Rafael Devers and the Red Sox agreed to a one-year, $4.575 million deal Friday, avoiding salary arbitration.
Absent an agreement, the two sides faced a Friday deadline to submit proposed 2021 salaries for the purposes of an arbitration hearing. Such an outcome certainly seemed possible given that Devers and the Red Sox did not reach an agreement prior to the 2020 season (the Red Sox unilaterally set his salary at $692,500 in his final year before he was arbitration-eligible). Moreover, Devers was the only one of five arbitration-eligible Red Sox this year not to settle prior to the December deadline for teams to tender contracts to players on their 40-man roster.
An arbitration hearing would have been complicated in the wake of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, with a considerable range of outcomes. It’s unclear whether arbitration cases this year will be based on the 60-game season or whether statistics will be extrapolated over 162 games.
As such, MLBTradeRumors.com projected that Devers could make either $3.4 million (if 2020 statistics were taken at face value) or $6.3 million (if statistics were projected over 162 games). The agreement between the Sox and the third baseman landed just short of the halfway point between those two figures.
Devers, 24, hit .263/.310/.483 with 11 homers and 43 RBIs in 2020 — a pace that would have yielded 30 homers and 116 RBIs over a 162-game season. He started slowly while regaining his timing after the quick ramp-up to the season (.174/.230/.319 through 18 games) before hitting .301/.345/.552 with nine homers and 22 extra-base hits in his final 39 games.
He struggled defensively, making a major league-leading 14 errors while showing diminished range, though some of those struggles may have been related to an ankle injury that he suffered in August.
Though his 2020 performance represented a step down from his breakthrough 2019 season, his overall numbers the last two years place him among the top power threats in the game. His 118 extra-base hits since the start of 2019 are easily the most in baseball, and his .536 slugging mark (on top of a .298 average and .348 OBP) ranks 10th in the majors.
Since his big league debut in July 2017, Devers has produced a .279/.332/.498 line with 74 homers. He has the third-most homers in Red Sox history through his age-23 season, trailing only Ted Williams (127) and Tony Conigliaro (104).
Devers is currently in Tampa to prepare for the season. His agent, Nelson Montes de Oca, recently said that he and the team were focused simply on a 2021 agreement rather than a multiyear deal.
“Right now he’s just concentrated on getting in shape for 2021 and put in the best season and helping the team win,” Montes de Oca said last week. “We haven’t talked or thought about any multiyear deal at this point.”
The two sides could revisit that stance prior to the season, but for now, Devers can concentrate on his preparations, and the Red Sox have gained an additional measure of payroll certainty as they explore additions to round out their roster.
A Red Sox free-agent target came off the board on Friday night, with Corey Kluber reportedly reaching agreement with the Yankees. The Red Sox had been interested in the 34-year-old, a two-time Cy Young winner who was among the most dominant pitchers in baseball from 2014-18 but missed most of the last two years with injuries, the most recent a torn muscle in his right shoulder that limited him to one inning in 2020.
Even so, Kluber looked healthy in a recent showcase for scouts, working at 87-90 miles per hour in a bullpen session in front of more than two dozen teams in Florida on Wednesday. While the Sox had been hopeful that Kluber — who lives in the Boston area in the offseason — might be interested in signing with them, he instead reached agreement pending a physical with the Yankees — whose pitching coach, Matt Blake, worked with Kluber in Cleveland, and whose director of health and performance, Eric Cressey, has been in charge of the pitcher’s rehab.