BOSTON -- Xander Bogaerts had never made secret his desire to be a member of the Boston Red Sox for life, a goal he'd publicly stated dating back to his time at Triple-A Pawtucket.
But now, with the three-time All-Star shortstop planning to opt out of his contract at the end of the season, and with a natural replacement for him just two lockers down in the Fenway Park clubhouse, his future in Boston is uncertain.
And he can't simply shut out all the noise.
"You try not to let it affect you," Bogaerts told ESPN, "but you're human, man."
At least for one season, Bogaerts and Trevor Story, the former Colorado Rockies shortstop who Boston signed to a six-year, $140 million contract this spring, will need to learn how to work together as a double-play combination. Early indications are that their potentially awkward relationship won't be a major issue: Manager Alex Cora said he is pleased with the chemistry developing between Bogaerts and Story, who spend plenty of time together in the clubhouse with fellow locker mate Rafael Devers.
"It's just about talking," Cora said. "Trevor is really good about that. He has [Bogaerts and Devers] talking defense, which is great. We love that. ... I told him, you're gonna see things sometimes that's gonna make you laugh because they're not talking about the game. I told Trevor that he's gonna help them be better defenders and they will help you be a better offensive player."
Though Bogaerts admits he struggled when the rumors of the Red Sox's interest in Story became public, he also understood the value Story could bring to the clubhouse.
"I was happy enough that it worked out," Bogaerts said. "I would have to imagine you have a couple of other options. Obviously that type of talent, if someone has an injury or something, someone will want to scoop someone like that. I was happy enough that the process worked out and he's here now."
Story said a recruitment call from Bogaerts played a big role in bringing him to Boston in the first place, even if the pair only spends one season together.
"That call kind of solidified a lot of things for me," said Story, who is hitting .217/.316/.290 through his first 18 games with Boston. "I knew the situation already. Bogie plays short. He's been there forever. But, you know, that call kind of made me feel a lot more comfortable with the situation."
Bogaerts says: "It's going well, man. [Story]'s very, very easy to get along with. Seems very approachable and chill. He's a little quiet, but this is probably just trying to get used to this atmosphere."
Bogaerts, too, is getting used to a new reality: facing constant speculation about his next career move for the first time in his relatively drama-free career. He couldn't reach an extension agreement with Boston before Opening Day, with the Red Sox offering a four-year, $90 million contract. Bogaerts -- looking for a deal that would place him among the game's highest-paid shortstops -- saw that as well below his market value, and after this season, he plans to opt out of the six-year, $120 million deal he signed in 2019.
Bogaerts has been cautious, but has sometimes let his disappointment show. According to sources close to Bogaerts, he expressed a willingness to move from shortstop to second or third base as recently as the 2021 postseason if that meant extending his time in Boston. But that tune changed by spring training, when he was asked by reporters about moving positions and he stated, without hesitation, that he would not move from shortstop. He admitted he was bothered by rumors the Red Sox could sign a member of this past winter's stellar class of free-agent shortstops that included Corey Seager -- who sources say was Boston's top target -- and Carlos Correa, in addition to Story.
"It's like sometimes I don't even know if I'm [still] on the team," Bogaerts said in spring training. "You guys have more info on that type of stuff than us as players have. It's out of [my] control. I really can't do much about it. But sometimes you see it and you're like, 'Hey, I exist. I'm here.'"
Less than a month later, speaking at Yankee Stadium the eve of Opening Day, a visibly disappointed Bogaerts told the media that the Red Sox had made him an extension offer, but the two sides couldn't come to an agreement.
"No," Bogaerts said flatly when asked if a deal had been struck. "No."
Under Chaim Bloom's leadership, the Red Sox front office has been reluctant to sign players for long periods of time for large amounts of money, as displayed by the group's decision to trade Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers before he could test the open market. The team is placing a higher priority on extending the 25-year-old Devers -- who is eligible for free agency after the 2023 season -- than Bogaerts, due to the third baseman's relative youth and his generational hitting talent. While Boston hasn't ruled out bringing back Bogaerts, a strong 2022 season that drives up his price would likely only lower the chances of a Red Sox reunion after the season.
And so far, Bogaerts is off to one of the best starts of his career. The 29-year-old shortstop is hitting .369/.418/.500 with eight doubles this season, and leads the Red Sox in fWAR -- particularly crucial for a team offense that ranks 25th in all of baseball in fWAR and 23rd in runs scored. Boston's pitching also ranks 20th in fWAR and 16th in ERA, leaving the team a distant fourth so far in a competitive AL East.
Others in the Red Sox clubhouse know Bogaerts' impending offseason situation looms over their year, but are trying to block out any distractions.
"I don't talk about it. I don't even think about that," outfielder Alex Verdugo said. "That's the business side of it. Let whoever handles that handle that. Boston's got a tough decision and they got to fork over some money. It's that simple to get Devers and Bogey [under long-term contracts]. We really need them. These are impact players."
Lately, Bogaerts says he's been reflecting on the struggles he encountered at the beginning of his Red Sox career. During his first full season in the majors in 2014, he hit .240/.297/.362, and many fans wondered if Bogaerts might be a bust after rising to the majors as one of the game's top prospects. But he hit .320 in 2015 and made his first All-Star team in 2016.
"As I got older, I understood that you're gonna go through some rough periods," Bogaerts said. "Understanding what type of player you are and believing the type of player that you are, it'll help get you out of there faster. I went through the downs, especially at the beginning of my career, and you appreciate it more when you're going well. You know how hard it can get on you, it can become tough on players. So many eyes watching you."
While some players say they don't hear or read anything about the team or themselves in the press or on social media, Bogaerts admits he doesn't live in a bubble.
"Sometimes you see stuff, hear stuff, and the better you are at blocking those noises, it'll be more beneficial to you," Bogaerts said. "You try not to think about those things."
Trying is much easier than doing.