LAS VEGAS — As the Red Sox wrestle with the reality of Xander Bogaerts’s free agency and the roster uncertainty resulting from it, a question looms: Will they face a repeat of this situation in a year, when Rafael Devers could become eligible for the free agent market?
For obvious reasons, they would like to avoid such a scenario. Devers is a lineup force, a two-time All-Star who turned 26 last month, an age that suggests plenty of peak years ahead. The Sox want him to stay in Boston as a franchise cornerstone, and they plan to pursue a long-term deal this winter.
“With both [Bogaerts and Devers], if it’s a player you want to retain, you would always prefer not to go through [free agency],” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said from the GM Meetings here. “Sometimes the mutual desire’s there. That doesn’t mean that you can snap your fingers and find that path.
“We don’t want to go through that with Raffy. We would love for him to be here. That’s something we’re going to work on. There are instances we’ve talked about, sometimes you can find that path early on. Sometimes the player needs to go out to free agency before you find that path.
“The bottom line is we hope to find it. And obviously with Raffy, if we’re able to find it this winter, that would be tremendous. We’re working on it.”
What does that mean?
According to multiple sources familiar with the talks between Devers and the Sox, the sides are not close to an agreement but expect to remain engaged this offseason. Assistant general manager Eddie Romero visited Devers on his birthday in the Dominican Republic, where Romero was conducting the Red Sox’ instructional league program.
There are multiple reports that the Red Sox made a revised offer to Devers this offseason, one in excess of their spring training offer that used Matt Olson’s eight-year, $168 million deal as a framing mechanism and quickly became a non-starter. The Globe has not confirmed those reports.
The Sox have been clear with Devers about their interest in keeping him well beyond his eligibility for free agency. Devers, likewise, has made clear his interest in remaining with the team.
That said, the framework of a deal is challenging. Devers’s age and his All-Star track record suggest the potential for huge earnings. His projected offensive value, for instance, likely exceeds that of Francisco Lindor, who signed a 10-year, $341 million extension after being traded to the Mets that covers his age-28-37 seasons.
And Devers has the sort of elite bat speed and offensive impact that make it easy to foresee another decade in the middle of a lineup, even as it’s likely that he eventually moves from third base to first to DH over the life of his next contract.
That said, the $300-million-plus deals in the last five years for position players have been for shortstops (Lindor, Corey Seager, Fernando Tatis Jr.), Gold Glove corners (Manny Machado, Mookie Betts), offensive prodigies (Bryce Harper), or someone from the planet Krypton (Mike Trout).
Machado’s 10-year, $300 million deal and Nolan Arenado’s nine-year, $275 million deal are the current standards for young third basemen. Both are perennial Gold Glovers whose defensive value exceeds that of Devers and whose offensive profiles were similar to that of Devers at the time they signed — Arenado as an extension one year prior to free agency after his age-28 year, Machado as a free agent after his age-25 season.
This year, Austin Riley reached agreement with Atlanta on a 10-year, $212 million deal that valued his free agent seasons at $22 million per — a discounted rate that reflected the fact that the 25-year-old gained security when he was three full seasons from free agency. There’s no question that Devers’s free agent years will be valued well above that, but how much and for how many years?
Those are questions that Devers and the Sox have yet to answer but plan to keep exploring. There is a clock for those conversations, albeit one that isn’t close to expiring. As was the case in 2022, Devers has said he has no interest in discussing a contract during the 2023 season if he and the Sox do not reach agreement on an extension by the end of spring training.
That leaves the club roughly 4½ months to figure out whether it can find a path forward with Devers prior to the 2023 season or if — as is the case now with Bogaerts — the pursuit of a long-term deal will have to occur next offseason, at a time when Devers could be free to talk to all 30 teams.