Pencil Rafael Devers enters third base. But how much longer will the young slugger be with the Red Sox?
The Red Sox traded Betts after failing to sign him to an extension. Bogaerts and Martinez left as free agents. Benintendi and Vazquez were traded for low-powered prospects.
For now, Devers remains the starting third baseman. But the two-time All-Star, 26, can become a free agent after next season and that could signal his departure from Boston.
Devers is positioned to earn a long-term contract worth at least $275 million given his stature as one of the game’s most productive hitters. That Devers improved defensively last season further increased his value.
Baseball chief Chaim Bloom has said repeatedly that the Red Sox want to sign Devers to an extension. But Bloom used similar language to describe his desire to retain Bogaerts, and the Sox ended up out of contention for their highly respected All-Star shortstop.
Devers represents the next test of the team’s willingness to retain a high-end homegrown player, and he has all the power given how profitable the free agent market has been for hard-hitting infielders.
The Sox pursued extension talks before last season, but fell far short of what Devers saw as his value.
“I know my worth,” Devers said in April. “We’ll see what happens.”
That Bogaerts, a mentor and one of his closest friends, had to leave Boston to get the contract he wanted doesn’t necessarily affect what will happen with Devers. But there certainly won’t be any hometown discounts given the hard line Bloom has taken with players.
Devers has many talking points in its favor. Last season he ranked in the top five in the American League in slugging (.521), OPS (.879), doubles (42), extra-base hits (70) and RBIs (226).
He also has more extra-base hits before the age of 26 than any player in Red Sox history and is eighth in hits. Four of the six players ahead of him are Hall of Famers (Bobby Doerr, Jim Rice, Tris Speaker and Carl Yastrzemski). The others are Betts, Bogaerts and the unfortunate Tony Conigliaro.
Devers is not a premium defender by any means. But he committed just 14 errors last season after being charged with 22 in 2021. The coaching staff worked with Devers on his position before the pitch, allowing him to make quicker movements on the ball.
His pitching can be erratic, but he also showed improvement.
Devers is not the best overall third baseman in the game. But he may slot in after Nolan Arenado, Manny Machado and Jose Ramirez.
The Sox have great depth behind Devers, which makes you wonder if Bloom is bracing himself for the possibility of being traded during the season if the teams don’t agree to an extension during spring training.
Justin Turner agreed to a two-year, $22 million deal last month that has yet to be formally announced by the Red Sox. The 38-year-old was the Dodgers’ primary third baseman from 2015-21.
His defense has declined, but Turner will be a good option to play third and allow Devers to be the designated hitter from time to time. He had just three starts there last season.
Bobby Dalbec played 140 innings at third base last season and looked much more comfortable than he did early on. Dalbec was a third baseman at the University of Arizona. If Dalbec is still on the list on opening day, it’s an option.
The same goes for Christian Arroyo, who started eight games at third last season.
Enmanuel Valdez, one of the prospects acquired from Houston by Vázquez, is a utility player with third base as part of his portfolio. The Red Sox acquired Alex Binelas from the Brewers last winter as part of the scrappy Hunter Renfroe trade. He had an .851 OPS at High A Greenville before being outscored in 55 games with Portland.
Binelas hit .166 with a .633 OPS for the Sea Dogs and struck out an alarming 78 batters in 241 plate appearances.
RED SOX 2023: THIRD BASE
Beginning of Primary 2022: Rafael Devers.
Initiator planned for 2023: Devers.
Major League Depth: Justin Turner, Bobby Dalbec, Christian Arroyo.
Prospects to follow: Enmanuel Valdez, Alex Binelas.
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