How Rafael Devers’ contract details affect Red Sox future
It’s official: The Red Sox have locked up Rafael Devers for over a decade
The Boston Red Sox have received plenty of backlash from their frustrated fanbase over their failures to retain homegrown talent in recent years. Occasionally, they manage to convince a young player to kick free agency down the road a few years by signing a team-friendly extension, but this ownership group had never handed out a massive long-term deal to retain one of their own superstars.
It’s time to finally give them some credit for stepping up with an extension for Rafael Devers that can be considered a win for both sides.
The team officially announced the 10-year, $313.5 million extension for Devers on Wednesday. When news of the deal broke last week, the expectation was that it would be an 11-year deal worth $331 million. Devers is still getting that full amount, which includes the $17.5 million for 2023 that was previously agreed upon to avoid arbitration.
Alex Speier of The Boston Globe provided a breakdown of the contract, which reveals why the Red Sox have separated this year’s salary from the extension years.
Devers will receive a $20 million signing bonus in addition to the $17.5 million he will earn for the 2023 season. His salary will increase to $27.5 million from 2024-2026 before bumping up to $31 million from 2027-2030. Devers will see his salary decline to $29 million in each of the final three years of the deal, which expires after the 2033 season.
There are also deferrals in the deal, which lower the average annual value for luxury tax purposes to $29 million starting in 2024. By deferring some money into the future, Boston creates a little extra wiggle room in the budget during the duration of Devers’ deal.
Since the luxury tax is calculated based on the average annual value of the contract, the Red Sox could have opened more room in the budget over the next decade if they rolled the $17.5 million that Devers is owed this year into the extension. Instead, they decided to keep this year separated.
While counting this year’s salary as part of the extension would lower the AAV to provide slightly more room in the budget in future seasons, the Red Sox determined that their short-term needs outweighed that benefit. By starting the extension next season, Devers will only count for $17.5 million for tax purposes this year. According to the Twitter account Red Sox Payroll, that leaves them approximately $16 million beneath the luxury tax threshold. More than half of that payroll space would be wiped out if the Devers extension kicked in this season.
The extra room in the budget to round out this year’s roster became even more vital when we learned that Trevor Story would miss a significant chunk of the upcoming season while recovering from elbow surgery. A timeline for his return is murky and the Red Sox aren’t banking on having him on the field at all this year.
Boston already needed a middle infielder to replace Xander Bogaerts. Now they need to replace Story. Even if there’s a chance that Story could return mid-season, he’s expected to miss too much time for the Sox to rely on their underwhelming internal options in the meantime. Boston desperately needs to pick from the scraps remaining in free agency or swing a trade to upgrade at both shortstop and second base. Finding a centerfielder after allowing Kiké Hernández to move to the infield is also an option. Either way, Boston needs to add a couple of players, and the extra room in the budget created by starting the Devers extension next year will open more possibilities to add without exceeding the tax.
Rafael Devers’ extension is a great deal for him and the Red Sox
Devers is getting what he wanted by being among the highest-paid players in the game. Counting this year’s salary, his $331 million total would be the sixth-highest contract in MLB history. He joins an elite group that includes only a dozen other players earning more than $30 million per season (based on the average annual value in terms of real money, not for luxury tax purposes).
It’s a historic deal for the franchise. It’s the longest contract and the most total dollars ever given out by the Red Sox. However, we can’t overlook that it’s also a massive win for Boston to lock up their cornerstone player with this deal.
Yes, a contract well north of $300 million is a ton of money, but it’s money well spent. While other teams are handing out mammoth long-term deals that last into the player’s late 30s, or in some cases, after they have hit the wrong side of 40, Devers is signed only through his age-36 season. He should still be a fairly productive player at that age. Even if he needs to transition into a full-time designated hitter at some point down the line, his contract shouldn’t become much of a burden, especially since we should assume the tax threshold will keep rising over the next decade.
Most players who have signed these massive contracts have done so after reaching free agency when they are already at or approaching 30 years old. They are getting paid based on past performance, not what we should expect them to contribute over the course of the contract. This is why these long-term deals have an alarmingly low success rate. The 26-year-old Devers still has plenty of prime years remaining, though, so the Red Sox shouldn’t be concerned about getting decent value as long as Devers remains relatively healthy.
There are no opt-outs in this contract, which assures the Red Sox won’t be put in the same position they found themselves in with Bogaerts. If we see a drastic increase in payrolls with player salaries exploding into a new stratosphere over the next decade, the Devers deal could end up being a bargain.
Devers doesn’t have a no-trade clause in this deal either, but he’ll automatically receive one once he reaches 10 years of major league service. For the next five years, though, he wouldn’t be able to block a trade. Not that the Red Sox should be entertaining the idea of trading their franchise player, but if things really go south in the next few years, it’s nice that they have the option.
The Red Sox have plenty of questions to address in their infield, but one position they won’t need to worry about is third base. Devers will be manning the hot corner for the foreseeable future, providing the Red Sox with a franchise player to build around.