The contract statuses of Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers have been front of mind for Red Sox’s fans dating back to at least this past Spring Training. The club made unsuccessful runs at extending both players in March. Those efforts were put on hold during the season, but with the offseason approaching, they’re certain to rekindle discussions.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom already called working on a new deal with Bogaerts before he opts out (which he can formally do after the World Series) a “top priority” this month. There’s less immediate urgency with Devers, who’s still one year from the open market, but there’s no question Boston’s front office will be in touch with the third baseman’s camp at Rep 1 Baseball throughout the winter.
Earlier this week, reporter Yancen Pujols tweeted the team was making a renewed effort at an extension. Subsequent reports out of Boston characterized a visit from assistant general manager Eddie Romero to Devers in his native Dominican Republic as more of a typical offseason check-in (links via Alex Speier of the Boston Globe and Chris Cotillo of MassLive). There was no question the Sox would make a run at extending Devers at some point this winter, but it’s not clear how much to make of Romero’s check-in.
Regardless of the specific nature of the meeting between Romero and Devers, Jon Heyman of the New York Post writes tonight the sides have indeed reopened talks recently. Heyman reports that Boston has put forth an offer at or above $200MM but suggests there’s still a notable gap between the sides. According to Heyman, Devers’ camp is seeking a deal of ten-plus years worth at least $300MM.
During Spring Training, the Sox reportedly used the eight-year, $168MM extension signed by Braves first baseman Matt Olson as a viable comparison in talks. The sides were well apart at that time, although Devers’ specific asking price was unclear. Boston has raised its offer on the heels of another very strong season from Devers, but the two-time All-Star has increased leverage after an excellent year that moved him closer to free agency.
In his age-25 campaign, Devers appeared in 141 games and tallied 614 plate appearances. He connected on 27 home runs and put together a .295/.358/.521 line. Those slash stats are in line with his numbers from recent seasons, but Devers’ production was arguably a career best in the context of a leaguewide offensive downturn. By measure of wRC+ (which adjusts annually for the league environment and ballpark), he was 41 percentage points better than an average batter. That’s the best mark of his career, and it ranked among the top 20 hitters in the game (minimum 500 plate appearances).
With another great season under his belt, Devers can feel even more comfortable setting a lofty ask in extension talks. He banked $11.2MM this year and is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for a salary in the $16.9MM range next season if he goes through his final year of arbitration. He’s presently slated to be one of the top talents in the 2023-24 free agent class, arguably second behind Shohei Ohtani.
12 months from the open market, Devers’ camp can look to the biggest free agent deals in MLB history to set their asking price. A $16.9MM projected arb salary is obviously below his free agent market value, but he’ll lock in one more strong payday before getting to the open market. The Red Sox can perhaps hope to price in a marginal discount to guard against the possibility of Devers having a disappointing or injury-plagued platform year, but the star third baseman has a significant amount of leverage in talks.
This summer, the Braves signed their All-Star third baseman, Austin Riley, to a 10-year, $212MM extension. Riley owned a .301/.360/.604 line at the time of that deal but serves as a generally similar comparison as a bat-first third baseman. However, Riley’s deal was signed midway through his third full MLB season and bought out his final three years of arbitration eligibility. With only one arbitration season remaining, Devers has far more leverage in extension talks. It’s little surprise his reps are aiming much higher than the Riley range.
At the same time, it’s easy to understand why the Red Sox may not be anxious to dole out a deal topping $300MM. That’s a threshold reached only nine times in MLB history. Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Francisco Lindor, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Giancarlo Stanton got there on extensions, while Bryce Harper, Corey Seager, Gerrit Cole and Manny Machado reached or topped the marker on free agent deals.
Devers turned 26 earlier in the week and is on track to reach free agency going into his age-27 season. That’s a year older than Machado and Harper were over the 2018-19 offseason but a year younger than Seager was last winter. Broadly speaking, that youth serves Devers well in his effort to land a decade-long commitment. It’s rare to see teams commit to players deep into their 30’s, but a lengthy pact is more palatable for players who hit the market in their mid-20’s.
At the same time, one could argue all three players were safer long-term bets than Devers. Harper had a more robust offensive track record that included a monster 2015 showing to win an MVP. Machado had hit .297/.367/.538 during his platform year and was a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman who could play shortstop if needed. Seager is a full-time shortstop who had a .306/.394/.521 mark during his final year in Los Angeles. All three players also had the benefit of an open market bidding war.
That wasn’t the case for Betts and Lindor, each of whom signed extensions above $300MM with between five and six years of service time. Both players, however, had far more defensive value than Devers. Betts is one of the sport’s top outfielders, and Lindor is arguably the game’s best shortstop.
Devers, by contrast, comes with his share of defensive question marks. He’s played almost exclusively third base in the majors but has always been regarded as a bat-first player. There’s been some trepidation dating back to his time as a prospect about how long he could stick at the hot corner, and that’s largely been borne out in his defensive metrics as a big leaguer. He’s rated as a below-average defender by measure of Defensive Runs Saved in every season of his career. Statcast gave him an outlier excellent defensive grade in 2019 but has otherwise panned his work as well. This past season, he rated as six runs below average by measure of DRS and two runs below par according to Statcast.
While there’s no indication the Sox would want to move Devers off the hot corner immediately, it’s fair to wonder how deep into a long-term deal he can stick there. He certainly has the offensive aptitude to continue playing every day as a first baseman or designated hitter, but a move further down the defensive spectrum would reduce the team’s roster flexibility around him somewhat.
That’s not to say Devers isn’t an excellent player, but $300MM+ investments have generally been reserved for players with more defensive value or an established MVP-caliber offensive season. Stanton’s 13-year, $325MM extension over the 2014-15 offseason may be the best example for Devers’ camp, but Stanton landed that deal after a .288/.395/.555 showing in one of the game’s most pitcher-friendly home environments.
Given the recent comparable players, it’s little surprise Devers and his group would want to handily top $200MM while the Red Sox would balk at an ask north of $300MM. There’s obviously a fair bit of ground in between those extremes. Whether the sides can find a mutually agreeable price at some point over the next six months will be one of the key storylines of the Boston offseason.