As I am sure you have heard by now, the Red Sox are calling upon their top prospect Rafael Devers to help plug the massive hole the team has had at third base all year long and try to spark an offense that has been disappointing far more often than not. Personally, I was quite surprised when I got the little push notification on my phone telling me that the third base prospect was getting the call to the majors. Although this has been speculated about for months now, the team has done their best to downplay the possibility. They’d made it clear that they do not intend to rush Devers and want him to get as much time as possible in Triple-A Pawtucket.
Now, after another frustrating game for the offense on Sunday in what has been a frustrating stretch coming out of the All-Star break, they are pulling the trigger on a move that they have at least hinted they would not make. If I go back and re-read all of the quotes, I suspect I’d find them to be just vague enough as to not completely rule out this scenario. Still, it certainly seems as if they are contradicting what they said earlier in the season in hopes of turning the lineup around and providing a much-needed spark.
Given that they are going against what they said so often over the course of this season, many are looking at this promotion of Devers as a panic move by Dave Dombrowski and the rest of the Red Sox. To be honest, I don’t think that’s an unfair assessment of what’s happened. At the very least, I’m fairly convinced that this was not Plan A for the Red Sox, and after they couldn’t pull off whatever they would have liked at third base (your guess as to what they may have been is as good as mine) they decided to simply promote from within. What I do think is unfair, however, is the connotation around the phrase “panic move.” Although I believe the Red Sox desperately wanted to upgrade their offense and made a move they never seriously planned on making this early, I don’t believe that is the same thing as saying it is a bad move.
This obviously all begins with the horrid production the Red Sox have gotten at third base. Offensively, they have been the worst team in baseball at the hot corner by a large margin. As a team, Boston’s third baseman have put up a 55 wRC+ (in other words, 45 percent worse than league-average). That is nine points worse than the next worse team in baseball (Phillies) which is the same margin as the one between the Phillies and the Braves, who rank 26th in wRC+. Sure, the Red Sox have been a little better since the additional playing time doled out to players like Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin, but even with them the production at third base has been unacceptable. This team desperately needs something at least passable — and hopefully more than that — at the position, and Devers represents the best chance of that in their eyes.
If someone has an issue with this move, I think the main issue they have is that they believe Devers is being looked upon as a “savior” for their offense. This comes from the idea that they are panicking as it implies they desperately need one move to get their offense going and they are just hoping Devers is that move. That’s the wrong way to look at this. In reality, it is just one piece to the puzzle of getting this lineup to perform up to expectations. While they obviously hope Devers provides more consistency at the plate from a position in which they haven’t gotten that in years, he’s not being tasked with turning around the entire lineup. That puzzle mentioned above is mostly made up of the players already in the lineup performing up to expectations. They need more consistency from Mookie Betts. They need Xander Bogaerts out break out of his slump. They need Hanley Ramirez to provide more thump in the middle of the lineup. They need Mitch Moreland to look more like he did at the start of the year. This is an offense that needs a lot of things, and a spark from Devers is just a small part of it. He alone can’t save the lineup, and nobody is realistically expecting that.
For their part, the Red Sox are doing what they can to ease Devers into a major-league role. Like many other recent high-profile call-ups, they are debuting him on the west coast to get him as far away as possible from the spotlight of Fenway Park. Furthermore, the initial plan will be to platoon him with Deven Marrero. Part of this is surely because Marrero has had so much success against lefties this year — he’s slashing .326/.362/.651 in 47 plate appearances — but it’s also to put Devers in the best position to succeed. His OPS is about 200 points higher against right-handed pitching this season than it is against southpaws. They also recognize they have a clubhouse that should be able to help him through this transition, particularly with someone like Bogaerts. The Red Sox shortstop not only speaks the same language as the young third baseman — which is obviously important — but also has a similar experience of being called up at a young age in the middle of a pennant race.
In an ideal world, the Red Sox would have allowed Devers to spend more time in the minors to become more refined on both sides of the ball. We don’t live in an ideal world, though. My impression (based purely on speculation) is that they didn’t like what they saw on the trade market and decided that Devers represented the most reasonable upgrade at third base. This might have been something they just recently decided and it’s probably a swift change in plan for the team. That could reasonably be described as a panic move, if you’d like. Just know that even if it is a panic move, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an unreasonable move.