Rafael Devers contract extension should be priority for Red Sox this winter

John Tomase
·4 min read

Tomase: A good time to make a long-term offer to Rafael Devers? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Since the arrival of John Henry in 2002, the Red Sox have not gone more than three years without making the playoffs or more than six years without winning a World Series.

If they continue to follow that timetable, they're going to want to keep Rafael Devers around, because their next World Series berth will take place while he's still in his prime.

The Red Sox may not boast much in the form of long-term building blocks, but Devers definitely qualifies. The slugging third baseman turns 24 on Saturday, and he has only scratched the surface of his potential. When the 2020 season ended, he was just rediscovering the groove of his breakout 2019 campaign, during which he hit .311 with 32 homers and a league-leading 54 doubles.

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Batting just .183 on Aug. 17, Devers hit .307 thereafter with nine homers and a .923 OPS. In a normal season, his early struggles would've been known as a bad April. But in this truncated one, they doomed his final numbers to a relatively pedestrian .263-11-43-.793.

Don't think for a second, however, that the Red Sox harbor any doubts. They know exactly how good Devers is, which leads to one of their most fascinating discussions of the winter -- how much should they offer him in a contract extension?

There's little doubt they should try to lock him up now, even (or perhaps especially) in this age of economic uncertainty. By signing Mookie Betts to a $365 million deal, the Dodgers showed they're planning for life after the pandemic. The Red Sox would be wise to approach Devers similarly.

His recent comps in a vacuum are pretty clear. There's Astros All-Star Alex Bregman, who signed a six-year, $100 million extension in 2019 after two years of service time. Devers now has just over three years of major league service.

Then there's Braves All-Star Ronald Acuna Jr. The five-tool standout signed an eight-year, $100 million extension with the Braves in April of 2019 at age 21. It includes a pair of options years through 2028.

Finally, there's White Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada. Devers' former minor league teammate agreed to a five-year, $70 million contract just one week before baseball shut down, with an option year that can take the contract to $90 million.

Each of those players signed before being arbitration-eligible, whereas Devers enters his first year of arbitration this winter. When perennial MVP favorite Mike Trout reached a similar stage in his career, he signed a six-year, $144 million extension with the Angels.

The Red Sox have made aggressive offers at point, chief among them the eight-year, $200 million extension Mookie Betts reportedly declined after the 2017 season and before his first year of arbitration eligibility. Betts was a five-tool talent, however, who had already made two All-Star teams, won two Gold Gloves, and finished second in an MVP vote.

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Devers, by comparison, is a two-tool player, but those tools are elite. He hits for average and power and could anchor any lineup. There are real questions about his defense at third base, though, after a disastrous 2020.

Not only did Devers lead AL third baseman in errors for the third straight year, his advanced metrics also took a beating. Whereas he once compensated for errant throws with excellent range, especially to his left, advanced metrics rated him below-average across the board, leading to questions about a possible position change to first base, which would not only hurt his value but put the Red Sox in the market for a third baseman.

So with all of that said, what would a potential offer look like? Something in the six-year, $100 million range feels fair, and would allow Devers to enter free agency at age 30.

Whether there's the will on either side to commit during these strange times is another question, but the framework is at least there to make a deal and ensure that when the Red Sox return to contention, Devers will be a part of it.