Why Red Sox shouldn't feel urgency to sign Rafael Devers this winter

Tomase: Why Red Sox shouldn't feel urgency to sign Devers this winter originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Piling on Red Sox management is a game as old as Pesky's Pole, and it's often just as easy a poke.

Blasting the front office for inaction or overreaction or malefaction paves the safest path to likes and retweets, but sometimes at the cost of critical thinking -- as in the case of Rafael Devers.

The slugging third baseman comprises one half of the most pressing issue facing the organization this winter. First comes signing Xander Bogaerts, ideally before he opts out and enters and free agency, and next comes Devers, who's in line for a whatever-it-takes-to-keep-him extension as he enters his final year of arbitration eligibility.

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Chaim Bloom, Alex Cora, and Sam Kennedy spoke of urgency at Thursday's season-ending post-mortem, particularly as it relates to the two homegrown stars. Kennedy was asked if he'd be disappointed to open spring training without either or both of them.

"I'm guilty of falling in love with our players, particularly our homegrown players," he said. "Of course I would be disappointed. You've got Xander Bogaerts and Raffy Devers, two of the most important people in the history of this organization, so I hope we can find a way to not only bring them back, or keep them here and extend them, but have a team around them that is built for success in October. That's the key thing here."

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Putting aside the wisdom of potentially overpaying two members of a last-place team to a degree that hampers your ability to improve this winter, there's a more immediate question: why rush to pay Devers at all?

The concept of team control has morphed in recent years. Whereas once a player was yours for six years, now a rise in arbitration salaries might guarantee him only four or five. Even the big-market Red Sox haven't been immune, shipping productive outfielder Hunter Renfroe to the Brewers last winter for Jackie Bradley Jr. and prospects in part because they believed Renfroe represented a better bargain at $3.1 million than $7.65 million. Needless to say, if they could undo that trade, they would.

The more famous example with direct parallels to Devers would of course be Mookie Betts, the MVP outfielder Bloom traded to the Dodgers as his first major order of business in 2020. Betts still had a year of arbitration remaining, but the Red Sox didn't want him to walk in free agency for nothing, so they got what they could, which turned out to be an underwhelming package centered around Alex Verdugo.

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They insist they will not find themselves in a similar position with Devers anytime soon. "That isn't on our radar," Bloom said, and we'll take him at his word.

But that simply means they needn't trade him this winter if they can't agree to an extension. Paying him $20 million or thereabouts in arbitration might even be good business, and here's why.

Lost amidst all of our shrieking about how they must do whatever it takes to keep the 25-year-old All-Star is this: he's not coming off a particularly dominant season. After a monster first half that saw him hit .324 with 22 homers, Devers batted just .249 with five homers and a .713 OPS.

He was undone by a lingering hamstring injury that made running the bases look downright painful, and though he finally rediscovered his stroke in September, his final numbers didn't exactly pop: .295-27-88-.879. Really good, but not $350 million of transcendence.

That would summarize his career as a whole, if we're being honest. Among active players, Devers' 15.2 WAR through age 25 ranks 28th, between Ozzie Albies (15.3) and Freddie Freeman (15.0). All-Stars, yes, but $300 million players, no. Betts, by comparison, was a 35-WAR player at that age.

The Red Sox still don't know exactly what Devers is long-term. His defense at third base improved tremendously, but at six feet and 240 pounds, he's a prime candidate for more of the back and leg injuries that slowed him this year. If Devers is already showing signs of that at 25, how smoothly will he age?

Maybe the answer is silkily and like butter, in which case, it's good to be the Red Sox. Since Devers has not demonstrated an inclination to accept anything less than full market value, it's unclear how much the team would even save by signing him now. If Kennedy and Co. really want him, they can afford to pay him next winter. As Lou Merloni noted on a recent "Talkin' Baseball", re-signing Bogaerts this winter could be enough to assuage Devers's concerns entering his final season before free agency. The Red Sox can tell him, "We stepped up for your buddy, and we'll step up for you, too, so just go out and have a great season."

There's risk in letting Devers reach free agency, of course. He could leave. But with so many holes to fill this winter and a finite number of dollars to do it, the team's best course of action might simply be to wait -- no matter how much the rest of us yell and scream.