Red Sox facing looming contract decisions on Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers

Xander Bogaerts of the Boston Red Sox swings for a hit.

If you were to ask the casual baseball fan who the Boston Red Sox's two best players are, you're very likely to get the same answer every time: shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers. The two men who make up the left side of the Boston infield have emerged as two of the premium players in the game at their respective positions. Bogaerts, signed as an amateur free agent out of Aruba when he was only 17 in 2009, is second among all major league shortstops in wins above replacement since Alex Cora became Red Sox manager in 2018, according to the analytics website FanGraphs. It's hard to believe that Bogaerts, who turns 30 this year, is the longest-tenured player on the Red Sox's roster and the only holdover left from their 2013 World Series championship team.

After the Red Sox won the 2018 World Series, Bogaerts signed what was widely viewed as a very team-friendly extension; six years for $120 million, which is very below-market for a player of Bogaerts's caliber. However, it did contain an opt-out that Bogaerts could exercise after the 2022 season, and after seeing the money that other shortstops such as Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javier Baez and others were getting on the open market, Bogaerts and his notoriously hard-balling agent, Scott Boras, are virtually certain to exercise that option and let Bogaerts hit the open market in the winter of 2022-23. The Red Sox could still attempt to extend Bogaerts, but that is increasingly unlikely as the regular season goes on.

The other half of the equation, Devers, has become a terrific player in his own right. Like Bogaerts, he was signed as an amateur free agent as a teenager out of his native Dominican Republic. He debuted in the summer of 2017 and immediately started ranking. Devers is a career .280 hitter, averaging 33 home runs, 43 doubles and 109 RBIs per season, with an on-base percentage of .338, slugging of .510 and OPS of .849, all putting him in the upper echelon of big-league hitters the last few years. Devers is only 25 and has less than six years of "service time," meaning he has played less than six full major league seasons necessary to become a free agent. MLB players, before they are free-agent eligible, have to go through a process known as "arbitration," meaning the player and team both go before a labor judge and try to negotiate a salary for the season. Sometimes, they agree amicably; other times, not so much. Devers is currently under a one-year, $11.2 million deal with the Sox negotiated through the arbitration process. The Red Sox still have team control over him through the 2023 season, but they ideally would like to lock him up long-term.

On April 13, 2022, ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan reported to the Boston-based radio station WEEI that the Red Sox offered Devers an extension in the $200 million range, Devers's camp wanted over $300 million. One knock against Devers is that his defense as a third baseman has been marginal at best; since 2017, Devers has negative-38 defensive runs saved as a third baseman, near the bottom of all players. Still, his electric bat and his flair for the dramatic make him a keystone piece to any winning team. The Red Sox would be wise to keep both Devers and Bogaerts as the heart of their lineup for years to come.

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