fellow Puerto Ricans. But Bogaerts is his guy now.
“It’s not only what you do at shortstop. It’s how you act in the clubhouse, what you do for the community, how people see you in Boston. I mean, there’s no red flags with him,” Cora said.
“I’ve been saying all along — and a lot of people here, they know how I feel about Carlos and Javy and Francisco — but I’m happy that Xander Bogaerts is my shortstop. I’m more than happy.”
As he prepares for his ninth season, Bogaerts was reflective but not nostalgic. There’s more to accomplish.
“I’ve accomplished quite some stuff so far at a young age,” he said. “That’s just stuff that fuels me to continue to do it, to continue to be better, and set an example for the other groups: The kids at home and the kids in the Caribbean who follow baseball from Aruba.
“That fuels me to continue to be successful. The more you win, the more people will remember you.”