Red Sox approaching a tipping point on Rafael Devers’ contract
Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto and Rafael Devers of the Boston Red Sox have a common thread and are usually part of a select group titled “The best young hitters in baseball.” Both are young by baseball standards, with Soto being 23-years-old and fellow lefty slugger Devers two years older. Both have accrued four years of service time and will be in the arbitration jackpot years.
Soto recently rejected a 13-year contract for $350 million as his agent, Scott Boras, will go year-to-year. Just what Soto does or does not do is linked to Devers, and if that contract is rejected, it gives some insight into what the Red Sox may have to put on the table to get Devers. Other contracts have been inked, such as Fernando Tatis Jr., Mookie Betts, Francisco Lindor, and Corey Seager, in the Nationals’ range offer to Soto. Soto may eventually be in the $500 million range.
Examining the players mentioned, Devers is similar statistically – at least in offense. The contracts provide a template for just what the Red Sox will have to deliver to get Devers to be a Red Sox for life. The way the market is trending, $300 million may be a bargain.
What becomes apparent is the length of the contract and the dollars per year. The AAV (Annual Average Value) for Devers should comfortably exceed $30 million per year. The Red Sox organization has displayed a reluctance to hand out contacts that have length and dollars, and this has been firmly etched with Chaim Bloom ostensibly running the show.
Betts is gone, and one can debate that even if the Red Sox exceeded the Dodgers $400 million, the talented Betts wanted a path out of Boston. The Red Sox management and the team have managed to survive that loss, and the public relations consequences have been minimal. Will the ardent fan base be as forgiving if Devers departs?
There are two scenarios with Devers, and it is simplistic – you pay him, or you don’t. The Red Sox also have the possibility, as with Betts, to find a trading partner and wish Devers well wherever he may go. Certainly, a part of the don’t where you do get some compensation. The Mets are now the team collecting large salaries, which remains omnipresent when looking for trades.
The pre-Bloom era demonstrated no natural reluctance to sign extensive contracts with enormous cash outlays. That was part of four championships’ success: willingness to spend, accept dead money and scrap contracts that were not up to expectations. The new model has reduced financial exposure, and mistakes such as Garrett Richards do far less damage than David Prices’ deal.
The Red Sox have made overtures to Devers, but the seriousness is debatable. I reflect back to the contract issue with Jon Lester where management made an offer that was eventually about one-half of what Lester signed for. There are starting points for negotiations that are not insulting.
I will not join the mob in vilifying management if Devers is traded or the team waits for the calendar to make him a free agent. Part of my reasoning is Devers is a bat, albeit one of the best, and that aspect of the team is replaceable either for less money or improvement elsewhere in the lineup. I picture Devers as a designated hitter in waiting.
The issue of long-term contracts is a graveyard of bad decisions. The longer the contract, the greater the possibility of injury, complacency, and performance degradation. And Devers, I would suspect, would have a ten-year contract and possibly longer.
The Red Sox could surprise and pivot back to their days of free-spending, especially with a favorable new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and the shrinkage of dead money allowing for a shade more flexibility. I sincerely doubt the Red Sox organization is running week to week on their financial obligations.
The possible merry-go-round reluctance to pay for primarily in-house talent can send a wrong message. Devers is acutely aware of the Betts situation and possibly Xander Bogaerts. A message that we have adopted the methods of a host of major league teams by rewarding exceptional talent with a ticket out of town.
If the lockout is settled in the next few weeks, the Devers situation may surface with the usual flurry of trade rumors and speculation. My speculation is I would say favorable odds exist for Devers to be traded if the team flounders or quite possibly if they don’t.