Red Sox star Rafael Devers has made his case for an extension
Alright, perhaps such a scenario is unfeasible, but Devers’ massive two-homer performance to propel his team to their first Wild Card game in franchise history is only one of many signs that the Red Sox need to lock the 24-year-old third baseman up long term.
Since arriving in August of 2017, Devers has shown MVP levels of potential. His breakout 2019 season saw Devers become the youngest player in Red Sox history to record a 200+ hit season and only the 28th Red Sox player to do so. Devers led all American League hitters with 54 doubles, and his 359 total bases led all of MLB. Combined with his .311/.361/.555 slash line and a .916 OPS, Devers finished 12th in MVP voting, an impressive feat for any player, especially the then 22-year-old Devers.
Though Devers had a respectable 2020 season (.793 OPS, 11 home runs in 57 games), it was clear the absence of manager Alex Cora was detrimental to his play. Though an ankle injury surely contributed to his defensive woes last year (14 errors, -6 defensive runs saved), the bond that the two share is deep and to not have such a staunch supporter and motivator like Cora was a blow to Devers and certainly contributed to his mental lapses and uneven play on the defensive side of the ball.
Devers made it clear how much Cora meant to him when addressing the media shortly after the manager parted ways with the team following his suspension related to the sign-stealing scandal in Houston, according to The Boston Herald.
"“I felt really bad, obviously,” said Devers. “He’s been my manager and I loved playing for him. It’s unfortunate but I really was sad to hear that he wasn’t going to be our manager anymore…he’s like a father figure to me, especially in baseball. I’m really sad he’s not with us but it is what it is.”"
You may even remember that during Devers’ aforementioned 2019 campaign that he and Cora struck a deal — if Devers chased and whiffed at a pitch outside the strike zone, he had to pay his manager — conversely, any time Devers walked or homered, his manager would reward him with a gift card to Chipotle. Outside of baseball, such a practice could seem absurd. In Boston, it helped solidify a relationship and led Devers to make important adjustments to his swing that unlocked a truly dangerous hitter.
"“We know Raffy is capable of a lot more than he showed in 2020,” said chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “I think he knows that, everybody who has seen him knows that. You guys know the bond that Alex has with him and that is already something that we discussed.”"
That brings us to 2021. With Cora returning as manager, Devers has brought his game back to an elite level. After making a concentrated effort to reincorporate breathing techniques into his at bats, much like teammate J.D. Martinez, Devers slugged his way into his first All-Star selection. Along with mentor Xander Bogaerts, they became the first Red Sox teammates to start the All-Star Game together at third and short.
Devers wasn’t done making Red Sox history at the All Star Game. His 38 home runs this season put him one behind Hall of Famer Jim Rice for most in a Red Sox season before turning 25. Third on the list? Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived. Sandwiching yourself between two all-time greats isn’t a bad way to enamor yourself with Red Sox Nation.
Devers isn’t a free agent until 2024. I would understand the Red Sox going to arbitration with Devers until then, but after ownership failed to re-sign Jon Lester and Mookie Betts, should the Red Sox want to risk losing out on another franchise player due to free agency or budget issues?
Xander Bogaerts has a much written about opt-out after next season. This could be the last season we see J.D. Martinez in Boston. Bogaerts is a shortstop nearing 30 with questionable defensive metrics. Martinez is still productive, but he’s not the J.D. of 2018 anymore. Locking up Devers would be the first step in solidifying the next great core of the Boston Red Sox.
As mentioned above, Devers’ defensive ability has always been the most glaring hole in his game. The offensive ability that Devers’ possesses would be worth a sizable contract alone, but where do you play him if his defense continues to be inconsistent? If Devers doesn’t stick at third, would Bogaerts agree to move to there, much like Alex Rodriguez did? Could Devers move across the diamond to first? Where does that put Bobby Dalbec and top prospect Triston Casas? Devers could transition into being a designated hitter, but unless Martinez opts out, that’s likely not feasible until 2023. And what if the Red Sox re-sign Kyle Schwarber?
Regardless of all of those question marks, signing Rafael Devers to a long-term extension needs to be one of the highest items on the Red Sox to-do list. Devers has shown that he can be a generational talent. The Red Sox need to treat him like one.