Red Sox fans can’t blame Dave Dombrowski for Rafael Devers contract issues

Jun 8, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski watches batting practice prior to a game against the Chicago White Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 8, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski watches batting practice prior to a game against the Chicago White Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

Who at the Red Sox is to blame for Rafael Devers not having a long-term contract yet?

When examining the Rafael Devers contract situation, Boston Red Sox fans are quick to blame anyone and everyone for the fact that the team’s cherubic homegrown star is still without the lucrative, long-term deal he deserves.

There’s Chaim Bloom, the current President of Baseball Operations, plucked from the notoriously cheap, farm-focused Tampa Bay Rays. His underwhelming roster construction this season has turned him from a savvy genius to a fish out of water in the court of public opinion.

And there’s Dave Dombrowski, his predecessor who spends bigger and better than maybe any other seasoned executive. He’s built several postseason and World Series teams, including the 2018 Sox squad that won a franchise-record 108 regular-season games and their fourth championship in fifteen years. He’s currently poised to end the Philadelphia Phillies’ postseason drought, the longest in the National League. He did so by convincing their ownership to exceed the luxury tax for the first time in franchise history.

With Dombrowski’s track record of big spending and the fact that he was at the helm when Devers debuted in 2017, many would like to blame him for the failure to lock in Devers.

That’s not exactly fair.

Signing Devers after the 2017 season would have been premature at the time, but genius in retrospect. He homered 10 times in 58 games that first year, and then made franchise history in their short-lived postseason run. But he was also a 20-year-old kid who made a whopping 14 errors in only 56 games at third base. The sample size was too small to know what would come. Instead, Dombrowski signed JD Martinez to a five-year deal.

Devers’ 2018 season was good, but not great. He homered 21 times but made 24 errors in 116 games at third. He continued to hit well in his second consecutive postseason, going 10-for-37 between the ALDS and World Series, but he only homered once. The Sox offered Mookie Betts an extension that fall, but when he turned it down, they extended Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi, instead.

2019 was Devers’ breakout season. He led the league with 54 doubles and compiled more total bases than any other player. He played a career-high 156 games and put up personal bests across the board. That fall would have been the time to pay him, but by then, Dombrowski was gone, unceremoniously fired at Fenway as the Sox played a September Sunday Night Baseball game against the Yankees.

Over 321 games since Opening Day 2020, Devers is hitting .283/.347/.533 with 86 doubles, home runs, 201 runs scored, and 221 driven in. Aside from the small sample size of 2020, he’s lowered his strikeout rate significantly and homered more in the years since Dombrowski’s departure. He’s unrecognizable at third base, too, and that’s a very good thing.

Hindsight is 20/20. In theory, Dombrowski probably should’ve signed Betts and Devers after the 2018 season, rather than paying Sale and Eovaldi, though at least the latter has been mostly solid. At least they still have a chance to salvage the Devers situation.

External factors have also strongly influenced the public outcry. As Alex Speier of the Boston Globe (subscription required) noted, the market has shifted in a new direction in the five years since Devers’ debut. In his first couple of seasons, the norm for superstar contracts was how Bryce Harper and Manny Machado signed: reaching free agency and then getting the bag. The Julio Rodriguez, Wander Franco, and Fernando Tatis Jr. extensions are the new trend of immediately locking in young stars for most, if not all of their careers. At only 25 years old, Devers is somehow too young for the former and too old for the latter.

While Brian Cashman is set to continue his reign of mediocrity with the New York Yankees, the Red Sox have gone through six general managers (including interim), plus Dombrowski and now Bloom, since Theo Epstein departed in 2005. Neither Dombrowski, nor Bloom lowballed and traded Jon Lester, but it was Dombrowski’s job to replace him, and he attempted to do so by signing David Price. When Dombrowski failed to come to terms with Betts, it was Bloom’s job to trade him (and get rid of some of Price’s contract). And it’s Bloom who offered Devers an insulting contract last spring akin to the one the Atlanta Braves gave Matt Olson, which is at least $100M too low.

Related Story. Rafael Devers blasts Red Sox contract negotiations. light

While it’s fair to have gripes with both POBOs, the common thread isn’t them or the many GMs, but the ownership group that’s hired and fired them. How else to explain the pattern of undervaluing and unloading homegrown stars while their wandering eyes repeatedly lead to failed contracts with overpriced free agents? If that had been a Ben Cherington issue or a Dombrowski issue, then it wouldn’t have kept happening long after their dismissals.

The player Devers was in 2018 is not the same one we know now. It’s up to the people who were here before, during, and after Dombrowski to wake up and pull out the checkbook.