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With Xander Bogaerts gone, Red Sox tasked with replacing their heart and soul 12/12/2022 Chris Cotillo,

Xander Bogaerts is the greatest shortstop in Red Sox history.

He was the lovable kid from the island. The de facto captain. An accountable spokesman. A beloved teammate. And the perfect fit for a big market like Boston.

And now he’s gone, with the Padres having whisked him away with a monstrous 11-year, $280 million offer last week.

When Mookie Betts was traded to the Dodgers in February 2020, the Red Sox lost their best player. This one’s different. With Bogaerts’ departure, the Red Sox lost their heart and soul.

Beyond the two World Series titles, four All-Star nods, five Silver Sluggers and countless clutch moments, Bogaerts was the engine that kept the Red Sox going. Throughout his rise from a talented kid from Aruba to bona fide star with two rings, Bogaerts never changed. It’s why manager Alex Cora, on countless occasions over the last five years, referred to Bogaerts as the “most consistent person” in the entire organization.

It’s weird phrasing, and it doesn’t really mean much on the surface. But watching Bogaerts work on a daily basis revealed the truth behind it. He was consistent in the clubhouse, not just with his pregame routine of playing cards but also with his leadership, even if he’s not the most boisterous guy in the world. He consistently spoke on behalf of the Red Sox, in good times and in bad. And he delivered between the lines as one of the American League’s most consistent producers.

What made Bogaerts’ time in Boston so special wasn’t just the winning. It was also how he, unlike most bottled-up players in a macho, don’t-be-a-headline environment, always wore his heart on his sleeve. He’d always tell you exactly how he was feeling at the plate, good or bad. He’d admit when something the organization did, such as trading Christian Vázquez at last year’s trade deadline, ruffled feathers. He’d cop to being proud of himself for breaking out of a slump or delivering in a big spot.

Different players take losses and losing streaks differently, of course. Some brush off the bad times, leaving them at the clubhouse door before going home. But Bogaerts was a unique animal. In the summer of 2019, when the Red Sox’ season came crashing down with an eight-game losing streak punctuated with four straight losses in the Bronx, Bogaerts held back tears at his locker after the final loss of the series. In early August. With two months left to play. When Vázquez, a longtime friend dating back to their time in the minors, was traded before a game in Houston, Bogaerts put his arm around him to console him in plain view of thousands at Minute Maid Park. The next day, he said what was on his mind, openly questioning the direction of a franchise he’d leave just a few short months later.

Bogaerts was always the most authentic version of himself. And he was always available. Other stars sometimes brushed off postgame media duties or muttered through them. But Bogaerts always stood at his locker and faced the tough questions. At one point toward the end of Boston’s lost 2022, after a particularly ugly defeat, Bogaerts — for perhaps the only time ever — ducked reporters and didn’t speak. It was so out of character that it didn’t even create a ripple.

“If any player, ever, gets a pass,” one longtime beat reporter remarked, “it’s this guy.”

With Bogaerts gone, the Red Sox are tasked with not just filling their hole at shortstop but also filling an undeniable void in the clubhouse. Many of the team’s veteran leaders from last year, including Vázquez, J.D. Martinez, Rich Hill, Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Wacha, are either already with a new team or testing free agency. No loss will be felt more deeply behind the scenes than Bogaerts’.

“He was such such a huge part of the mix in our clubhouse. I think we’d be silly to deny that,” Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said. “But every group forms its own identity. If we bring the right types of people in here, I’m confident we’re going to have a good mix and a good clubhouse. I know Alex (Cora) is, too. That has been the case over time with this franchise and it has been the case in a lot of other places, too.”

Where the Red Sox turn for leadership after Bogaerts’ departure is unclear, though it’s the type of thing that will likely sort itself out once the season begins. On the position player side, Rafael Devers is the star, but as one of the group’s younger players, he may find it hard to step up. Eric Hosmer has more than 11 years of service time but will be in a backup role if he’s still on the roster by Opening Day. Trevor Story might emerge as that guy. A healthy Chris Sale would lead the pitchers with James Paxton, Matt Barnes and Kenley Jansen in the mix as well.

The Red Sox had a brutal year on the field in 2022 but had a tight group behind the scenes. That was evident when the September release of backup catchers Kevin Plawecki so clearly ruffled feathers. As they continue to build their 2023 roster, Bloom and his lieutenants must carefully consider how to rebuild that on the fly.

“Every year is a little different. Every group is a little different,” Bloom said. “Paying really close attention to who we bring in here is something we’re going to continue to do. No doubt, he’s a huge part of the fabric of things here. That goes without saying. But if we do it the right way, with the players we have here already and the staff that we have, it’s still going to be great. Change is a part of the game.”

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