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2023 In Review: Should Rafael Devers Have Been Extended After All?

The answer to your question, by the way, is yes, of course... but Rafi’s production needs to improve in 2024 and beyond.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

2023 In One Sentence

Rafael Devers signed a 10 year, $313 million contract, causing Red Sox faithful to collectively breathe a sigh of relief and put their pitchforks down for at least, like, three months, but he struggled with some lingering issues at times this year. He was still decidedly the best player on the team.

Much like the clickbait question in the headline, I’m not playing by the rules here, because two sentences is more than one. Don’t tell Dan Secatore or anyone else on the OTM team. But with just the first sentence, which is certainly accurate, you miss out on the context of what this investment buys, even on such a poorly-performing team.

The Positives

Rafael Devers has always been known as a guy you can turn to when you need a big hit. This turned out to be true in his seventh campaign, as it did in his first six seasons (five, really, since 2020 wasn’t real, and he only played a third of 2017) as he led the team in home runs (33), RBI (100), was second to Triston Casas in OPS (.851) and took slightly more walks (9.5% BB percentage) than he ever has in his career, in addition to ... this is facetious, I swear... tying his personal record for stolen bases in a season, with 5. He’s also showing leadership becoming of a player who is going to be making 30 million dollars a year until his late 30’s.

In winning just 78 games, the Red Sox failed to meet some lofty expectations made in early summer. But Rafael Devers was proportionally much less of a disappointment than the team at large. At 27, he still has some development time even if it feels as though he’s been a mainstay on this club; he could still put together a 50-homer season one of these days.

The Negatives

I’m going to put aside my distaste for chew on this one, because the full lip has become a signature Devers sight by now. Besides, that, his play in 2023 — at least compared to expectations — was something of an elephant in the room.

In a vacuum, even Devers’ biggest shortcomings seem minuscule. But the massive contract and the need to shoulder more of an offensive and leadership load in the wake of Xander Bogarts’ departure put some of those shortcomings under a microscope For one, he was pretty awful at third base, and the defensive performance continued to get worse as the year went on and the losses piled up. Devers ended up tied for the AL lead in errors alongside Detroit’s Javy Baez, leading third basemen by four, and tying for third in all of baseball. His fielding percentage was .949, not hardly the worst in his career, but that is saying something.

More on this later, but, for good measure, his BABIP (.292) was under .300 for the first time since 2018, when he was 21. I know many will call to attention to the fact that he doesn’t meet a strike he doesn’t like, but Baseball Savant has his whiff percentage listed in the forty-fifth percentile and his strikeout percentage barely in the upper third. When you take that along with the reds depicted below (which show, essentially, that when the fastball likes him back, the ball ends up in the stands) it could be a lot worse.

Best Game Or Moment

Okay, so he’s bad at third base. That doesn’t mean he can’t have some effortless scoop-and-throws like this. And, by the way, I know I’ve mentioned it in this article and I know he’s synonymous with the longball, but, it can’t be overstated: when a pitch likes him back, he can absolutely torch balls

One Big Question

“Will Alex Cora eventually make the call to start moving him to first base, or, with Justin Turner’s 2024 team in question, will Carita become our designated hitter?”

Though it wouldn’t be a complete shock if Devers were moved eventually, it wouldn’t be the smartest time to do so. With Triston Casas finding his footing at first and becoming just as fearsome at the plate, that leaves room to format the roster with yet another threatening bat. I wouldn’t be too much in a hurry to make the switch now, however much of a liability Devers can be at the hot corner. Plus, as some are quick to point out, when a team has an emerging leader and franchise face like Devers, the player is just going to have to learn to play better defense.

I’m also going to use this section instead of the strengths section to say: he’s a Yankee killer. Since 2022, he has hit 22 home runs against the Bronx Bombers, No other player has hit more than 18 (Randall Grichuk.) And since I feel like being petty, let’s look at his stats against the Yankees’ high-money acquisition of the decade. Devers’ career stats against Gerrit Cole: .306 average, 11-for-36, 7 home runs (remember, 36 at bats), 16 RBIs. Is that, um, pretty good?

2024 And Beyond

Remember, Rafael Devers is with us for another decade; he will be 37 when his contract is up. If he keeps this production going (Fangraphs is projecting 33 home runs a year through 2025) it would not be totally unheard of to hit 400 dingers in his career. That’s, uh, pretty respectable! A lot of this team’s success, though, is contingent on how many pieces Craig Breslow is willing to get to complement Devers.

It’s been quite the ride watching Devers grow up through the minor league system to become the future of this franchise, and it’s been that much more rewarding because, by watching the way he goofs around and giggles with his teammates and how well regarded he is by them, this is simply a guy with a zest for life. A guy with a zest for life who can absolutely smoke the daylight out of a fastball.