It took more than a decade, but in Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox finally have their replacement for Nomar Garciaparra. A beloved icon throughout New England, Nomar was a cornerstone at shortstop for nine years, only to be traded by Theo Epstein in 2004. A revolving door policy ensued, with the Red Sox using numerous players at the position without finding a suitable long-term fix. Yet, after initial growing pains, Bogaerts looks to be that marquee star capable of inheriting Nomar’s legacy. And for Red Sox fans, that’s a tremendous relief.
There are unavoidable similarities between the two players. Nomar was a first round pick who debuted in 1996, aged 22. Xander was signed through the international market and made his debut in 2013, aged just 20. Both men were burdened with incredible expectations, as Red Sox Nation demanded instant performance and success from a glamorous position on the diamond. By and large, both delivered, exciting the city and creating a buzz.
Sure, Bogaerts has suffered a pretty poor start to 2016, and his average currently lingers near the Mendoza Line, but it’s only early. Last year, in a much greater sample size, he proved his worth, hitting at a .320/.355/.421 clip with 7 home runs and 81 RBI. Aside from a slight lack of power, it was a Nomar-esque campaign, as Xander resembled a line drive machine and showed marked improvement defensively. He finally delivered on the hype and illustrated his true potential. He became an integral cog to the Red Sox’ future.
Shortstop Wars: Xander Bogaerts vs Nomar Gaciaparra
This team hasn’t had such continuity at shortstop since Nomar left for Chicago. Of course, Garciaparra never performed greatly for the Cubs or Dodgers, but the Red Sox still suffered in his absence. Between 2004 and 2013, they had eight different Opening Day shortstops. From Pokey Reese, Edgar Renteria and Alex Gonzalez to Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro, nobody could stake a claim to the spot for more than two years, as frustration mounted. Other guys, such as Mike Aviles, Stephen Drew, Jose Iglesias and Nick Punto, showed flashes of productivity, but lacked the dynamism required to play shortstop for the Boston Red Sox. As a cultural icon, Nomar left an inedible impression and big boots to fill. Nobody succeeded following his footsteps, until Xander Bogaerts came along.
Xander will play this entire season as a 23-year old. He already has 347 hits, 69 doubles, 21 home runs and 139 RBI in his career, to compliment a .278 average and .324 on-base percentage in 331 games. By comparison, Garciaparra had 117 less hits, 23 less doubles and 25 less RBI in 153 less games through his age-23 season. Nomar was better defensively, and his WAR of 6.8 before turning 24 is superior to the 5.5 mark of Bogaerts so far, but the comparison is real, to the Red Sox’ joy.
Despite a slow start this year, Xander Bogaerts has the potential to rewrite Red Sox history. He is already in the class of Rico Petrocelli, Everett Scott and Garciaparra when comparing other Boston shortstops at a similar age, and the man from Aruba figures to continue growing into his role as a team leader.
Just like Nomar, Xander is part of an elite group of young shortstops entering the game together. Bogaerts is competing with Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor, just as Garciaparra was challenged by Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Nomar eventually wanted to be paid his true worth, which was a constant bone of contention during his time in Boston, and Xander will be pushing for a new contract soon, too.
Perhaps the Red Sox should learn from history and sign their prized asset to a long-term extension. That way, we can watch history unfold comfortably, and avoid another period of shortstop instability should a superstar slip away.