Why Rafael Devers’ $331 million extension is a move the Red Sox had to make

5:50 PM ET

The Boston Red Sox had to sign Rafael Devers to an extension. After trading away Mookie Betts before the 2020 MLB season and losing Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez in free agency this offseason, the big four that had once powered the Red Sox’s lineup was down to Devers. Owner John Henry and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom simply had to keep the only remaining face of the franchise in town. After all, these are the Red Sox — not the A’s, not the Rays, not the Pirates. Spend the money.

And the Red Sox did just that, locking up Devers by agreeing to an 11-year, $331 million extension on Wednesday.

With Betts, the Red Sox got backed into a corner with a player who made it clear he wanted to test the free agent market and Boston had little choice but to trade him before he left in free agency. The problem for Boston is that the trade hasn’t really worked out. Alex Verdugo has been OK, but Jeter Downs, the top prospect acquired in the deal, was put on waivers in December and claimed by the Nationals. That’s a knock against the front office (although Henry was certainly happy to dump David Price’s contract in the deal).

With Bogaerts, it always kind of felt like he was gone the day they signed Trevor Story. Plus, at some point they’ll need pitching: You can’t spend $700 million on Devers, Bogaerts and Story, and have no pitching and a bad outfield — so Bogaerts ultimately became the odd man out.

As much sense as it makes to open up the wallet for Devers, especially since at 26 he’s four years younger than Bogaerts, it’s also fair to ask: Is Devers the type of player worthy of the rarified $300 million club that also includes Mike Trout, Betts, Aaron Judge, Francisco Lindor, Fernando Tatis Jr., Bryce Harper, Giancarlo Stanton, Corey Seager, Manny Machado and Trea Turner?

Devers’ $331 million passes Harper’s deal as the sixth biggest in total dollars. Five of those 10 players have won MVP Awards — with Trout a three-time winner and Harper a two-time winner. Lindor had three top-10 MVP finishes when he signed his extension with the Mets (and another one in 2022). Tatis exploded on the scene and finished fourth and third in the 2020 and 2021 MVP voting. Seager had two top-10 finishes and Machado three before they signed their deals, and Turner has finished seventh, fifth and 11th the past three seasons.

Devers, on the other hand, has never finished in the top 10 in MVP voting and has finished in the top 10 in the American League in WAR among position players only once — 10th in 2019. He’s a wonderful hitter, no doubt. His swing is perfect for Fenway Park, like David Ortiz’s was before him, with his ability to drive the ball the other way. He has hit more home runs on the road in his career, but hits for a higher average at home and peppers doubles off the Green Monster. Since his breakout season in 2019, he leads the majors in doubles, is second to Freddie Freeman in total bases and is third behind Pete Alonso and Jose Abreu in RBIs.

He doesn’t fare quite as well in some advanced metrics. Primarily a lack of walks means his on-base percentage doesn’t match the elite of the elite. Even after five-plus seasons in the majors, he remains an ultra-aggressive hitter who chases too many pitchers out of the zone (he ranked in the 11th percentile in chase rate last season). Since 2019, Devers has a 132 wRC+ (weighted runs created), tied for 18th among players with at least 1,500 plate appearances — matching Ronald Acuna Jr. and Carlos Correa. That’s also below Betts (138) and Bogaerts (134), and he doesn’t have Betts’ all-around brilliance or play a key defensive position like Bogaerts. In 2022, when Devers posted a career best 141 wRC+, he ranked 17th in the majors. He’s a very good hitter, but I’m also not sure I’d call him one of the top 10 hitters in the game — but there’s reason to believe he could get there in 2023.

Devers is entering his age-26 season and might have been on his way to an even better season in 2022. On July 22, he was hitting .324/.379/.602 and going toe-to-toe with Yordan Alvarez and Aaron Judge in the American League (Alvarez had a 1.084 OPS, Judge was at 1.003 and Devers at .981). Devers tweaked his hamstring and went on the 10-day injured list, returning Aug. 2, but hit just .248/.325/.384 the rest of the way as the hamstring continued to bother him.

“I’m not very happy with my season overall,” Devers said as the season wrapped up. “I think I can give much more than that. I think I can improve those numbers. I don’t really like to get injured and that’s something that happened this year. I’m not that guy. So the second half is not the second half I expected to have.”

Indeed, Devers ended up missing 21 games in 2022 after missing just 15 over the previous three seasons combined. His durability is certainly a reason to be confident about his long-term production. His defense, however, is another issue. He remains a below-average third baseman and while he’s playable there in the short term, he’ll be a first baseman or DH before the end of this deal. That’s not the worst thing; while many teams continue to punt DH, the Red Sox enjoyed big numbers from Ortiz and Martinez through the years.

This contract does give Devers a chance to become a Red Sox legend — and there is certainly value to a club having a player like that to build around for the next decade. Through age 25, he’s 14th in career WAR with the team — just after Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Greenwell and just ahead of Ellis Burks and Fred Lynn. He’s also second in home runs (behind the ill-fated Tony Conigliaro) and fourth in RBIs.

He has already been one of the best young players in Red Sox history. The Red Sox believe he will carry that success through his prime years. Sometimes the best deals are the ones you have to make.

Source : ESPN.com

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