Mazz: Are the Red Sox closer than we think on Rafael Devers’ value?
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JULY 16: Rafael Devers #11 of the Boston Red Sox hits a solo home run in the first inning against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on July 16, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Amid the events that transpired at the major league trading deadline, this one may have slipped through the cracks: the Atlanta Braves signed third baseman Austin Riley to a 10-year, $212-million contract that was the biggest in team history.
So why is this relevant?
Because it suggests the Red Sox might be a little closer to the Rafael Devers market than we thought.
As we all know, Devers can be a free agent at the end of the 2023 season and his future with the Red Sox – as well as that of shortstop Xander Bogaerts – has been a major topic of discussion for some time now. And while the Sox have more time to resolve things with Devers than with Bogaerts, trading him this coming offseason may be the wise thing to do if the Sox cannot come to terms with their third baseman sooner rather than later.
So what is Devers worth? Good question.
The case for Devers
CLEVELAND, OH – JUNE 26: Rafael Devers #11 of the Boston Red Sox hits an RBI single during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field on June 26, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)
Devers will be 26 in October and has established himself as an All-Star and one of the most productive players at his position in baseball. Entering this season, the three highest-paid players at third base (as determined by average annual salary) were Anthony Rendon ($35 million with the Los Angeles Angels), Nolan Arenado ($32.5 million with St. Louis) and Manny Machado ($30 million with San Diego). That would seemingly put Devers in the range of $30-$35 million per year (or more).
Also, consider that Rendon got seven years, Arenado got eight and Machado got 10.
Are those perfect comps? No. All three of those players are better defenders than Devers, whose defense has significantly improved this year. In the spring, the Red Sox reportedly offered Devers an eight-year, $168 million contract (worth $21 million annually) that compared him to Atlanta Braves first baseman Matt Olson, who signed for exactly that amount. (The Sox alleged that Devers would ultimately have to change positions.) Devers rejected the deal and ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported the sides were more than $100 million apart, suggesting that Devers is looking for something in the range of nine or 10 years and roughly $30 million per.
But since that time, two things have happened that seem to work at least a little in the Red Sox’ favor.
The Jose Ramirez signing
ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA – JULY 30: Jose Ramirez #11 of the Cleveland Guardians looks on during a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on July 30, 2022 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Just before the start of the season, the Cleveland Indians announced a five-year, $124 million contract extension with third baseman Jose Ramirez that is worth an average of $24.8 million. Ramirez is a switch-hitter and a good defender, but he will be 30 in September – four years older than Devers. He would have been eligible for free agency at the end of the 2023 season, when Devers is currently free to walk.
Since the start of the 2017 season, assuming a minimum of 2,500 plate appearances, Ramirez ranks first among all major league third baseman in OPS, though those seasons cover some of the prime years of his career. If we change the parameters to begin in 2019, Devers has been the most productive offensive third baseman in baseball.
The Austin Riley signing
ATLANTA, GA – JULY 31: Austin Riley #27 of the Atlanta Braves hits a walk off double during the ninth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Truist Park on July 31, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
So where does Riley factor in? Good question. Like Ramirez, he’s not a perfect comparison. Riley, who turned 25 in April, was four years away from free agency (in 2026) when the Braves locked him up, which means Atlanta did not have to pay for as many “free agent years” as the Red Sox will. (This is the obvious reason the Red Sox should have been more aggressive with Devers earlier.) Still, Riley’s deal will pay him a maximum of $22 million in the later years of his contract, well below the $30 million or more that Devers seems to be seeking. (We should not here that Ramirez’ deal will pay him a maximum of $25 million.)
So, where does that place Devers? Probably somewhere between the average values of Riley ($21.2 million) and Ramirez ($24.8 million) and those of Machado, Arenado and Rendon ($30-$35 million). Let’s call it $27.5 million just to pick a number. That currently puts Devers somewhere between eight and 10 years (the latter the length of the Riley contract) at $220-$270 million.