With a $331 million deal, the Red Sox will build around Rafael Devers

A team of athletes marched through Fenway Park wearing Boston Red Sox uniforms Monday morning. They played one game and won, beating a team owned by John Henry, who also owns the Red Sox.

Confused? It was just another day in the baffling offseason for Major League Baseball’s most confusing franchise, which has gone from frustration to elation yet again this week.

Monday’s game was the NHL’s Winter Classic, and the Boston Bruins defeated the Henry-owned Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1. Both teams were wearing baseball uniforms at the ballpark, and when Henry arrived, a Van Ness Street fan along the stadium’s first base line spotted him in the parking lot and shouted, “Pay Raffy! Henry – whose ever-expanding sports portfolio had seemed to dampen his enthusiasm to spend on the Red Sox – may have listened.

Boston star third baseman Rafael Devers is reportedly finalizing an 11-year, $331 million contract extension with the Red Sox on Wednesday. The deal was first reported by former major leaguer Carlos Baerga on Instagram. The deal would bring a burst of optimism amid a dismal winter for a team emerging from a dizzying decade: five playoff appearances, five seasons finishing at least 15 games out of first place in the American League East .

Devers, 26, is the last remaining position player on Boston’s 2018 championship roster. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts left for the San Diego Padres in free agency last month, and other local starters, like 2018 AL Most Valuable Player Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and Christian Vázquez , were shipped in trades.

In a Wednesday morning phone interview, baseball team manager Chaim Bloom explained why now was the right time for a long-term commitment to Devers — and why it wasn’t quite fair to do it with others.

“We definitely want to keep him here and we want to build around him, and I know we’ve had players in recent history that we felt that way with and it didn’t work out,” Bloom said.

“The difference now is that when you make those bets it’s not just on the talent of the player, it’s also on the positioning of the organization and are you well positioned to back the bet? Are you Are you in a good position to have the base around this centerpiece that will allow you to maximize the player’s best years?

It’s impossible to know precisely how long-term deals with Betts and Bogaerts — or other free agents the Red Sox haven’t explored — might have altered the team’s long-term prospects. But Betts and Bogaerts are four years older than Devers, and Bloom thinks the timeline better fits Devers, whose heyday may coincide longer with Boston’s next era of glory.

Then again, predicting the fortunes of the Red Sox has been vexing for years. After a last-place finish in 2012, they signed mid-level free agents and won the 2013 World Series. After two more last-place seasons, they won three consecutive division titles, culminating in the 2018 World Series title .

A lackluster follow-up season led Henry to fire Dave Dombrowski, a likely Hall of Fame executive who specializes in building by acquiring superstars. The hiring of Bloom, who had been a high-ranking official for the thrifty and successful Tampa Bay Rays, a division rival, seemed to signal a change in philosophy.

Bloom insisted that wasn’t entirely true. He thought the Red Sox needed to make tough decisions without completely tearing themselves down, which is to say trying to struggle without being reckless and weakening the future. His three seasons have reflected the range of results from this type of strategy: last place in 2020, a surprise visit to the American League Championship Series in 2021 and last place again in 2022.

“Step back in time three years, to when I came here,” Bloom said. “You had a club that obviously had a lot of success recently but clearly weren’t in a position anymore where they were at the top of the division or anywhere near it. The talent wasn’t close in the agricultural system to replenish that list, and there were quite a few commitments on the books. That’s not a good position.

“And, really, the strategy was always to reset the table for an extended hit streak, but try to do it in a way where we were winning while we were doing it. There is no doubt that it is more difficult to try to serve both masters. We were able to do that in 2021. Obviously in 22, for a number of reasons it didn’t work out. But the way you do it is to maintain elements of that core while rebuilding the organization as much as possible with young talent. We have some of these young guys coming in – some of them are going to play really big roles in 23 – and there’s more to come behind that.

“If you keep massive engagement after massive engagement, you’ll never really come out of the water in place around those.”

The Red Sox have largely avoided those deals lately. Officially, they only have three players signed beyond 2024: pitcher Garrett Whitlock, infielder Trevor Story and outfielder Masataka Yoshida, who signed last month for five years and $90 million after a decorated career in Japan.

Their other deals this winter have been low-risk: two years each for infielder Justin Turner and right-handed relievers Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin, and one year for right-handed starter Corey Kluber and left-handed reliever Joely Rodríguez. The team hopes three young pitchers — Whitlock, Tanner Houck and Brayan Bello — can establish themselves in the rotation, but veteran starters — Kluber, Chris Sale, James Paxton, Nick Pivetta — offer little certainty.

The 2023 outlook would have been different had the Red Sox made a stronger offer to Bogaerts before free agency or had matched the winning offer from the Padres (11 years, $280 million). They could have acted aggressively on another pick from a deep class of free agents. Their passivity made you wonder if Henry just didn’t want to pay the going superstar rate anymore.

Would the Red Sox make these kinds of investments again? Bloom stressed Wednesday morning that they would.

“Absolutely – when it matches winning,” he said. “The end point is victory. These are not commitments for themselves. These are engagements with which you can earn. As we see, you win with these when they are part of a full team and full organization. With every move, whether it’s a waiver request or a big multi-year contract, the bottom line is always: is this going to help us deliver to our fans what we’re here to deliver? , that is, winning baseball on an annual basis? And if the answer is yes, that’s something we should pursue.

The Red Sox passed on many of those options. They won’t be anyone’s favorite in the AL East. But a deal for Devers is a strong sign that a stubbornly pragmatic front office believes in his long-term direction.

nytimes sport

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