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Sunday baseball notes

Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers discusses this season and how he plans to improve

Rafael Devers is set to start a 10-year, $313.5 million contract extension in 2024.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Rafael Devers was one of only five players in the American League to drive in 100 runs this season. He also tied for fifth in the league with 33 home runs and was in the top 10 for OPS (.851) and extra-base hits (67).

But it was not a season Devers will remember fondly. The Red Sox finished last in the American League East, 23 games behind the Orioles. The smiles and laughter that once marked his on-field persona were often replaced by scowls as frustration set in.

With the Red Sox once again in a leadership transition, Devers is set to start a 10-year, $313.5 million contract extension in 2024.

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In an exclusive Q&A with the Globe, Devers discussed the season, how he plans to improve, and what he believes the Sox need to do to become contenders again.

Devers, who turns 27 on Tuesday, answered questions in both English and Spanish with Red Sox translator Carlos Villoria Benitez assisting:

Question. Can you take any positives from this season?

Devers. Of course. You always try to take some good things out of the season. The ups and downs help you grow and mature as a baseball player. I didn’t really feel any pressure, but it also was the first time I played with a contract. That was what I took away.

Q. Taking a step back, how would you evaluate your performance?

A. Personally, I would say it was just average. I know that I have so much more to give and more potential. If you take a look at the numbers, it was just an average season.

Q. What will you focus on during the offseason?

A. I’m going to keep on doing what I’ve done before and work on everything. Obviously, defense will be a key. Every day you learn something new when you’re on the field and I’ll take that into the offseason.

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Q. There has been a lot of attention on your defense. Would you agree you didn’t have a good season in the field?

A. That’s something that has happened the last few years. I know I need to improve in that aspect of the game and do better than I have been. I need to do my best like I do with my hitting.

Q. In the past, you’ve gone to Tampa to work with private coaches before you report to spring training. Will anything about that change?

A. No. I’ve been going there the last few years. I don’t think I’ll change that. I’ll stay with my routine.

Q. To be more specific, do you want to improve your pre-pitch routine, your range, your throws from certain angles or anything in particular?

A. There’s not one thing. All those things you mentioned are things I need to focus on. But there is not one more than the other.

Q. What do you think of the state of the Red Sox, and how quickly they can get back into contention?

A. I think everybody in the organization needs to make adjustments. You look at the Orioles and what they did and how they built a good core. You look at us and I think we have some good young players and more talent coming up. But we need to improve even more.

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Q. What about the pitching? You were vocal about that at the trade deadline.

A. That was something we needed at that point. Now we have more time to plan and figure out what to do. That’s on them now. They need to improve that.

Q. You and Chris Sale are the only players left from the 2018 team. Is that surprising to you? You’re one of the veterans now.

A. Not really. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that this is a business and there are some teams that change a lot. There are young guys here who are coming up from the minors and I feel like I know them. I don’t take it personally.

Q. Did the pitch clock and the quicker pace of the game change anything for you at the plate? You used to have a slower routine with the deep breathing that worked for you.

A. No. Not really. I don’t think so. That’s something you have to adjust to. I don’t feel like it affected me. Everything about this game is adjusting. Every time I need to take a deep breath, I just ask for a timeout. That’s something I’ve learned how to use. But, to be honest, I never felt rushed.

Q. Do you feel you need to get better at separating offense and defense? In watching you over the years, it looks like sometimes you take a bad at-bat into the field or vice-versa.

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A. That’s something that every player has to control. Sometimes you can’t take your mind off something you did. I try to do it every time, but I’m not always successful. Yes, I need to get better at that. This game can be frustrating and those moments will stick with you longer. Sometimes it goes by really fast, too. It just depends. But you need to move on.

Q. You’ve taken on a more public role with this team now because of the contract and your experience. Has that been comfortable?

A. I feel comfortable because I know that I’ll be here a long time. That gives me a lot of confidence with my teammates.

Q. You played with one shortstop for a long time with Xander [Bogaerts]. This year there were a lot of them. How much will a full season with Trevor [Story] help you in the field?

