FORT MYERS, Fla. — Two years after the trade of Mookie Betts, the Boston Red Sox are back in the business of procuring superstars in their quest for a World Series championship.
Oh, the Red Sox fell just two victories shy of a World Series title last year, but that was largely thanks to overperformance from players like Kiké Hernandez and others more typically associated with baseball’s middle class.
Sunday, the Red Sox and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom shifted that narrative and jolted their clubhouse with one huge transaction, agreeing to a six-year, $140 million contract with shortstop Trevor Story, the last elite free agent remaining on the post-lockout market.
A person with direct knowledge of Story’s thinking confirmed that the infielder is in agreement with the club and expects to join the team as soon as Sunday. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because the agreement is still not finalized.
The contract includes an opt-out after the fourth year, when Story will be 32.
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Story, 29, will become the Red Sox’s starting second baseman, with All-Star Xander Bogaerts at shortstop. Story was a two-time All-Star and Silver Slugger with the Colorado Rockies, where he had seasons of 37 and 35 home runs while providing elite base running ability as well.
And suddenly, in a winter where division rivals like the Toronto Blue Jays added multiple All-Stars while the New York Yankees largely treaded water, the Red Sox struck late for a player who will make them airtight defensively and far more suffocating at the plate.
Naturally, the move was warmly met in the clubhouse.
“The energy he brings, when you see him across the field it’s like, you want him on your team,” says staff ace Nathan Eovaldi, who faced Story in the National League. “(The move) sparks the team. We know they want us to win.”
That concept felt a bit dubious after the February 2020 trade of Betts, a pending free agent, to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Red Sox finished last in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and weren’t expected to do much in 2021, when their key addition was signing Hernandez to a two-year, $14 million deal.
But Hernandez put up an All-Star season on both sides of the ball and the club pieced together 92 wins, beat the Yankees in the wild-card game, the Rays in the AL Division Series and took Houston to six games in the ALCS.
Now, an elite player has joined the fray.
“The ability on the field speaks for itself,” says lefty starter Rich Hill, also a winter addition. “It’s a big boost for the clubhouse, the guys in here.
“You need as many guys as you can to put together an entire 162 and then 11 in the postseason to procure a championship trophy.”
The Rockies made the playoffs twice under Story, but cratered since last qualifying in 2018 and have made puzzling moves in the years since, extending Nolan Arenado’s contract before trading him, letting Story depart but then signing Kris Bryant to a $182 million contract.
Story will enjoy one perk over his fellow elite shortstop free agents: Carlos Correa (Twins), Corey Seager (Rangers) and Javy Baez (Cubs) all signed with clubs that finished well out of playoff contention in 2021.
“I’m really pumped for Trevor,” says Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon. “I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s a great guy.
“All he wants to do is win, and Boston gives him that opportunity for sure. He’ll do great there.’’
Hernandez, long a multi-position dynamo, expressed confidence Story will transition to second with aplomb.
Yet Story may be at second base for just one season.
Bogaerts signed a six-year, $120 million extension with the club in 2018 and that deal includes an opt-out clause after this season. Bogaerts turns 30 on Oct. 1 and there’s a decent chance he could command more money on the open market than the $60 million he’s guaranteed from 2023-25.
“If it happens, great, it’ll be awesome,” says Bogaerts, who otherwise declined comment until the signing becomes official. “He’s an extremely great player.”
Story’s signing will solidify Hernandez as the Red Sox’s starting center fielder; manager Alex Cora reiterated Sunday morning that Hernandez remains the club’s best defensive center fielder. Alex Verdugo likely slots into left or right field, with some combination of Jarren Duran and Jackie Bradley Jr. manning the other corner outfield spot.
It will be a daunting defensive alignment: Hernandez finished fifth in overall defensive rating among center fielders, according to FanGraphs. Story ranked fourth among shortstops (9.7) and Bogaerts was ninth (8.3).
“You’re going to pitch into contact even more,” says Eovaldi. “You saw everything Kiké was able to do in center. You’re going to have Bogey and Trevor up the middle? Our team immediately gets a lot better.”
Story’s signing likely leaves Christian Arroyo most impacted by playing time. As with Luke Voit following the Yankees’ signing of Anthony Rizzo, Arroyo could be a potential trade candidate.
In the meantime, Story’s skills will be amplified in a larger market that should take to his relentless style of play.
“He has the perspective, he knows what his job is, and that’s to play baseball,” says Rockies manager Bud Black. “And if you play the game hard, and with energy like he does, I think any market will appreciate that.
“I wish him well.’’