Rafael Devers is 26 years old and one year from free agency. In the wake of Xander Bogaerts’s departure for the Padres on an 11-year, $280 million deal, the Red Sox face a tidal wave of fan backlash if they prove unable to keep Devers beyond the 2023 season.
All offseason, the Red Sox have described an extension for Devers as a key goal. They already have made at least one offer to Devers and plan to continue to negotiate with him.
“[Extending Devers is] something we very much have wanted to do. We very much continue to hope to be able to extend,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom reiterated on Tuesday. “We’re going to keep trying and we’re really hopeful we can align.”
How realistic is that?
Around the industry, there’s plenty of fascination about what the future holds for Devers and the Red Sox. Unless the Red Sox work out a long-term deal with their star third baseman, Devers is poised to reach the market as a middle-of-the-order force entering his age-27 season.
The last four years, Devers has posted a .292/.352/.532 line with 264 extra-base hits (most in the majors), 108 home runs (ninth), and a 131 OPS+ (20th). In 2022, he appeared to be on his way to a career-best campaign offensively and defensively until a hamstring injury sidelined and then hindered him the final two months. Still, he finished with a .295/.358/.521 line and 27 homers.
Devers’s proximity to the market comes at a time when spending has exploded, with teams guaranteeing nearly $3.5 billion to free agents this offseason, headlined by the megadeals for Aaron Judge ($360 million), Carlos Correa ($350 million), Trea Turner ($300 million), and Bogaerts.
Where does that leave Devers with the Red Sox?
“There is not a player who’s had better leverage in a big market than Devers — it’s bigger than Judge, because of his age,” said one agent who does not represent Devers. “[The Red Sox are] looking at each other around the table right now and saying, ‘This is not great.’ . . . No matter what [his price] is, Boston has to pay it.”
Any hopes the Red Sox might have had of doing a deal with Devers that guarantees him less than $300 million seem unlikely based on a survey of evaluators and agents. That despite Devers being viewed as a lesser all-around talent than Manny Machado — an elite defensive third baseman and middle-of-the-order hitter — was when he signed a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres at age 26 after the 2018 season.
But even with the acknowledged possibility that Devers will move to first base or designated hitter during his next contract, the market has moved north since Machado and since Nolan Arenado signed an eight-year, $260 million deal with the Rockies when he was one year from free agency. Devers is close enough to free agency that a discount from his anticipated market value would be unlikely. With that in mind, a National League evaluator pegged Devers’s next contract as being at a minimum “on the Machado scale.”
While the Sox have stated repeatedly a desire to extend Devers this offseason, the clock is ticking. Major league sources have said that Devers will not entertain negotiations with the Red Sox during the season, and that any deal would have to be reached by the end of spring training.
What if the Sox and Devers do not reach an agreement?
During an end-of-season news conference, Bloom said that trading Devers was “not on our radar” given the team’s desire to compete for the postseason in 2023. But with Bogaerts gone, should people still assume that a Devers trade is not a consideration, even if the Sox arrive at a dead end in extension talks?
“Yes, they should. I still feel that way. He is at the center of everything we’re trying to do,” said Bloom. “We know that it’s never easy to compete in the American League East. It certainly won’t be in 2023 and it certainly wouldn’t be without him.”
So, Devers remains at the center of the plans for 2023. Will that remain the case for 2024 and well beyond? That is a question with a nine-figure answer.
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.