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Trevor Story’s early return could revitalize the Red Sox infield

When the Colorado Rockies inexplicably held tight onto Trevor Story at the 2021 trade deadline–much to his chagrin–only to let him walk in free agency, it was thought to be just a matter of time before he signed a lucrative deal with a competitive team. However, even after the contentious 2022 lockout ended Story was left waiting to find his new home.

Concerns about Story’s defensive capabilities kept teams from biting, concerned about his decreased arm strength at his native position of shortstop. His throw velocity had dropped from 82.3 MPH in 2020 to 79.1 in 2021 which, in addition to an elbow strain, contributed to a down year for his final campaign in Denver.

Over his last season with the Rockies, Story didn’t quite look like himself. The slugging shortstop still hit 24 home runs, but that was his lowest mark since his sophomore slump in 2017. He hit just .251/.329/.471 in 595 plate appearances, all low marks since 2017 as well. Defensively he committed a career high 14 errors. Worries about his elbow and his play caused teams like the New York Yankees to get cold feet, preventing a possible reunion with former Rockies teammate DJ LeMahieu. After the lockout ended, it wasn’t until March 23rd that the Boston Red Sox signed him to a six year, $140 million contract… to play second base. The Red Sox still had Xander Bogaerts at short in the final year of his contract and they could hopefully avoid as much wear and tear on Story’s arm.

Story had yet another down year in 2022. He played just 94 games, missing time with separate hand and heel contusions. He hit just .238/.303/.434, all career lows, and had under 20 home runs in a full season for the first time in his career. His throwing velocity also took another precipitous dive down to 76 MPH, one of the weaker throws from second base in the league. From 2020 to 2022 he lost 6.3 MPH in velocity. Suspicions about Story’s elbow were confirmed when he underwent a bracing surgery for his ulnar collateral ligament–less severe than Tommy John Surgery, but still a major procedure–in January that would cause him to miss a large portion of the 2023 campaign.

Story is thankfully ahead of schedule in his recovery, and he began a rehab assignment with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs on Friday. This rehab assignment also has a twist: Trevor Story is returning to his native position of shortstop.

Story potentially returning this season would be a tremendous boon for the Red Sox. They need Story at shortstop. Not just because of the generous contract they awarded him, but also because he can revitalize a defense that desperately needs his skills.The Red Sox defense is one of the worst in Major League baseball this season. They lead the league in errors with 66 and own MLB’s worst fielding percentage at .981 at this point in the season. They are tied for the sixth worst with -17 Defensive Runs saved (DRS) with the St. Louis Cardinals. The Red Sox infield defense is a particular sore spot, with only three infielders posting a positive DRS. None of those three infielders are regulars and none have played more than 200 defensive innings.

A Gold Glove finalist in 2019, even in a down years, Trevor Story is a strong defensive player. In 2021 with the Rockies he earned 9 DRS, tied for fifth best with Ha Seong Kim of the San Diego Padres. In 2022 at second base with the Red Sox he led the entire infield with 6 DRS. From his big league debut in 2016 through the end of his 2021 season, Story played the fourth most innings at shortstop in all of MLB with 6304 2/3 innings and had the third best total DRS during that time frame at 69. For comparison, the Red Sox’ regular shortstop during that time frame, Xander Bogaerts, had -47.

Bogaerts is now gone and the Red Sox are lacking a skilled shortstop in a struggling infield. Kiké Hernández has played the bulk of the season at shortstop and is worth -6 DRS while leading the league with 15 errors. Third baseman Rafael Devers has 11 errors and is worth -5 DRS. The Red Sox have had eight different players at second base this season, but Christian Arroyo leads the pack in games with 54. Arroyo is worth just 1 Defensive Run Saved at second base.

In his first rehab start, Story played shortstop for five innings while going 1-for-3 at the plate. He drew a walk and would go on to score in the first inning and would go one to hit a three run home run in the fifth inning.

A healthy Trevor Story in the lineup down the stretch is an immediate and potent defensive upgrade for a team with a winning record and playoff aspirations, but is also on the outside looking in for a playoff spot thanks to a loaded division. If his heath also revitalizes his bat, which hit .277/.343/.535 with 134 home runs from 2016-2020, he could help his team make a postseason push.

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