A. Very much. That will help a lot. Personally, I feel he is one of the best shortstops out there with his range to both sides and how his body moves. He’s like Superman there. To work with him in spring training will be nice. The last few weeks of the season were much better playing with him. I felt like we played together well.

Q. Now that you have a long-term contract, are you planning on buying a home in Boston?

A. Not yet. I’m going to wait until I really like something. But it’s something I’m going to do.

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Q. Finally, the most important question: If Taylor Swift breaks up with Travis Kelce, which teammate should she go out with?

A. Probably one of the American guys. Maybe Bobby [Dalbec]. That would be good. She seems nice, but I think he has a girlfriend already.”

With the Red Sox once again in a leadership transition, Devers is set to start a 10-year, $313.5 million contract extension in 2024.Barry Chin/Globe Staff
SEARCH CONTINUES

What combination can

work for the Red Sox?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that so many executives have turned down invitations to interview with the Red Sox as they search for a baseball operations leader.

The team has lurched from one philosophy to another since Theo Epstein left in 2011. The tumult has produced four first-place finishes and six last-place finishes over 12 seasons. There were two championships, too, which some people seem to conveniently forget.

At some point — you would hope — ownership and the top executives will step back and examine their responsibility in creating an organization that isn’t regarded as a place where some accomplished, smart baseball people wanted to work.

For now, what matters is finding a baseball operations leadership team that can get the team back into contention.

That Alex Cora has accumulated so much power after consecutive last-place finishes has been a topic of much discussion within the game. Whether it’s misplaced or not, ownership’s fealty to Cora is real. That means the next baseball operations leader will have to be somebody who can mesh with the manager.

One combination that could work would be promoting Eddie Romero to president of baseball operations and hiring Craig Breslow as general manager with a focus on overseeing pitching.

It also should be a priority to hire a former GM or veteran executive as a senior adviser to Romero. That could be former Pirates GM Neal Huntington, who already has met with the Red Sox. Given the challenges at Fenway, the Sox need somebody to aid the next person in line.

A few other observations on the Red Sox:

▪ Signing Alex Verdugo to anything beyond a one-year contract would be risky given his occasional lapses in effort and focus. But he does care about playing defense and is a Gold Glove finalist in right field.

For the first time in his career, Verdugo stayed in one position, and it was reflected in his play. Verdugo led AL right fielders with nine Defensive Runs Saved and tied Seattle’s Teoscar Hernandez for most assists with 12.

Verdugo, Adolis Garcia, and Kyle Tucker are the finalists. It should come down to Verdugo and Garcia.

Enmanuel Valdez is the only 40-man roster player in winter ball. He’s playing for Toros del Este in the Dominican Republic with the goal of improving his defense at second base.

Lefthander Rio Gomez will be with Estrellas, working as a starter. Gomez, who turned 29 on Friday, made it to Triple A this season and was 0-3 with a 4.45 ERA.

Jonathan Papelbon is fun to listen to, although it’s always wise to have a bit of skepticism

“I had a way to get ready for the game every day. That involved coffee, uppers, and a couple of shots of [Jagermeister] every night,” Papelbon told the Foul Territory podcast. “I went out there with a little edge, so to speak.”

Papelbon also said he thought the Red Sox would have a contender if Brayan Bello was their No. 3 starter, because that would mean they added two quality starters. He’s got a point there.

Papelbon then winked and laughed after repeating the old story that his bulldog ate the ball from the last out of the 2007 World Series.

The next baseball operations leader will have to be somebody who can mesh with manager Alex Cora.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
ETC.

Remembering special

Francona moment

Terry Francona slipped out of baseball without much fanfare, considering all of his accomplishments. He acknowledged he was stepping away as manager of the Guardians, did a few interviews, and went home to Arizona.

It was illustrative of why players appreciated his everyman style. Lenny DiNardo certainly did when he got the biggest news of his career during the final days of spring training in 2004.

He was a 24-year-old prospect trying to make the Red Sox for the first time when Francona pulled him aside during a fielding drill and said simply, “Hey, I just want to let you know, you made the club.”

