Trevor Story stabilized Red Sox infield, now he must lead it

Trevor Story’s caught some bad breaks since signing with the Red Sox.

Thanks to the MLB lockout freezing the 2022 offseason, Story didn’t even sign with Boston until right before Opening Day. As a result he got less than a week’s worth of spring training before making his debut, and it took almost six weeks before he started looking anything like his normal self.

Once Story got going things went well, until he was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken wrist that kept him sidelined for most of the second half. Then this past offseason long-held concerns over his throwing elbow were finally realized, and after returning in August it felt like he could never get comfortable at the plate.

Yet even a diminished Story made a tangible difference for the Red Sox down the stretch.

After the starting rotation’s inability to pitch deep into games, Boston’s poor infield defense was the biggest factor in the club’s last-place finish. Between Rafael Devers’ regression, Triston Casas’ inexperience and the complete and total collapse of the middle infield following Story’s elbow surgery and other injuries, Boston continuously shot itself in the foot and gave away game after game due to avoidable miscues on the diamond.

But once Story got back on the field the difference was night and day. Routine plays at shortstop were actually being made routinely, and even difficult plays were being converted with ease. Story seemingly made everyone around him better, and after a summer spent watching Kiké Hernández throw every ball hit his way into the stands, Red Sox fans surely appreciated what a difference an actual major league shortstop can make.

Now the Red Sox need Story to get back to being the All-Star he was brought here to be.

Fully healthy and with an entire spring training ahead of him, Story has a chance to enjoy a “normal” season for the first time since coming to Boston. We already know he’s a game-changer defensively and he proved down the stretch he can still do damage on the base paths, but for the Red Sox to reach their potential they need Story to be the 30-home run, .900 OPS guy he was in Colorado.

Considering that Boston’s shortstops collectively batted .228 with a .636 OPS in 2023 — both the worst marks on the team for any position — a return to form by Story offensively would provide a massive boost.

It would also represent one of the few ways the club can realistically upgrade its infield this offseason.

Outside of firing third base coach and infield instructor Carlos Febles, who oversaw and failed to turn around the unit’s defensive collapse, there probably won’t be much of an infield shakeup coming this offseason. Story will play shortstop, Devers third base, Casas first base, and second base will likely remain a revolving door until the club’s rising young middle infielders are ready for primetime.

There’s also the question of whether or not the Red Sox bring back Justin Turner, but either way he likely won’t play a major role in Boston’s infield going forward. If he stays he’ll play mostly at designated hitter and if he leaves it’s more likely Masataka Yoshida would take over the bulk of the DH duties rather than Devers or Casas.

So if this is going to be the group, what can fans expect?

Devers is a franchise cornerstone and even amid what felt like a difficult year at the plate, he still wound up hitting 33 home runs with 100 RBI. Casas had a terrific rookie year and during the second half emerged as one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball.

As for their defense, a new infield instructor could do both a world of good, and with Casas specifically it’s easy to forget he’s only 23. He’s got plenty of room to grow and with more time in the majors should continue to develop defensively.

How about second base? It doesn’t make sense for the Red Sox to make a multi-year commitment to another middle infielder considering that a whole wave of highly regarded prospects is nearing the majors. Enmanuel Valdez and Ceddanne Rafaela have already debuted, and it’s not a stretch to imagine top prospect Marcelo Mayer breaking into the big leagues by late summer too.

The most likely scenario feels like the Red Sox rolling with some combination of Luis Urias, Pablo Reyes, Valdez or another one-year signing, with Rafaela an option as a super-utility player if he winds up on the MLB roster.

No matter how you draw it up, the Red Sox have some impressive pieces in place and could boast one of the best infields in baseball next year. But if that’s going to happen, Story is the key, and this group will ultimately go as far as he can take it.

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