Red Sox extension candidate – Rafael Devers
Rafael Devers had a breakout year in 2019 when he hit .311 with a .916 OPS, 32 home runs and a league-leading 54 doubles. If the Red Sox are confident that he will continue to be an extra-base hitting machine, an extension could make sense.
The regression we saw from Devers last year should give the team some pause though. His production at the plate fell across the board with a .263/.310/.483 batting line. Devers still managed to pile up 28 extra-base hits in only 57 games but he struggled to get on base with his walk and strikeout rates trending in the wrong direction.
The Red Sox are expecting a bounce-back year from the young third baseman and they undoubtedly consider him a part of their core. He still has two more years of arbitration before he reaches free agency so there’s no urgency yet but this is around the time that teams start to consider an extension for their top talent.
However, Devers would be foolish to agree to an extension on the heels of a disappointing season. The sides had difficulty in negotiating his arbitration salary with the dispute nearly going before a panel before Devers eventually settled for a $4.58 million salary that’s well short of what he was projected for. If this is his current value, Devers would be wise to bet on himself to regain his 2019 form ahead of any extension talks.
The Red Sox should also be cautious about rushing into an extension with Devers. They shouldn’t worry about his bat but his glove is another story. Defense has always been an issue for Devers, who piles up errors at an alarming rate. Boston has little choice but to send him back out to the hot corner with J.D. Martinez holding down the designated hitter role. What happens in a year or two if Martinez leaves?
Top prospect Triston Casas could be knocking on the door to his major league debut by then, creating a logjam of corner infielders with Devers and Bobby Dalbec. With Devers being the weak link defensively, moving him to DH could be the solution.
Even with the expectation that the National League will permanently adapt the DH in the near future to expand the market, players who provide no defensive value aren’t going to get paid as much. Boston might believe they are getting a team-friendly deal if they extend Devers at his current market value but he could end up being overpaid if he eventually becomes a full-time DH.
There’s risk for both sides in extending Devers this spring. While there might be a middle ground that appeases everyone, it will be difficult to find considering all the uncertainty. This is a case where they should certainly have the discussion but neither side can be criticized if they ultimately decide to wait.