A lot of Red Sox fans are pissed off, and with all the money that’s been flying around this offseason, I can’t say I blame them. When you lose your star shortstop to the Padres and your team appears to be interested in all of the top free agents while signing none of them, it’s easy to understand how fans of a legendary franchise with a history of big spending can start losing their minds.
That’s not to say I agree with them.
When Dealin’ Dave Dombrowski sets the free agent market at a ridiculous level and Yosemite Steve Cohen ups the ante by dropping $800 million on free agents, I can hardly argue with a front office that decides to stay on the outskirts of the mosh pit and opts to sign a few good players to short-term contracts that don’t hamper their payroll situation five years down the road.
The fallout from Dombrowski’s thoughtless post-2018 re-signing bonanza (Sale, Eovaldi, Pearce, etc.) is still fresh in the minds of Red Sox ownership (and a few reasonable fans). Prudence and flexibility are critical to the philosophy that Chaim Bloom and Fenway Sports Group are championing these days, and that’s not something to lose sight of just because a couple mental patients with bottomless wallets took shrooms on the private jet to the Winter Meetings and mistook Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts for gilded unicorns.
As a fanbase, we’ve watched a young position player core of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi Christian Vazquez, and now Xander Bogaerts peace out for greener pastures .. greener backs, to be more precise. With investment surges over the past decade from the Mets, Dodgers, Astros, Phillies, Padres, and even the Texas freakin’ Rangers, it’s sometimes difficult to shake the feeling that the Red Sox are headed for a demotion from big-market powerhouse to mid-market wet noodle.
The last few years, I’ve stood by Chaim Bloom, John Henry and Tom Werner (maybe not so much Tom Werner) throughout their crusade to follow the chic organizational model that has been perfected by the Dodgers and Astros: Acquire great minor league depth to build a self-sustaining, cost-controlled core that can then be supplemented by expensive stars who can fill major roles that cannot be filled from within that core.
I believe in this direction. I believe that the Red Sox have racked up enough one-and-done titles followed by rapid descents to irrelevance. I’m ready to see the Red Sox rise to something greater than the miracle run of 2013 or the faux dynasty that was begun in 2018 and then torpedoed immediately thereafter due to thoughtless spending on damaged goods. I’m ready to see something akin to the perennial juggernauts in Houston and L.A. I’m ready to see the Boston Red Sox evolve into a beastly franchise that can be penciled into the playoffs every season, regardless of turnover, because there is more blue chip talent ready and waiting in Worcester and Salem to keep the carousel of excellence spinning.
I believe that Mookie Betts had to be sacrificed in order to start the painful process of cleaning up the mess that Dombrowski left for Chaim Bloom. I believe that Andrew Benintendi’s freefall from rising star to whiffing headcase was a sign that he was not a key part of the formula for the future. I believe that Christian Vazquez was too long in the tooth to re-sign for more than two years.
And yes, I even believe that Xander Bogaerts is a tier below the type of player that you offer long years for big money at age 30. I said this past summer that I’d offer him six years for $150 million and not a penny more. Bloom and FSG pretty much agreed. Would he have accepted Boston’s offer of 6 years at $160 million had the team made that offer back in March? I doubt it. Not coming off the 10 year, $325 million deal that Corey Seager, a lesser player, received just a few months prior. The Red Sox assigned a value to Bogaerts. When other teams offered significantly more than that, Bloom backed off.
I believe that tough decisions like these have to be made in order to avoid the financial quicksand that we’ve seen teams sink themselves into with absurd contracts in the past, seriously hampering their ability to compete long-term. The Tigers did it with Miguel Cabrera (another Dombrowski special). The Angels did it with Albert Pujols. The Orioles did it with Chris Davis.
To those who say that the Red Sox, unlike these mid-market teams, have the money to absorb a couple bad contracts and should just shut up and pony up, I ask you to get some perspective. We’d all love for FSG to just earmark an unlimited percentage of their profits toward the Boston Red Sox payroll. However, like most businesses, they have an operating budget for expenses. As long as the team payroll portion of that budget places the Red Sox among the top five spenders in MLB by Opening Day, I believe we have little to complain about.
On the other hand, I also believe that there comes a time when every fan needs to draw a line in the sand. Even card-carrying members of the Bloominati like myself have our breaking point; the point where we have to put our feet down, throw our glasses of bourbon against the wall, and shout, “Enough, Chaim! Enough with the nickel and dime bullshit!”
That line in the sand has a titanic swing, a cherubic face, and a passion for ice cream.
