It happened again.
Rafael Devers had a throwing error at third base last night.
It’s his 16th total error this season, leading all third basemen by four. His fielding percentage is the worst of all full-time third basemen this season as well. His -8 outs above average is second-worst in the league, only ahead of the Tigers’ Nick Maton. He also has a -6 total runs saved in 2023, which is certainly closer to the bottom of the barrel than the top.
Errors aren’t an anomaly for Devers’ career so far. He had 14 last season, tied for second-most amongst all third basemen. His 22 errors in 2021 by FAR led the majors. Rinse and repeat for 2019. And 2018. Well, he actually had 24 errors that season, but I digress.
This is more than just an issue at this point in his career. It’s a problem. Having a steady enough shortstop in Xander Bogaerts next to him for most of his playing time until this season could only cover up so much. These mistakes come in multitudes, too. He misjudges a hop. He overthrows first base. He whiffs on a line drive.
And I say all this not because I don’t like Devers, or don’t think he cares. He has to care to be the powerhouse at the plate he is. He cares about his defense too! He worked with former Major Leaguers César and Maicer Izturis at their academy in Venezuela this offseason, strictly on defense!
But at some point, enough is enough. Both for the team’s sake and his sake, someone has to consider moving him off third.
It can’t happen this season. Right now, the DH priority should go toward Justin Turner, who’s been battling through a bone bruise and is still one of the most productive hitters on this team. But it has to be a part of the conversation for next season. And even then, there are still caveats to consider, starting with the question of Masataka Yoshida. Yoshida is also a butcher in the field, and it might be imperative for him to move to the DH spot in order to give Ceddanne Rafaela—who by all accounts looks ready for his shot in the bigs next season, if not a call-up once rosters expand in September—a spot in the outfield alongside Jarren Duran and Alex Verdugo (assuming he’s still here).
What about alternatives for Devers at third? There’s no chance the front office spends up on a better defensive third baseman. Matt Chapman is an impending free agent and would cost too much. Eduardo Escobar isn’t that much better than Devers at fielding. Jeimer Candelario would be your option, and even then, there will be teams who will pay up more for his services. For the Red Sox, there are certainly more pressing priorities than a new third baseman in free agency.
Then you look internally. The closest projectable prospect who’s being used as a third baseman is Blaze Jordan, currently in Portland. But even that’s a bit of a misnomer. Portland is currently using Jordan more as a first baseman. Why? Jordan’s fielding percentage career-wise in the minors as a third-baseman is .943, which is wholeheartedly unacceptable.
Your only real choice to be the heir apparent to third base—and frankly it might be the right choice if you want him to get him to the Majors sooner—is Marcelo Mayer. His top tools are his defense and his arm. If he has more than enough pop to make the throw to first from shortstop (this coming from a scouting report that says he has a plus arm), and the overall tools to be an elite defender in general, then it might make sense for him to start getting some reps at third base as soon as possible. Geoff Pontes from Baseball America joined our guys on The Red Seat in June, and even he believes Mayer ends up at third base. Mayer in the field next to Trevor Story would provide elite left side defense. But, unfortunately, Mayer’s bat still needs to develop further before he’s ready to hit at the Major League level.
At this point, it can’t come soon enough. Again, it’s not like this is an anomaly for Devers. In his career, he is not a good fielder. Period. The sooner that gets rectified, the sooner the team gets better immediately. We know how good Devers is with the bat. Let’s not force him or ourselves to keep watching something that just isn’t working.