Story first of big free agent middle infielders to play up to new deal

·5 min read

May 25—If you took a quick glance at Trevor Story's numbers for the season, they probably wouldn't raise many eyebrows.

Entering Tuesday Story was batting .226 with seven home runs and 29 RBI, plus a .748 OPS, five stolen bases, 21 runs scored and a 0.8 wins above replacement mark in 36 games. Not outstanding, but pretty solid overall.

Of course, if you've paid any attention, you know Story's season has been a little more complicated than that.

Story, who signed a six-year, $140 million deal with the Boston Red Sox this past offseason, got off to a wretched start upon joining his new team. Through the season's first month he was statistically among the worst players in baseball, posting a .545 OPS with no home runs and 35 strikeouts, and by early May things were getting so bad that the home fans at Fenway Park were starting to turn on him.

Then things finally started to click, and over the past two weeks Story has been every bit the superstar the Red Sox hoped he'd be.

Since May 10 Story had batted .296 with seven home runs, 19 RBI, a 1.173 OPS and seven walks against 10 strikeouts. He was particularly dominant during last weekend's four-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners, during which he hit five home runs — including three in one game plus a grand slam in another — to go along with 13 RBI. Most importantly, Story either tied or gave the Red Sox the lead in all four games.

He's showing no signs of slowing down either. Tuesday night he went deep again, blasting a three-run shot in the top of the first to give the Red Sox the kind of breathing room they rarely had during their early-season slump.

Story's breakout has been a welcome development in what has largely been a disappointing spring for this past offseason's heralded class of middle infield free agents. Of the five who landed $100 million-plus contracts before the season, none have lived up to expectations and most have significantly underperformed.

Story is a bit of a weird case where his full-season numbers don't paint the full picture, but bad as his start was you could still make the case he's been at least as good if not better than all of the other players Boston could have theoretically signed instead.

You be the judge.

Javy Baez, Detroit Tigers: Baez signed a nearly identical six-year, $140 million deal as Story did, and for the most part he's gotten off to a similar start — only without the hot streak. Through 32 games Baez is batting .214 with three home runs and 12 RBI, and his .591 OPS and 0.4 WAR don't exactly leap off the page either.

On one hand, Baez has more or less been the player the Tigers expected. He's always struck out a lot, he's never been a big on-base guy and his defense has been solid but not spectacular. The issue has been the surprising lack of power, which has been particularly problematic given that Detroit has collectively hit the fewest home runs in baseball by a wide margin. That's a big reason why the Tigers are currently near the bottom of the AL Central standings, a big disappointment given the club's hopes of challenging for a division title this year.

Carlos Correa, Minnesota Twins: The consensus top free agent on the market, Correa will make an eye-popping $35.1 million this season, so by that standard his good but not great start has been a little bit of a disappointment.

Through 29 games Correa is batting .268 with two home runs, 14 RBI, a .723 OPS and 0.7 WAR, and his defense has been fine but not best-in-the-league like it's been throughout his career. The Twins would surely like to see better numbers than those across the board, but on the other hand he's also played a key role in leading Minnesota to the top of the AL Central standings, so the Twins likely have no regrets.

Corey Seager, Texas Rangers: The most second most expensive free agent in MLB history, Seager hasn't exactly lived up to his massive expectations but he's still been the most productive of this middle infield class so far.

After signing a 10-year, $325 million deal with Texas last November, Seager has started off by batting .245 with eight home runs, 19 RBI, a .746 OPS and 1.0 WAR through 39 games. That's respectable, but Seager also doesn't rank among the American League's top 10 in any offensive category and the Rangers don't currently look like a team that's anywhere near contending for a playoff spot.

Of course, Seager's production has hardly been a concern compared to Texas' other big investment this past offseason.

Marcus Semien, Texas Rangers: Yikes. What more can we say?

Coming off an MVP-caliber season and after signing a seven-year, $175 million deal, the 31-year-old Semien has gotten off to a disastrous start with the Rangers. Through his first 39 games Semien has been a below-replacement level player, batting .182 with no home runs and nine RBI, and his .476 OPS ranks second to last in baseball among all players who qualify for the batting title.

Semien's going to turn things around to at least some extent eventually, but this is hardly the start you want to see from a player you're going to be paying $25 million a year until he's 38.

Email: mcerullo@northofboston.com. Twitter: @MacCerullo.