Before going on hiatus in the offseason, baseball’s owners basically smashed every button in the arcade.
The Rangers spent more than $500 million on their middle infield. The Mets guaranteed future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer more than $40 million a year. The Rays signed wunderkind Wander Franco for the rest of his 20 years.
One player who undoubtedly watched the action with keen interest was Red Sox third baseman Raphael Dever. The 25-year-old is coming off his first All-Star season after hitting .279 with 38 home runs and a career-high 113 RBIs. He followed up with a quietly productive postseason, hitting five home runs with a 1.029 OPS in 12 games.
With all due respect to shortstop Silver Slugger Xander Bogaerts, there is no question that Devers is the most dangerous hitter in the lineup. With prodigious power from center to the right-field corner, Devers ranked among baseball’s leaders in exit velocity, hard-hitting percentage and barrel rate in 2021. He’s developing into a complete hitter.
Complete hitters cost money, and Devers only has two years of arbitration eligibility left before hitting free agency in the fall of 2024 at age 28. If he stays on his current offensive path, he’ll easily earn a nine-figure contract.
The question for the Red Sox is how much they want to prevent that from happening. While all negotiations are on hold during the lockout, there’s nothing stopping them from signing Devers long-term when there’s a new CBA. The challenge will be assessing his value, which is complicated by a number of factors, including his age, defensive ability, future at third base and even body type.
They’re approaching a point of no return, because the closer Devers gets to free agency, the more likely he is to prove it.
Given the Chaim Bloom has yet to pay anyone more than the total of $14 million he gave Kiké Hernández over two years, it’s hard to imagine the Red Sox committing to such a high AAV for Devers. But if they want to keep him out of free agency, it will cost them at least $25 million a year.
It will be hard to see him break the $300 million plateau that has so far been reserved for five-tool talent like Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper and Fernando Tatis Jr.. ., or for highlights in the middle of the diamond likeCorey Seager and presumably the current free agent Charles Correa.
Spoctrac projects a contract of $233 million for 8 years. Right now, three third basemen are playing on contracts worth more than $200 million, and Devers compares more favorably to one of them. The Padres All-Star, Manny Machadoleads the pack after signing a 10-year, $300 million deal in 2019.
Machado produces similar offensive numbers to Devers, except from the right side of the plate, where he also hits the ball primarily to the draw side, but with power all the way down the field. Where it separates is defensively. Machado, a two-time Gold Glover, can play short in a pinch and is in no danger of leaving third base.
The same can’t be said for Devers, who has led the American League in errors at the hot corner for four straight seasons and contributed to a poor infield defense that cost Red Sox pitchers more runs (35) than any other player. team in baseball, according to Statcast. It’s easier to justify a massive contract for Devers if he stays at third. His value drops at first base, which he’s never played, and he slumps at DH.
That’s why it’s hard to put him in the Cardinals’ perennial All-Star class, Nolan Arenado, either. He is a nine-time Gold Glover who hit 34 bombs during his St. Louis debut last year.
Arenado signed a nine-year, $260 million extension with the Rockies at age 28 in 2019 before being traded last winter. While Devers is coming off his first All-Star appearance, Arenado had already finished in the top five of the MVP race three times. He boasted of a superior resume and had just agreed to a record $26 million in arbitration when the Rockies extended him.
That leaves Devers’ best composition. Anthony Rendon timed his foray into free agency perfectly, leading the Nationals to a title in 2019 before hitting the market at age 29. The Angels were released for seven years and $245 million, a deal that seemed woeful when he hit just .240 in 58 games. this season thanks to hamstring and hip issues that also limited his defense.
Rendon’s deal guarantees him $35 million a year. Given that Chaim Bloom has yet to pay anyone more than the full $14 million he gave Kiké Hernandez over two years, it’s hard to imagine the Red Sox committing to such a high AAV for Devers.
But if they want to keep him out of free agency, it will cost them at least $25 million a year, especially when the market explodes. The sooner they sign it, the less they have to worry about their body breaking too. Devers, with a barrel chest, weighs 240 pounds and that’s not a problem now that he’s in his 20s, but he could become one when he approaches 30.
That’s what makes the Devers situation so complicated. He’s an elite hitter who hasn’t even gotten into his prime, but he’s a questionable fielder who may end up across the diamond or at DH. He’s not a free agent yet, so the Red Sox would be bidding only against themselves, but the game tends to see younger players sign extensions before they hit free agency and thus have more clout. .
Some team will be willing to overpay Devers, the question is whether the Red Sox is that team.
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Why letting Devers go might be a good move for the Red Sox?