Devers over Betts or Bogaerts? Making sense of Red Sox deal

Rafael Devers stays in Boston.

The Red Sox and their star third baseman complete an 11-year contract extension valued at $331 million, making the 26-year-old hitter the cornerstone of the next generation at Fenway Park. After several high-profile departures in recent years, Devers will be the franchise’s clear face — and its offensive catalyst — for years to come.

Here are some of the biggest questions surrounding the blockbuster deal — and what it means for the future of the Red Sox.

For many in Boston, a question immediately arises: Why did Devers get a mega-extension when two other homegrown superstars — outfielder Mookie Betts and shortstop Xander Bogaerts — are no longer wearing Red Sox uniforms?

Shortly after getting the team’s chief baseball officer job ahead of the 2020 season, Chaim Bloom famously traded Betts when ownership demanded that he bring the Red Sox below the luxury tax threshold. The decision to trade Betts represented – in Bloom’s eyes – the best way to rebuild the farm system and cut pay, with veteran left-hander David Price and his contract included in the deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Betts eventually signed a 12-year, $365 million contract with the Dodgers – a deal he told ESPN in August he signed in Boston – while the Red Sox welcomed Alex Verdugo, Connor Wong and Jeter Downs, the latter of which was the team earmarked for use that offseason and claimed by the Washington Nationals. The trade drew significant backlash and remains a sore point among fans.

Then Bogaerts, a four-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion, became a free agent this winter after he and the team failed to agree on a contract extension ahead of the 2022 season. Bogaerts had said he was confident he could spend the rest of his career in Boston, but was instead offered an additional year and $30 million in addition to the three years and $60 million included in his previous contract remain. According to a source close to Bogaerts, the offer felt like “a slap in the face”. Bogaerts then signed an 11-year, $280 million deal with the San Diego Padres last month.

The truth is that Boston had always prioritized signing Devers over Bogaerts. The Red Sox front office views Devers as a potential generation hitter. Since his MLB debut, Devers has averaged 162 games of 103 runs, 179 hits, 44 doubles, 33 home runs, 107 RBIs and 324 bases overall, according to ESPN’s Paul Hembekides.

But the biggest factor for the front office was her age. While Bogaerts entered free agency at the age of 30, Devers only recently turned 26. While Bloom and his front office weren’t comfortable giving a player who would be in his late 40s a long-term deal, Devers will be just 37 when that deal expires.

Why was it so important to close this deal now?

According to multiple sources, the Red Sox and Devers were more than $100 million apart during December’s winter meetings. That’s also when Bogaerts signed with the Padres. Following that blow, Bloom told ESPN in December the team would “go beyond their wits” to try to secure an extension with Devers, and eventually the team significantly upped their offer to bring the final total to 11 years and $331 million – to bring dollars.

Not signing Devers for a contract extension would have distracted the Red Sox for a season. Had Boston not signed Devers before spring training, the third baseman would not have wanted to negotiate until the next offseason, according to sources close to Devers, which would have increased the chances that the slugger would achieve a free hand. That lack of clarity would have only added to the speculation already brewing as to whether Team Devers needed to trade rather than lose another star player in the free hand — in other words, a repeat of either the Betts trade or what happened to Bogaerts last season.

And locking up Devers not only makes him the centerpiece of Boston for the foreseeable future, it also removes a ton of uncertainty surrounding the franchise. While retaining Devers was always a top priority, the departure of Bogaerts put pressure on the front office. Bloom admitted to ESPN that he regrets negotiating with Bogaerts. And in the front office, according to multiple sources, sentiment was growing that the team needed to do something “for the fans” after this backlash. The Devers deal is fan-friendly and still in line with Bloom’s vision for the team’s future.

How does the Devers deal fit into Boston’s relatively frugal five-year plan?

Bloom’s hope is to rebuild the farming system, and — despite the setback with Downs — there’s progress on that front. First prospect Triston Casas is likely to be the team’s starter on opening day. Shortstop Marcelo Mayer is causing a lot of excitement about the team’s future in the position of both offense and defensive genius. Outfielder Ceddanne Rafaela had a breakout season on both offense and defense in 2022, hitting .299/.342/.538 with 21 homers, 28 stolen bases, 32 doubles and 10 triples in 116 games in Single-A and Double-A.

The next step according to multiple front office sources? Signing some of these top young contributors for renewals before reaching arbitration. Bloom believes that giving established stars long-term deals well into their 40s is just too risky an investment.

Instead, it allows both the player and the team to sign a player for an overtime period before he comes to arbitration — much like the Houston Astros’ Alex Bregman, Chicago White Sox’s Tim Anderson and Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout take a similar risk. The team has the advantage of attracting a promising young player for a deal that could be below market value, while a player guarantees his family the generational money before he becomes a superstar.

What’s the next step for the Red Sox this offseason?

Catcher is a spot the front office has identified as a potential area for improvement in the offseason – and the team has yet to move there. The team has Reese McGuire, who was acquired at the close of last season, and Wong, who has only played 33 games in the major leagues.

The Red Sox previously expressed interest in trading Sean Murphy – who eventually ended up with the Atlanta Braves – and signed former Boston backstop Christian Vazquez, who is now a Minnesota twin. With the notable free-agent catchers signed, Boston would have to explore a trade.

The Red Sox could also take another step to improve their starting rotation, although the recent signing of veteran right-hander Corey Kluber to a one-year deal has eased some of that need.

What can fans expect from the team this season?

At least the Red Sox front office expects this group to be fighting for the playoffs, but it’s going to take a lot of things to get going right.

Boston sees big things ahead for Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida, who left the NPB this winter, and hopes free agent Justin Turner can replace production from JD Martinez, who signed with the Dodgers. Boston will also need more production of Trevor Story, Boston’s award-winning free-agent acquisition heading into the 2022 season. Enrique Hernandez needs to stay healthy while Casas needs to outperform at first base than Bobby Dalbec, who was one of the weakest last year members of the constellation.

On the pitching front, a combination of a healthy Chris Sale and a consistent mix of Nick Pivetta, Garrett Whitlock, Tanner Houck, Brayan Bello and Kluber in the rotation is a must. The bullpen should improve with the additions of Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin.

Still, in a tough American League East, with an improved New York Yankees team that added an ace in Carlos Rodon, talented teams in the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays, and a young Baltimore Orioles group hoping to Building on their success In 2022, the Red Sox will need a lot of things to get their way — both in their clubhouse and in the division — so the team can avoid another last-place finish and make a legitimate push for October. Devers over Betts or Bogaerts? Making sense of Red Sox deal

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