There's only one Manny Machado on the free-agent market. Beyond being the only player who goes by that name, he is also the only 26-year-old shortstop who comes with an elite bat.
There is a player very much like him available elsewhere, however. And unlike Machado, this guy comes with a price tag significantly lower than $300 million.
This mystery man's name is Xander Bogaerts. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, he's one of three trade chips who may be available as the Boston Red Sox seek to cut payroll:
Mind the language. As Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was quick to note, a willingness to listen is not the same as actively seeking trades. He said Tuesday from the winter meetings in Las Vegas, per MLB.com's Ian Browne:
"I would say that you always listen to anything. You can always get better. I know, long-term, we're not going to be able to sign all of our players. That brings upon conversations and people calling you about various things, but I would guarantee you our primary focus is to try to win a world championship in 2019, to try to repeat."
From an on-field perspective, the Red Sox have little incentive to subtract from the roster they carried into the offseason. It did, after all, produce a franchise-record 108 wins in the regular season and a World Series championship.
Yet the Red Sox are in a pickle with their payroll.
They're fresh off paying luxury-tax penalties, and they're looking at worse penalties in 2019. Roster Resource projected the Red Sox's luxury-tax payroll at $239.6 million. If it crosses over $246 million, they'll be hit with an 87 percent tax rate and have their top pick in the 2020 draft moved down 10 spots, according to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe.
The Red Sox can't even sign one top relief pitcher without going over that $246 million red line, and they need two to replace Craig Kimbrel, whose initial demands should price him out of Boston, and Joe Kelly. Thus, it makes some sense that they would be open to cutting these costs:
- Rick Porcello: $21.1 million
- Xander Bogaerts: $11.9 million
- Jackie Bradley Jr.: $7.9 million
Moving Porcello, who's due for free agency after 2019, would hypothetically save the Red Sox the most money. But it wouldn't be so simple in reality. In the two years since he won the 2016 American League Cy Young Award, the right-hander's trade value has diminished to a point where the Red Sox would probably have to eat some money.
Though Bradley is cheaper and controlled through 2020, the notoriously inconsistent bat that accompanies his excellent center field defense complicates his trade value.
A trade of Bogaerts, on the other hand, could be an opportunity to shed significant salary and bring a haul back to Boston.
There are plenty of talented shortstops in Major League Baseball, and it would take some twisted logic to argue that Bogaerts is the best of them.
But strictly as an offensive threat, the 26-year-old Aruba native looms larger than most of his peers. Go back to 2015, and the list of players who've logged at least 500 games at shortstop and an OPS+ over 110 (100 is average) has only two names on it: Bogaerts and Francisco Lindor.
Not bad for a guy who couldn't seem to decide whether he wanted to be a slap hitter or a slugger between 2015 and 2017. Bogaerts was certainly neither in the second half of '17, when he struggled while playing through a nagging hand injury.
It wasn't until this year when Bogaerts achieved his superstar potential. He set career highs with a .360 on-base percentage, a .522 slugging percentage, 23 home runs and a 135 OPS+. That final number ranked second among shortstops.
The one guy ahead of him? Yup, Machado.
Unless Bogaerts plans on making a run at 40 homers like Machado did in 2018—he finished with 37 in 162 games with the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Dodgers—the offensive gap between the two will remain.
Machado also gets the nod on defense. Though neither is a particularly good shortstop, Machado has two Gold Gloves to vouch for how well he can play third base if he needs to move from short. Bogaerts' experience at the hot corner is limited and less impressive.
As Machado clones go, however, Bogaerts comes fairly close to being the real deal. Certainly, he is close enough to be a viable Plan B for any team that might have even one eye on Machado.
Because of Bogaerts' projected salary and the fact he's only a year from free agency, the Red Sox could only demand so much. Still, they could aim for what the Arizona Diamondbacks got from the St. Louis Cardinals for Paul Goldschmidt: two young major leaguers, an MLB-ready prospect and a draft pick.
According to Jon Heyman of Fancred, the pursuit of Machado includes six teams:
The Philadelphia Phillies, however, could be a candidate for Bogaerts if they whiff on Machado. Whether they're in or out on Machado, the Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets are two contenders who could use a big bat at short. The Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres are possible dark horses.
The tricky part will be convincing the Red Sox to go from merely listening to acting on a Bogaerts trade. But in light of their payroll situation, it's a notion for the "Stranger Things Have Happened" file.