This seems like a good time to throw out the reminder that the questions I send out to the staff for the weekly roundtable go out on Mondays so people have all week to answer them. This would appear to be a particularly timely reminder considering on Monday the Red Sox were coming off a series sweep at the hands of the Orioles, and since then have won four games in a row. I say that because this question focuses on one of the negatives from that weekend: Rafael Devers’s defense. After his tough weekend against the Orioles, I was curious what kind of leash people were putting on this situation until they would start to consider making some changes.
Consider my leash nonexistent. I have sent the dog to the pound in this analogy. As those who read my recap last week will know, I have given up on Devers as a third baseman already. Will he continue to play there? Yes. Will he continue to cost them defensively? Probably. I can only hope he doesn’t cost them more games.
As far as solutions, I don’t have any great ideas for now. Once Triston Casas is up, have him play first and move Dalbec to third. Devers at DH. If J.D. Martinez is still here he will have to be put in left field. As crazy as it sounds, considering the impact third has on the game compared to left field, it may actually be preferable defensively.
I’m not worried about it yet, so I guess a long leash. I need to see more than one series before it looks like he’s not making strides on his defense compared to 2020 or 2019. I also don’t think the Red Sox really has a good option to replace him at third right now so that factors into my thinking as well. If there was a Gold Glover who could take over then maybe I’d feel different but still think he can play the position at an average level, so I’m not really close to wanting him removed.
For me, Rafael Devers has worn out his welcome at third base. I was an advocate for getting Devers reps at first base this offseason/spring training, but the Sox seem convinced he’s a long-term third baseman. However, since 2016 (using Defensive Runs Saved) Devers has literally been the worst defensive third basemen in all of baseball. His struggles on defense was something I was willing to deal with during his first couple of years, but now that we’re in year five, my patience has run out. Additionally, MLB Pipeline rates Bobby Dalbec’s fielding at 55/80, and he projects to be an above average third baseman. I don’t see any reason to not give Dalbec a few reps at 3rd base. Devers is a superstar at the dish, but it’s time to try something different in the field.
Honestly, I am still giving Devers a pretty big leash. Sure, he looked awful in the first series against Baltimore but it was only one series! We all know that he has the arm for the position but it is some of the lateral movements that seems to be his biggest issue. The team says he is working at it and I believe once he starts making some plays, his confidence along with his play will improve. Also, for this lineup to ‘work’, especially in the long term, Devers has to stick at third.
I’m going to answer this with an internet cat meme: if he hits, he fits. Run Rafael Devers out to third base all year. The Sox are also trying to break in a first baseman and already have an everyday DH who has defensive issues of his own when patrolling left field. Unless Devers really starts costing games with his fielding see what he can do for the first full year since 2019, which was only his second full year in the majors, and make a plan to shift him across the diamond in 2022. Devers may not be a third baseman for life, but that’s the best place to utilize his bat this year, a year where the Red Sox are probably on the outside looking in for the playoffs no matter who’s on third.
Forgive me for fence-sitting, but I’m not really sure. There’s no denying that Devers has not looked the best with the glove during the early part of the season, and although a handful of games isn’t enough to make me outright panic, it obviously doesn’t alleviate the concerns that were already there. The problem is, there’s nowhere else to put him. This would usually be the point where a team would move a struggling third baseman to first or to DH, but the Red Sox can’t really do that. The DH spot is spoken for by a rejuvenated J.D. Martinez and the Red Sox already have a logjam of prospects at first base with Bobby Dalbec and Triston Casas. I suppose Dalbec (or Casas when he comes up) could swap with Devers, but I’m not sure that would solve the problem.
So the Red Sox’s hands are pretty much tied because even if Devers has struggled offensively so far, they need him in the lineup. They can try moving him around from time to time when other guys get off days, but for now, they need to keep him at third and hope he can recapture whatever he was doing in 2019 when he ranked third among qualified third basemen in outs above average.
I watched this dude make a great backhanded play deep in the six-hole the other day and people are going off about his defense? He made another great stab on Thursday! Y’all need to get a hold of yourselves. I’m not going to hold anyone’s 2020 performance against them, particularly small sample half-season defense. He showed tremendous growth from 2018 to 2019, he’s still in good shape, and he’s making good plays so far this year. He’s never going to be Matt Chapman but he doesn’t need to be to play at an All-Star level. Besides, it’s not like there’s anywhere they could move him. The alternatives are sending Dalbec down, moving Devers to first, and starting Christian Arroyo or Marwin Gonzalez everyday at third. If you do that, you’ve played yourself. I’m putting a moratorium on Takes until Memorial Day.
This is a fun question after his diving near-double play ball from yesterday, but between when this question was asked and now the Sox are 4-0, so the leash has gotten much longer. Anyhow, I feel like the leash extends about as long as this season. If he’s gonna learn first base, it’s gonna be in March, and it is no longer March.
As frustrating as Rafael Devers’ defense can be at times it is nowhere close to the point where I’d consider making him move off the position. Who would replace him? Bobby Dalbec hasn’t played the position full time for a while and when he was playing there he wasn’t considered to be a better defender than Devers. Moreover, Dalbec has been playing really good defense at first and Devers would have to learn a new position. First base, while easier than many defensive positions, isn’t as simple as picking up a glove and being good at it right away.
Any change I fear would cause more issues than it solves. Devers does have the range to get to lots of balls and while he will never be Matt Chapman, he can certainly be league average. He still makes too many mental errors, but his arm is good enough and his range is strong enough for me to continue to have faith in him. Wade Boggs famously took a long time to become a good third base defender and won a Gold Glove extremely late in his career. More reps will continue to make Devers a better defender over time.
I don’t think it’s ridiculous to worry about Devers’s defense (obviously, since I asked the question) but I’m not making any changes until after the season. I’ve been on the more optimistic side with his defense because his mistakes generally don’t strike me as the kind that happen because he physically cannot handle the position. Instead, it just seems like he makes mental mistakes. Granted, those can’t continue to happen and at a certain point you are what you are. But for Devers I’m not there yet. If we’re still having this conversation at the end of the season I think alternative plans need to be made, but not until then.