Tomase: Let's not kid ourselves ... Rafael Devers is next to go originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
If ditching Mookie Betts enraged you, and losing Xander Bogaerts dismayed you, it's time to sit down, because Rafael Devers should be next on the chopping block.
No one wants to hear it as the Red Sox lose star after star, but if Chaim Bloom and Co. are doing their jobs, they'll trade Devers this winter before he leaves for nothing.
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The All-Star third baseman just got tech-bro rich this winter, thanks to a skyrocketing free agent market. If the cost of keeping him was $300 million a year ago, it's probably $400 million now, and that's before addressing whether he'd even consider re-upping with a franchise that appears to be dismantling faster than a broken Transformer.
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Only a year from free agency, Devers could prioritize a destination that gives him the best chance to win, and it's hard to argue that would be Boston. In the nightmare scenario, Padres third baseman Manny Machado opts out in the fall and Devers reunites with Bogaerts in San Diego.
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The Red Sox can't let that happen. As things stand, they have four options: sign Devers now, trade him now, trade him at the deadline, or let him reach free agency.
The final option is a non-starter. We know how that story ends, whether it's Roger Clemens or Jon Lester or Bogaerts. When the rest of baseball can bid on your superstar, he's gone, especially when he hits the market at age 27, like Devers will next fall.
The trade deadline is a possibility, and it punts the problem to July, but that creates its own issues. If the Red Sox are within sniffing distance of a playoff spot, they won't be able to justify trading their best player, even if it makes sense in the long term. Dave Dombrowski famously refused to part with Mookie Betts in 2019, for instance, because the Red Sox had just taken three straight from the Yankees to move into second place. They stayed there for exactly one day before losing eight in a row. Chaim Bloom belatedly traded Betts months later on the eve of spring training.
That leaves either extending Devers or trading him this winter. By all means, try to sign him now, but good luck. If ownership wasn't willing to top $200 million for Bogaerts, will it suddenly find twice that for Devers? And would that even be a good investment? Devers is an outstanding offensive player, but he battled back issues last year and isn't necessarily viable long-term at third base.
So now we must think trade. The obvious counter is that ownership would never allow it, not when it's trying to sell tickets and maintain interest in a flawed product. But the loss of Bogaerts actually provides some cover -- fans are already agitated, so if there's any more bad news coming, hit them with it now. They already hate you.
Considering the team's standing in the AL East -- coming off a last-place finish, looking like they'll be even worse in 2023 -- the move makes baseball sense, too. It's doubtful that even an MVP season from Devers could compensate for the loss of Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez in the middle of the lineup, so as much as I hate this dehumanizing language, the Red Sox should maximize their asset.
Who might they call? The Padres wiped out their farm system acquiring Juan Soto last year, and they already have Machado at third, so they're probably out. But there's another deep-pocketed team with a need a third base that Bloom should call today, and that's the Mets.
Owner Steve Cohen seems determined to flout every notion of parity by spending wildly. Between payroll and luxury tax penalties, he's probably going to drop more than $400 million on this year's team.
I understand if you shudder at the mention of the word "prospects," since Bloom didn't get any for Betts or Andrew Benintendi. But the Mets boast some legit minor league talent, starting with catcher Francisco Álvarez, the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball. New York probably won't trade him, but third baseman Brett Baty would be the obvious starting point of any deal.
Baty, who homered in his first big-league at-bat last year, is a 22-year-old left-handed hitter with power who checks in at No. 18 on the MLB Pipeline rankings. Other prospects in the top 100 include catcher Kevin Parada (No. 37) and outfielder Alex Ramirez (No. 85).
If you don't trust Bloom to nail the return, he has earned that, but it's still his call. It's also understandable if you can't stomach the notion of the Red Sox losing another homegrown star, but if they're not going to pay Devers, they can't just let him walk. They've bled so much talent over the last three years, they're no longer good enough for any one player to be the difference, anyway.
Keeping Devers just denies reality. Better to confront it while there's still time to act.