Red Sox: Rafael Devers open to extension talks when the time is right
Is now the time for the Boston Red Sox to extend Rafael Devers?
The Boston Red Sox certainly want to keep Rafael Devers around for a long time and the feeling appears to be mutual but that doesn’t necessarily mean either side needs to rush into a contract extension.
Devers won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2023 season but that hasn’t stopped fans from speculating that he could be an extension candidate this spring. The young third baseman was asked by the media on Thursday if the team had approached him about a long-term deal. While he confirmed that conversation hasn’t happened yet, he left the door open for the possibility down the line.
"“Yeah, obviously I’m open to having those discussions when it’s right to have them,” said Devers. “Obviously, this is the team that gave me my first chance to be a big leaguer so obviously, I have a lot of love for this ball club and this organization.”"
This essentially rules out an agreement being reached by Opening Day but that’s not necessary a bad thing for either side. The key is that Devers is open to having this discussion when the time is right – but that time is not right now.
Devers went through the arbitration process for the first time this winter. The sides struggled to find common ground on a price, nearly sending the decision to an arbitration panel before Devers ultimately settled for a $4.575 million deal for the 2021 season.
Baseball players are vastly underpaid early in their career and gradually earn more through each stage of the arbitration process but even for a first-year eligible player, the Red Sox are getting a bargain for a player with his upside. For comparison, the Phillies gave Rhys Hoskins $4.8 million and Luke Voit received $4.7 million from the Yankees. Devers has a career 6.5 WAR that easily tops both of them. He’s also several years younger with more long-term upside.
Unfortunately for Devers, he picked the wrong time to have a down season. He would have been paid more if he entered arbitration following his breakout 2019 season when he hit .311 with a .916 OPS, 32 home runs and 115 RBI. The hiatus created when the pandemic interrupted training camp last spring was a roadblock that Devers struggled to overcome, leading to a disappointing .263/.310/.483 slash line in the shortened season.
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Last year’s regression, while almost certainly a temporary setback, reduced his leverage at the negotiating table during arbitration talks. If this is his current value, why would Devers be interested in locking himself into a long-term deal? He’ll want to bounce back with the star-caliber production he was building on two years ago to restore his value first.
Fans are clamoring for the Red Sox to secure Devers as a part of their future but many of the reasons why they want the team to strike now are the same reasons why Devers would balk at any offer he receives this spring.
If the Red Sox were to optimistically assume Devers will get back on track and pay him accordingly, that might peak his interest. Boston wouldn’t be getting a team-friendly bargain though, in which case, what’s the rush?
The Red Sox might also prefer to wait and see if Devers actually does return to form at the plate this season before making a significant investment. They will also need to see improvement from Devers in the field. They can’t pay him as if he’s a star third baseman if he isn’t destined to stick at the position. His value would be more limited if he’s forced to move to first base in a couple of years and he might end up being massively overpaid if he ends up as a DH.
There’s clearly mutual interest in both sides making this partnership last for the foreseeable future but it’s better for both sides to wait. If Devers has a career year, the sides can discuss a deal that pays Devers a fair salary while the team can take comfort that they are making a worthwhile investment.