Red Sox: Rafael Devers’ defensive improvements should change extension negotiations

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 09: Rafael Devers #11 of the Boston Red Sox throws to first base during the game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 9, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 09: Rafael Devers #11 of the Boston Red Sox throws to first base during the game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on April 9, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images) /

Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers is showing progress in the field

The Boston Red Sox remain adamant that they view Rafael Devers as a pillar of the organization, yet they were unable to lock him up with a long-term extension this spring. Negotiations will likely be tabled until after the season when the star third baseman will be only a year away from potentially testing free agency.

While many are clamoring for the Red Sox to write Devers a blank check for anything he wants simply to avoid reliving the nightmare scenario of losing another homegrown superstar, that’s obviously not how negotiations work. There’s a wide gap between how the Red Sox value Devers and how the player values himself, with this discrepancy boiling down to one key factor. Devers wants to be paid as one of the top position players in the game but the team wants further assurances that he’ll continue covering a position on the field for the majority of his next contract.

Based on his previous track record, it’s fair to question if Devers can handle the hot corner long-term. His 22 errors were the fifth-most in the majors and the most among third basemen last season. He was tied for last in the majors at his position with -13 defensive runs saved and his -5.5 UZR ranked 12th out of the 14 major league third basement with 800+ innings at the position, per FanGraphs. Devers also tied for last among qualified third baseman with -13 Outs Above Average, per Baseball Savant.

Last year was hardly an outlier, as Devers has rated poorly in these metrics for essentially his entire career. There were serious concerns about whether or not Devers could stick at the position or if his defensive deficiencies would push him into the designated hitter role at some point in the relatively near future. No team is going to pay $30+ million per year for a full-time DH. As productive as Devers has been at the plate, he can’t be considered worthy of that type of contract if he provides zero defensive value. Even if he were to move across the diamond to first base, his value would decline compared to top-tier third basemen.

His case for cashing in with a massive contract is trending more favorably in his direction based on the early returns this season. Devers has made significant progress in the field, which could calm any concerns about locking him in as the third baseman of the foreseeable future if he can sustain this improvement.

Through 28 games at third base this season, Devers has only committed one error. He has produced -1 DRS, 0.5 UZR and 1 OAA.

Those metrics are hardly elite. In fact, they scream average. We aren’t looking for Devers to morph into a Gold Glove candidate though. Bringing an average glove to his position would be a tremendous upgrade from being the worst third baseman in the majors.

Devers has the physical tools to be a solid third baseman. His issues have mostly been mental miscues, lapses in concentration or poor decision making. Those are all correctable problems and it appears that Devers has put in the work to make a noticeable improvement.

He has a tendency to make mistakes in bunches, going through a funk in much the same way that a hitter can temporarily fall into a slump. It’s entirely possible that Devers could rack up a handful of errors within a week, tanking his metrics across the board.

The early returns are encouraging but we need to see if Devers can keep this up for the full season. Devers isn’t interested in discussing his contract during the season, providing a convenient excuse for the team to take a wait-and-see approach. If he proves he has put his defensive woes behind him, at least enough to where he’s no longer a liability in the field, the Red Sox shouldn’t hesitant to give him the contract extension offer he deserves.

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