Throughout the final months of 2022, Red Sox fans confronted the grim grays of a last-place finish and an uninspiring offseason defined chiefly by the departure of franchise mainstay Xander Bogaerts. Pessimism spread, with the departure of Bogaerts less than three years after the team dealt superstar Mookie Betts, raising questions about whether the team would ever not only develop but keep a homegrown star.
Against that backdrop, the beginning of 2023 has produced a welcome beacon illuminating the team’s direction: a landmark agreement on Wednesday to keep homegrown star Rafael Devers in Boston for more than a decade, giving the Red Sox a star around whom to build for the long haul.
According to a major league source, Devers and the Red Sox agreed to a deal that will pay the third baseman $331 million over the next 11 years. It’s the largest financial commitment in terms of both dollars and length in franchise history. The deal — which does not include any opt-outs — will keep the slugger with the Sox through the 2033 season, his age-36 campaign.
With the agreement, which is not finalized, the Sox have committed to a gifted homegrown player, gaining a critical source of stability. Devers represents a middle-of-the-order constant for years to come.
He earned his second All-Star nod in 2022, hitting .295 with 27 homers, 88 RBIs, and 70 extra-base hits in 141 games. Those numbers included a monster first half with 22 homers, but a precipitous second-half falloff after being sidelined in late July by a hamstring injury that Devers tried to play through.
“I’m not very happy with my season overall,” Devers said through a translator at the end of the season. “I don’t really like to get injured and that’s something that happened this year … I think I can improve a lot on those numbers. That’s something I’m going to work on for next year.”
Through 5½ seasons, Devers has 139 homers (sixth most all time by a third baseman through his age-25 season), 333 extra-base hits (fifth), and an on-base plus slugging percentage of .854 (11th). His ability to handle a wide variety of pitches in virtually any part of the strike zone — and some regions outside of it — makes him one of the most difficult hitters for opposing pitchers to attack.
“When I see Devers, it’s like I never left,” Hall of Famer David Ortiz said last year. “He’s fearless, this kid, at such an early age. He looks invincible.”
Devers was one year from free agency, raising questions about whether he’d be the next Red Sox star out the door, following Betts (traded to the Dodgers in February 2020) and Bogaerts (signed to 11-year, $280 million deal by the Padres last month). Even so, the team vowed that Devers would represent a building block for 2023 — and, it hoped, beyond.
“He is at the center of everything we’re trying to do,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said recently.
Now, the Sox won’t have to confront a post-Devers lineup.
While always considered a special offensive talent, Devers made considerable defensive progress at third base in 2022, turning in easily his best year with the glove. Still, even with that progress, it’s all but certain that over the life of the contract Devers will move off the position, perhaps to first base before an eventual relocation to DH.
That said, Devers projects to have plenty of value in any role thanks to his elite offensive abilities. His tremendous bat speed, hand-eye coordination, and strength have established Devers at a young age as one of the game’s elite power hitters and run producers.
With the departure of Bogaerts, the Sox faced an increasingly agitated fanbase that viewed the retention of Devers as an acid test of the team’s commitment to winning. Prior to the NHL’s Winter Classic on Monday, a fan outside of Fenway Park shouted at team principal owner (and Globe owner) John Henry to pay Devers. Another fan had a sign confiscated that said, “Pay Devers Please.”
“There is not a player who’s had better leverage in a big market than Devers,” one agent who does not represent Devers said last month, after Bogaerts signed with the Padres. 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.”
Now, the Red Sox have done just that. The deal represents the largest commitment in team history to a player, blowing past the seven-year, $217 million standard set when the club signed David Price after the 2015 season. It also represents the longest contract in franchise history, surpassing the eight-year, $160 million deal conferred upon Manny Ramirez after the 2000 season.
The $331 million commitment is the sixth largest in MLB history.The Sox’ willingness to consummate such a deal had been in question for most of 2022. While the team discussed a long-term deal with Devers prior to the start of last season, it used the eight-year, $168 million contract signed by Atlanta first baseman Matt Olson as a negotiating framework. Talks went nowhere, and the sides tabled discussions during the season.
The sides reengaged following the season, though with a considerable gap creating pessimism at times about the likelihood of a deal. But ultimately, the Red Sox and Devers moved purposefully in the new year, first negotiating a one-year, $17.5 million salary for the 2023 season on Tuesday, then continuing talks to add 10 years to that deal on Wednesday.
The deal with Devers hardly serves as a guarantee of future success. After all, the Sox finished in last place in the AL East with both Devers and Bogaerts in the lineup. But now, Devers provides the team with an anchor as it attempts to move forward — both as a force in the lineup and a source of credibility in the industry, with the team’s willingness to spend for stars no longer in doubt.
If Devers stays with the team for the life of the contract, he’d reach 17 big league seasons, a mark reached by just four other players (Carl Yastrzemski, 23; Dwight Evans, 19; Ted Williams, 19; and Tim Wakefield, 17) in franchise history. The fact that the deal doesn’t include opt-outs underscores Devers’s desire to remain a career-long Red Sox, and to try to help the team regain its footing after the disappointment of 2022.