FORT MYERS, Fla. — With Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and Rafael Devers at third base, the Red Sox will feature an elite combination on the left side of their infield in 2022.
Both have been identified as cornerstone players who will reside in the heart of the order and have considerable sway over how this season unfolds. A question hovers, however, about how long their partnership — both with each other and with the Red Sox — will last.
Devers is eligible for free agency after the 2023 season. Bogaerts, who is entering the third year of his six-year, $120 million deal, has the ability to opt out of that team-friendly contract (signed at the start of the 2019 season) at year’s end.
Both players said they have held discussions about long-term deals with the Red Sox during the late stages of spring training. Both said they did not expect a deal to come together prior to Opening Day, and that they would not continue conversations during the season.
Devers, 25, is coming off an All-Star campaign in which he hit .279/.352/.538 with a career-high 38 homers in 156 games. In 11 postseason games, despite a right forearm injury that often left him unable to hold the bat with two hands, he hit .296/.392/.636 with 5 homers.
He was arbitration-eligible for the second time entering this season, but avoided a potentially contentious prospect by reaching an 11th-hour agreement on an $11.2 million salary.
In the days that followed, the Sox engaged with Devers and his agent about the possibility of a long-term deal.
“We had a conversation with the team,” Devers said through translator Carlos Villoria-Benítez. “We didn’t get to anything. But I still have one more year. I have this one and the next year. And I’m ready to play with Boston, with the Red Sox. We’re not going to talk about it [more] this spring. Let’s see how this season goes.”
However, major league sources suggested that the door hasn’t been closed to more discussions between Devers and the team prior to the season. Still, those sources acknowledged, the size of the gap is such that the likelihood of a deal before the season kicks off Thursday in New York is remote.
Bogaerts, 29, a three-time All-Star, has emerged as one of the most consistently productive players in the game. He hit .295/.370/.493 with 23 homers in 144 games last year, and since 2018, he owns a .299/.371/.523 line while ranking sixth among position players with 18.8 Wins Above Replacement (per Fangraphs). He’s entering his 10th season.
Yet he does so with some element of uncertainty about his future. In contrast to the talks in spring training of 2019 that built momentum toward a deal in the first days of that season, this year has not seen progress that would suggest a new deal.
“I don’t think anything will get done in the couple days before the season,” said Bogaerts. “It was much different compared to last time when things were heating up. Now they’re not. I don’t think anything will happen, if you ask me.
“But you never know. In ‘19, no one thought anything was going to happen and then something happened.”
In some respects, the compressed spring training timetable has made it a challenging environment for talks. Not only have the Sox been scrambling to round out their roster since the end of the MLB-imposed lockout March 10, they also had to navigate negotiations with five arbitration-eligible players (including Devers) while running a condensed camp.
That confluence of elements transformed the typically leisurely pace of the spring — often conducive to extension negotiations — into a scramble. This spring, there have been just two extensions signed that bought out players’ free agent seasons — an eight-year, $160 million deal between Atlanta and Matt Olson immediately after a trade to acquire the first baseman, and a six-year, $70 million deal between Ryan McMahon and the Rockies.
Red Sox officials declined to go into details about the status of talks or whether they would be revisited.
“I’m not going to comment about negotiations with any player,” said Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy. “But I would say that — and we’ve been consistent about this — these are cornerstone, homegrown players that just mean so much to the franchise.”
“It’s not something I’d like to discuss in detail just out of respect to the individuals,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said recently. “But [extending them is] something that we hope to do, and like everything else that we do, we want to do it in a way where it’s something that works really well both for the individual player and for the organization.”
Bogaerts and Devers are not alone in facing future questions. Catcher Christian Vázquez (the longest-tenured player in the organization), DH J.D. Martinez, center fielder Kiké Hernández, and starter Nate Eovaldi (among others) will be eligible for free agency after the year; all have expressed interest in staying with the Red Sox.
Despite those unresolved elements, manager Alex Cora expressed appreciation that contract questions have not intruded into the preparation work of his team. He contrasted this spring with that of 2019 when, coming off the World Series, Red Sox players were constantly discussing transactions occurring around the game and what it might mean for their own futures.
That spring, members of the organization grew concerned that the team’s focus was not in the right place. This year, Cora said, the matter has not been an issue.
“I think it’s a lot different than that situation in ‘19,” said Cora. “I haven’t heard [contract talk]. I haven’t seen it. The way they act, there’s some unfinished business here. That’s the attitude they brought in.”