The Red Sox’ books are balanced, with no dead money weighing them down (unless you count Chris Sale’s contract). Triston Casas, Brayan Bello, Nick Pivetta, Garrett Whitlock, Tanner Houck, and others that were either home grown or acquired by Bloom for peanuts are in place to be impact players while making affordable salaries. Cedanne Rafalea, Bryan Mata, Emmanueal Valdez, Nick Yorke, Brandon Walter, and Marcelo Mayer are being prepped in the minors to play important roles on the big league team as soon as late 2023. Chris Martin, Kenley Jansen, and Justin Turner have been brought in for reasonable prices to support an offense led by question marks (Trevor Story, Alex Verdugo, Kike Hernandez, and newcomer Masataka Yoshida) and a pitching staff depending on significant contributions from IL mainstays (Chris Sale and James Paxton).
The young foundation is in place, backed by one of the league’s 11 best farm systems. An adequate supporting cast has been assembled, most of which is locked in place for the next few years. The team is one impact player short on each side of the ball, but the most important piece … the lynchpin that the Boston Red Sox need to drive the ship for the next decade is already on the team.
Rafael Devers must remain with the Boston Red Sox for the next ten years. He’s a generational hitter with the power, bat speed, and ice cold clutch gene to carry a team during a 162-game season and energize them through a playoff run. He has more extra base hits over the past four years than any other player in baseball. He’s even an okay defender most of the time. And he is due to become a free agent following the 2023 season.
That several teams will be more than happy to hand Devers a ten-year contract worth north of $300 million next offseason is an absolute certainty. Given the clusterfudge of insane contracts that were handed out this month, the Red Sox cannot permit Devers to swim in that pool, which is filled with sharks, snakes, and those terrifying bugs that crawl up your urethra and sprout pointy spines. All it takes is one anxious GM with a psychotic billionaire owner breathing down his neck to make Devers an offer that he can’t refuse and that the Red Sox can’t … or won’t … match.
This isn’t a case of a superstar right fielder being sacrificed in 2020 because a lazy President of Baseball Ops had $312 million still committed to three starting pitchers that were in no position to help the team be competitive anytime soon.
This isn’t a case of a 30-year-old shortstop wanting a premium salary to play the toughest defensive position on the field well into (and apparently beyond) his late thirties.
This isn’t a case of a left fielder who forgot how to hit or a catcher that’s a season or two away from being over the hill.
This is the case of a 26-year-old hitting savant who wields his bat like the hammer of Thor, and who may not have even reached his prime yet! As nasty as Devers already is, his approach, discipline, and mental acuity will only improve over the next couple of years. He has not even reached his apex. He’s a diamond lodged in a gold mine encased in plutonium. You don’t play games with a player like this, especially when you’re looking to build a team that will contend for the next ten years.
Rafael Devers is the bat you want in the middle of your lineup for each of those next ten years. The Red Sox offense, as it is currently assembled, has a good chance of being one of the better hitting attacks in the league if it revolves around him. Take him away, and you have a bunch of side dishes with no entrée.
He doesn’t have the five-tool skillset that Betts has, and he doesn’t carry himself with the stoic dignity that Bogaerts does. But he pulverizes baseballs with a raw power and cocksure attitude that you don’t see often. I have seen it before though.
Devers’ camp has already gone on record to say that there will be no contract negotiations during the 2023 season. This already feels very much like the Bogaerts situation from this time last year, although I’m hoping that the sense of urgency for this case is magnified by a factor of ten. Chaim Bloom will not recover if Devers leaves Boston. He will take the blame and FSG will insert a new whipping boy in his place, but Devers’ departure would take a monumental toll on this fanbase that would last a generation.
The loyal die-hards who have remained by the team’s side under Bloom’s direction would cross the line and add their jeers to the chorus of the very first rats that jumped ship when Jon Lester departed, a population that has only swollen since then. I would be among them, firing salvos of doom and reproach at the organization with the same fervor that I now use to defend their strategy.
Bear in mind, I would never stoop to the level of those reprobates who claim they will never watch or cheer for the Red Sox again or pick a new favorite team. Anybody that is capable of such a thing is a person that I just can’t relate to on any level. I could be civil with such a creature, perhaps even friendly with them. But if anyone like that ever needs a ride to the airport or someone to co-sign a loan for them, they can just keep on walking right past me.
There is absolutely no excuse to not pay Rafael Devers whatever it takes to keep him in Boston. If he leaves, there is no coming back for this era of the Boston Red Sox. They’ll lose a lot of games. They’ll lose fans. They’ll lose credibility.
And they’ll lose my support.