This is going to be my last real column here at OTM — I’ll still have a series preview and game recap and all that fun stuff today — and I was thinking a lot about what I wanted to do for it. I didn’t know if I wanted to look back, or look forward, or just do something I’d normally do. Ultimately, I kept coming back to the one topic that hangs over everything with the Red Sox right now, the one that really feels hard to ignore at all times. That is the contract status of Xander Bogaerts, who almost certainly will trigger his opt-out after the season and become a free agent, and Rafael Devers, who is scheduled to hit the open market after next season. They are the best players on the team, the favorites of the fan base, and the faces of the franchise. This is my one last plea to keep them in Boston for a long time.
But I want to start by going to another sport entirely. Like I’m sure many other Red Sox fans, I have been following this Celtics run to the NBA Finals with great interest. I’m a big basketball fan, and this run has been among the most satisfying I can remember among any of the Boston sports teams, and a lot of it has to do with their core. This core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and plenty of others has been steadily rising in the league for a half-decade (more if we start with Smart, who was drafted in 2014). Any championship run is enormously satisfying for a fan, but one in which you saw every step of growth along the way makes it that much sweeter.
To me, in fact, it is the crux of why I love sports. It’s a slow-moving but enthralling story of growth and setbacks and perseverance and ultimately triumph. It’s not something you can get in any other form of entertainment, at least that I’ve experienced. It’s been made all the sweeter this time around because it wasn’t all that long ago — January, in fact — where many smart basketball people genuinely toyed with the idea that one of Tatum or Brown, the two best players on the team, must be traded.
It’s a perfect analogy with the Red Sox situation, of course. Basketball is a different sport, in which individual players have a much larger outcome on a game-to-game basis than any player — especially position player — could ever have. There are also max contracts in the NBA that guarantees the Celtics can and will beat what anyone else could pay their top players. That, of course, does not exist in baseball.
But even with that said, this run from the Celtics is just firming my stance that the Red Sox owe it to their fans to keep this two-man core together. Whatever they need to do around that, it’s less consequential as long as those two are there. Like I said, for me and I would imagine plenty of others, the true joy of following a team for the long-term is seeing the players come up, fulfill their potential, and put it all together. That joy doesn’t go away once they reach the majors.
For Bogaerts, he was the first real prospect I can remember following throughout their journey through the minors. He was immediately on the map in the lower levels of the farm, and while that happens often enough, almost always there is a falling off at some point in the process. He never hit that roadblock, ultimately making it to the majors the same year the team won the World Series. He’s part of the fabric of this franchise for an entire generation. Devers doesn’t have the same longevity, but he had a similar trajectory as a prospect and is now genuinely one of the very best hitters in the game.
And look, I get some of the arguments against signing both of them, even if I disagree. I get that it will tie up a lot of money, and I get the defensive questions. From a purely analytical and non-personal perspective, there’s at least an argument that the Red Sox should walk away from one of them. But we don’t live in a non-personal world, and sports are not a non-personal endeavor. The one thing I learned in my years of doing this job is that straight winning and losing is not everything for me. I want the team to win, but I want them to do it with the players I’ve watched grow and the players who deserve the adoration of millions. Bogaerts and Devers check those boxes, and it would be a true travesty for Red Sox fans if they don’t get to continue watching this duo’s growth and continued success side by side.