DiNardo, who had just covered first base, was stunned. It took him a second to realize what had happened.

“He didn’t bring me into the clubhouse or anything like that,” DiNardo said. “I was on cloud nine the rest of that practice; I had made the Boston Red Sox.

“What you saw was what you got with that guy. Some managers with the camera on are different. He was never like that. He told you how he felt.”

DiNardo went on to play parts of six seasons in the majors.

Extra bases

Joe West, Hall of Famer? It seems unlikely, but the retired umpire is one of eight candidates on the Hall’s contemporary era managers, executives, and umpires ballot that will be voted Dec. 3 in Nashville during the Winter Meetings. Cito Gaston, Davey Johnson, Jim Leyland, Ed Montague, Hank Peters, Lou Piniella, and Bill White are the others. Leyland and Piniella are the only eligible managers with at least 1,750 victories not in the Hall outside of Gene Mauch. Piniella missed by one vote when he was on the ballot for the Class of 2019. No manager has been elected since 2014 and the last umpire was Hank O’Day in 2013, and he had died 79 years prior. That West umped a record 5,460 games plays in his favor . . . Phillies manager Rob Thomson didn’t realize until it was too late last season that backup catcher and occasional outfielder Garrett Stubbs was the only player on the postseason roster who didn’t get into a game. “I felt bad because he is such a big part of our clubhouse,” Thomson said. “He’s such a great team guy that I just felt awful. It took me a while to get over it, really.” Stubbs caught the ninth inning in Game 2 of the NLCS, so Thomson is off the hook this season . . . Oakland closer Trevor May announced his retirement this past week via Twitch, a streaming service. Normally it would not be big news when a reliever with 33 career saves steps away. But May, 34, used the occasion to rip Athletics owner John Fisher. “Sell the team, dude,” May said. “There are actually people who give a [expletive] about the game.” Fisher, who is worth a reported $2.6 billion, has run a low-budget operation in Oakland and is now moving the team to Las Vegas, pending approval from the league . . . Marlins owner Bruce Sherman is on quite a roll. Derek Jeter stepped down as CEO before the 2022 season, saying that Sherman’s vision for the franchise had changed. Roughly 20 months later, GM Kim Ng declined a contract extension. She told The Athletic she opposed Sherman’s plan to reshape the baseball operations department after the team made only its fourth playoff appearance in history. Jeter and Ng have long track records of success and credibility. That Ng left the organization after building a playoff team doesn’t speak well of the Marlins’ direction . . . Former major leaguer Charles Nagy made a donation to the UConn baseball program to name the press box at Elliot Ballpark for his former coach, Andy Baylock. Baylock has been associated with UConn since 1963 in different capacities. He coached the Huskies from 1980-2003 and was always available to share some baseball wisdom with young sportswriters . . . Blake Butera, a Boston College alum, was promoted to senior director of player development by the Rays. Butera played for the Eagles from 2012-15 and was a Rays minor leaguer from 2015-16 before becoming a coach and then a minor league manager from 2018-22. That led to his becoming minor league field coordinator, and now he’s overseeing Tampa Bay’s entire player development process at the age of 31. Butera is the son of Barry Butera, a Red Sox draft pick in 1977 who spent four seasons in the minors . . . Happy birthday to Wilbur Wood, who is 82. The lefthander from Belmont was 164-156 with a 3.24 ERA from 1961-78. Wood was 0-5 in 15 games with the Red Sox from 1961-64 before becoming a knuckleballer with the White Sox. His career took off from there. Wood was a three-time All-Star and finished in the top five of the Cy Young Award voting three times. He won 163 games for Chicago and averaged an incredible 336⅓ innings from 1971-75. Wood was a three-sport star at Belmont High and made his major league debut with the Red Sox at 19 but went to the Pirates in 1964. Wood’s career path changed when he joined the White Sox and was taught how to command the knuckler by Hoyt Wilhelm.

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Peter Abraham can be reached at peter.abraham@globe.com. Follow him @PeteAbe.