Although MLB is three weeks into their first labor stoppage in nearly 30 years, team officials are undoubtedly continuing to consider possible moves to be made once the sport is back in action, transactions are allowed again, and contact with their players may resume. For the Boston Red Sox, there is one thing and one thing only that should be considered top priority once talks resume: A contract extension for Rafael Devers.
Devers is a young star who has more than proven his worth, posting above-average seasons in four out of his five seasons at the major league level based on wRC+. Additionally, the young third baseman has also continuously shown improvement throughout his entire game, whether it be his increased time practicing taking grounders from third (even if more work needs to be done), refining his approach at the plate with now-former hitting coach Tim Hyers, or even perfecting his base running and sliding techniques with former minor league coach George Lombard.
Because of all of this, it is clear that Devers is a valuable asset to the team and should be offered an extension sooner rather than later, especially considering the rising contract prices for stars around the league. That all leads to the question: What would an extension for Devers look like in the current conditions of the league? And what should it look like?
Although Devers’ talent level is not equal to young stars such as Fernando Tatís Jr. or Wander Franco, their large extensions at a young age provide some sort of comparison for Devers’s future with the Red Sox.
First things first, it is important to compare the three players’ career statistics. This is a bit difficult to put too much confidence into considering the small sample sizes from both Tatís and Franco, but it is still valuable nonetheless.
All in all, the three players are the among pinnacles of talent in this new generation of baseball players and are relatively comparable in many ways. Devers’ and Franco’s walk rates are similar, while Devers has shown some struggle with strikeouts in his recent career and Franco takes a more conservative approach. Clearly, Franco’s small sample of 70 major league games are not the most accurate predictor of his future overall in the majors, but his 12 percent strikeout rate is a large outlier that separates him from players like Tatís, Joey Gallo, and even Shohei Ohtani— stars in the league with heavy strikeout or homer perspectives.
Another important comparison to these players, specifically Tatís, is Devers’ career WAR. In five years, and 548 games played, Devers has amassed 12.9 fWAR. While this is a commendable feat, it unfortunately pales in comparison to the star-powered Tatís— who, in only half the amount of plate appearances as Devers, has nearly the same fWAR total (12.8). This is a big number that of course proves that Devers is not on the same level as Tatís, a fact that we most certainly already knew and one largely based on defensive value. Still, all of this data offers a starting point for determining what a contract for Devers might, and should, look like once his time for extension arrives.
For the sake of time and clarity, I will only be offering a simple total money per years projection and not a complete contract breakdown.
A simple, but still incomplete, method of predicting contract values is basing the value on the Total money/length of contract/WAR per year of the specific player. With these measures, it can be determined that Tatís’s contract equates to about $6 million per projected fWAR, and Franco’s deal adds up to about $4 million per projected fWAR (calculated with his playing 120 games per year). Though as previously stated, this calculation method is rather incomplete, one could go with a middle ground to project a $5 million/1 projected fWAR sum for Devers to hedge for the lower defensive value but shorter distance to hitting the open market. (Without an extension, he’s set to hit free agency following the 2023 season.)
The most anticipated number of years for a Devers extension is around 10, which would bring him through his age-34 season. So with the rough estimate of $5 million per fWAR, and Devers’ average of 3.1 fWAR per year, the overall contract by this approach would fall around $155 million over 10 years. Of course, with Devers being closer to free agency than the other two when they signed their mega deals we can add some money into that projection. Intuitively, we know it is unlikely that Devers will accept or be offered anywhere under $200 million dollars in his total contract.
A final prediction, from my end, would be something in the neighborhood of $250 million over 10 years. This gives Devers about the same AAV as Tatís and puts him above Franco— a very lopsided and team-friendly deal the Rays got due to how early they offered that deal. A similar comparison can be drawn between Tatís’ contract as well. Though not necessarily abundantly team-friendly, the contract is weighted much differently considering that the contract is so long and Tatís’ production is bound to decline.
Devers will only be 35 at the end of his contract, and a 10-year, $250 million deal is a realistic number to pay for a player like him whose bat does not seem in danger of slowing down at all, and whose defense does still show flashes of potential to stick at third base. Along with this, even if Devers is moved to a different position, his value would stay roughly the same anyway since most of it at this point is still tied to the offense. These comparisons, along with the already proven fact that Devers’ talent is not equal to these two other players, provide context for this contract.
All in all, we know that teams need to do everything they can to lock up their young stars before they can hit free agency. Devers deserves an extension that pays for his value, and hopefully, after the work stoppage, Boston will recognize his importance to the team and give him the contract that he deserves.