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The Red Sox Can’t Let This Happen Again with Rafael Devers

With Xander Bogaerts officially gone, the Red Sox should be laser-focused on extending Devers.

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

It happened again. The Boston Red Sox, one of the most valuable franchises in sports, let alone baseball, allowed another homegrown star player to go without putting up much of a fight. Of course, they were more actively involved with the jettisoning of Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers in early 2020, since they actually traded him, but the front office certainly had a hand in losing Xander Bogaerts to free agency by letting him get there in the first place. For the last year or more, Bogaerts’ future with the Red Sox was in flux and at every turn, all the way to the finish line, it seems like the organization either failed at or were disinterested in keeping him in Boston.

Luckily (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), the Red Sox have another chance to actually keep a star player they developed in Rafael Devers. The 26-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent after next season and with Bogaerts now gone, all eyes will turn to how the Red Sox will approach negotiations with their All-Star third baseman. While their handling of the Betts and Bogaerts situations doesn’t inspire confidence, perhaps those experiences will provide ample motivation to get Devers extended and soon. Or, perhaps of the three, Devers was always whom they wanted to sign to an extension and this is just that strategy (is trading Betts and losing Bogaerts a strategy?) playing out.

Of course, the Red Sox shouldn’t need extra incentive to give Devers a big-time payday. Since his breakout year in 2019, following the growing pains of 2017 and 2018, Devers has been among the best hitters in baseball. He is tied with Carlos Correa, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Will Smith for 23rd in wRC+ among qualified batters in the last four years and tied with Manny Machado for 15th in fWAR among the same group in the same time period. Devers stands even higher when just compared with his Red Sox teammates (or former ones), as Bogaerts is the only Red Sox player with more fWAR since 2019.

Devers is seemingly only getting better, as he has been an All-Star in each of the last two seasons while continuing to improve his output at the plate, hammering balls into oblivion like few other batters around. While his defense isn’t the best and he does chase a bit too often, Devers is already a certified elite hitter and as he enters his age-26 season, he’s only just getting into his prime. When you add it all together, it’s tough to see why the Red Sox haven’t already extended Devers. There is even less of an excuse now that Bogaerts is headed to San Diego.

Speaking of Bogaerts’ deal, how might that affect the Devers situation? To start with, even though the Red Sox should still be paying Bogaerts, they aren’t, which should open up some payroll availability to, I don’t know, cut the check for a 26-year-old All-Star. Earlier this fall, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom spoke about his desire “to build around” Devers, and this winter would be an excellent time to back that up with a new deal.

Unfortunately, extending Devers is not just a matter of having more money with which to play. The last year-plus of negotiations with Bogaerts can’t have escaped Devers’ view, and not just because they played on the same side of the infield. For a player like Devers, who will likely be cementing his future for the next five to 10 years with his next deal, the Bogaerts and Betts situations don’t exactly paint the Red Sox in the best light. In addition, Devers and Bogaerts were clearly pretty close, and while I don’t think Devers will necessarily spurn the Red Sox out of loyalty to Bogaerts, it won’t help the Red Sox’s negotiating position either.

Speaking of those negotiations, in an ideal world, they would have been finalized months ago, and Devers would already be getting ready to start the first year of his new contract. That’s obviously not the case, and while it would make sense to accelerate those talks to avoid another year of drawn out negotiations, rumors and newspaper quotes, I’d expect a new deal won’t come before the spring. If it doesn’t come by then, and talks spill into the season, the degree of difficulty to bring back Devers will only get higher, perhaps insurmountably so.

No matter when a deal comes to fruition and with whom it’s with, Devers is going to get a massive haul when he eventually signs a new contract. Last year, only five third basemen accumulated more fWAR than Devers: Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, José Ramírez, Austin Riley and Alex Bregman. Machado is about to enter the fifth year of a 10-year, $300 million deal; Arenado is midway through his eight-year, $260 million deal; Ramírez signed a seven-year deal worth $141 million last spring; Riley got a 10-year deal worth $212 million last summer; and Bregman has two years left on the five-year, $100 million deal he signed before the 2020 season. Machado, Riley and Bregman all signed their deals before their age-26 seasons, which is just where Devers is in his career. Based on those comparisons and as salaries continue to balloon, you can expect Devers will get somewhere between five to 10 years at an average annual value exceeding $25 million, and that’s probably being conservative.

As I wrote earlier, the Red Sox have said they are committed to keeping Devers around, even hand waving the possibility of trading him. Of course, we’ve heard that more than once before with the current front office only to watch things crumble, first with Betts and then with Bogaerts. But there is still time to make up for it, somewhat. So, I will now address the Red Sox directly: You traded Betts and bungled things with Bogaerts. Don’t do the same thing with Devers.