The Red Sox are preparing to offer Rafael Devers a long-term contract this winter, WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford reports. In general, most extensions aren’t discussed and/or completed until after the bulk of other offseason business has been completed, so more concrete news on this front might not surface until closer to Spring Training.
It only makes sense that the Sox would look to gain some cost certainty over a player who has emerged as a huge force in 2019. Devers has hit .308/.359/.553 with 32 homers over 697 plate appearances, with a 131 wRC+ that ranks 13th among all qualified batters in baseball. There have been questions about Devers’ ability to stick as a third baseman, though he at least held his own defensively depending on the metric; he had a +3 UZR/150, though a minus-6 in Defensive Runs Saved.
Long considered one of the game’s top prospects, Devers had a nice debut in 2017 before struggling in his first full MLB season in 2018, yet now he looks firmly established as a fixture in Boston’s lineup. To that end, Devers is already under team control through the 2023 season, and he won’t be eligible for arbitration until after the 2020 campaign. The Sox will surely look to lock up at least two or three of his free agent seasons in any extension, though it would come at a high price. Devers will only be 27 years old on Opening Day 2024, and that relatively early entry into free agency will definitely raise his price tag on the open market (assuming he keeps up his current form, of course).
Last spring saw an unprecedented burst of extensions around the game, as a wide variety of players chose financial security over the uncertainty of an increasingly tight free agent market and the potential for labor strife when the current collective bargaining agreement expires following the 2021 season. It’s possible Devers could follow suit, as he hasn’t banked an overt amount of money in his career (minimum salaries and his original $1.5MM international signing bonus) and might want to guarantee himself that proverbial “first fortune.” Devers is represented by Rep 1 Baseball, who had another high-profile client in Luis Severino ink an extension with the Yankees last February.
Alex Bregman also signed a five-year, $100MM extension with the Astros back in March, which Bradford suggests could be a model for a Devers contract. Bregman had hit .282./366/.500 with 58 homers over 1548 PA and 361 games at the time of his deal, while Devers has a .281/.335/.501 career mark with 63 homers through 1422 PA and 333 games. However, Bregman is also over 2.5 years older than Devers, and wouldn’t have hit free agency until after his age-28 season. Bregman is also a more defensively adept player that the Astros can count on to continue as a third baseman for years to come, whereas the Red Sox could still have an eye towards eventually shifting Devers over to first base down the road.
Perhaps the better way to view Bregman’s extension as a comp for Devers is in the specific terms of the agreement. Bregman’s extension doesn’t actually begin until the 2020 season (covering his three arbitration years and first two free agent years), and thus the luxury tax hit associated with the deal doesn’t apply until next year. Had Bregman’s 2019 season also been factored into the contract, it would’ve given him a luxury tax number of roughly $16.66MM, and left Houston with little wiggle room to stay under the $206MM luxury tax threshold. Exceeding that threshold for one year in search of a World Series title might not have been a big deal for the Astros, though with Bregman still on a minimum salary, Houston is still projected to avoid any tax payments even after making a big deadline splash by acquiring Zack Greinke.
As it relates to Devers, one would think the Sox would explore a similar extension, one that wouldn’t begin until 2021 (his first arbitration-eligible year). This would be a huge boost to the club in its goal to get under the luxury tax threshold this winter, since ducking under the $208MM limit and maintaining a competitive roster would be much more difficult if Devers suddenly had a $15-$20MM average annual value attached to his services.