Why giving Rafael Devers a 10-year megabucks contract just doesn't make sense

·6 min read

Tomase: Why a 10-year megadeal for Devers just doesn't make sense originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

If there was a safe bet for a 10-year contract, it was Bryce Harper. How many 26-year-old MVPs hit the market at the height of their powers? The Phillies stole him from the rival Nationals in 2019 for 13 years and $330 million, and then promptly watched Washington win a World Series without him.

Harper claimed another MVP in 2021, but then suffered an elbow injury that has limited him to DH and will probably require Tommy John surgery. He's currently waiting to remove pins from a broken thumb and hopes to return in September. He hasn't played since June.

If there was a safer bet for a 10-year contract, it was Mike Trout. When he signed his record 12-year, $426.5 million extension in March of 2019 at age 27, he had already won two MVP awards and finished second four times. The greatest player of this generation could make a case for all-time status if he retired on the spot.

He won another MVP in year one of that deal, but since has missed more than 150 games with assorted injuries, the most serious a back condition that could impact the rest of his career. He hasn't played more than 140 games since 2016.

If there was a safest bet for a 10-year contract, it was Fernando Tatis Jr. When the Padres signed him to a 14-year, $340 million extension in 2021, the electrifying shortstop was only 22 years old, young enough that it might not even be his last contract.

All he has done since is suffer a shoulder injury that forced a move to the outfield, and then a broken wrist that has so far cost him all of 2022.

Harper, Trout and Tatis are just three of the 10 players on contracts of at least 10 years, and they're cautionary tales for what happens when a team commits not just massive dollars, but years, to a single talent. So much can go wrong, with little recourse to make it right.

The Marlins didn't pay Giancarlo Stanton $325 million to become a full-time DH before his 30th birthday. The Padres didn't drop $300 million on Manny Machado for him to fall between Kyle Schwarber and Bryan Reynolds on the OPS list over the first four years of the deal. The Mets didn't give Francisco Lindor $341 million to hit .230 in his debut season. But they all did anyway.

Heck, the Rays probably thought they'd get more out of Wander Franco right out of the chutes after signing him for 11 years and $182 million than a broke hamate bone and .700 OPS, though it's hard to imagine they'll regret that deal in the long run.

And this brings us exactly to where you think it does: Rafael Devers.

The 25-year-old All-Star third baseman is barreling toward free agency after next season, and there's considerable pressure on the Red Sox to sign him to an extension. They reportedly offered the same deal this spring that the Braves gave first baseman Matt Olson -- eight years and $168 million -- and Devers understandably said no. He's three years younger and plays a more impactful defensive position, at least for now.

He has steadfastly maintained that he knows his value, and it's safe to say he believes it's more than $300 million. For all of Devers' offensive greatness, such an offer strikes me as bad business, and if we strip away the anger over a disappointing 2022 season and the "what are they doing!??!" emotion of a lackluster MLB trade deadline, I suspect the Red Sox will reach the same conclusion.

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Does the 240-pound Devers strike you as a candidate for longevity? He's already experiencing back issues at age 25. How much longer will he be a third baseman? For all of his defensive improvements, he's still on pace to lead AL third basemen in errors for the fifth straight season.

And most importantly, is he actually an unstoppable force on offense? He hammers the ball, but he has yet to hit 40 homers or post a 1.000 OPS or top 5.5 WAR. His most similar batting comparison at this age was former A's standout Eric Chavez, a six-time Gold Glover who never made an All-Star team.

That's not to denigrate Devers' considerable skills. He's a legitimate All-Star. It's just to say that he should not be handed a blank check.

If the Red Sox want to sign Devers to a 10-year deal, it should be closer to the $225 million the Reds gave Joey Votto than the $365 million the Dodgers showered on Mookie Betts. The problem is that they've backed themselves into a corner from a talent standpoint, with Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Nathan Eovaldi likely coming off the books and no obvious replacements to duplicate their production.

In a world without a ravenous media and rabid fan base, the Red Sox would make Devers their last, best offer this fall and if he declines, trade him for legitimate young talent in a deal they absolutely can't screw up. Whether they have the stomach for the PR fallout remains to be seen. I suspect that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom does; ownership, not so much.

In any event, their solution at third base could be to re-sign Bogaerts and shift him off shortstop, which will happen at some point soon anyway, especially with his 30th birthday looming in October. They could also wait it out, let Devers reach free agency, and then hope a $300 million market doesn't materialize for the young slugger. But that's really playing with fire.

Right now, we're so angry at the state of the organization that we don't trust baseball operations to replace the club's best young player. I get that. The lack of faith is justified. But it's worth noting that of the 10 players currently on 10-year deals, not only is Betts the only one to win a World Series, he has played in more postseason games since signing his deal (30) than the rest of them combined (20).

The Red Sox have taken the concept of financial flexibility to absurd levels -- flexibility cannot be an end unto itself -- but massive deals tend to hamstring a franchise. The Red Sox, for instance, made David Price the highest-paid pitcher in history in 2016 and then four years later took less from the Dodgers for Betts just so they could dump half of Price's remaining salary. The same year Price signed, the Yankees finally extricated themselves from long-term deals for Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez that had kept them in 85-win purgatory for four years, paving the way for the birth of the Baby Bombers.

A responsibly run big-market club can afford one or two massive contracts, but even the richest organizations have their limits. There's a number that makes sense for Devers to stay in a Red Sox uniform, but it's closer to $200 million than $300 million, and I doubt he takes it.