Red Sox

Rafael Devers contract a conundrum, especially if Red Sox want to cut costs in 2020

Rafael Devers contract a conundrum, especially if Red Sox want to cut costs in 2020

Signing Rafael Devers to a long-term extension would give the Red Sox some peace of mind that they've locked in another young star alongside Xander Bogaerts for the long haul.

Too bad the coming offseason doesn't look like the best time to do it. As we laid out on Wednesday, if the Red Sox have designs on getting under the $208 million luxury tax threshold and resetting their penalty clock, then they'd be best served paying Devers about $800,000 as a pre-arbitration player. That's a more manageable 2020 salary than the $12 million-plus a new deal would count for tax purposes.

If there's a deal to be had and the Red Sox can't make it for budgetary reasons, that would be a shame, because Devers continues pushing to greater heights during his breakout campaign.

On Wednesday, Devers smashed his 50th double of the season. He needs just one more homer to reach 30, at which point he'd have a good shot at becoming just the second player in Red Sox history to bat over .300 with 30 homers, 50 doubles, and 100 RBIs. The other was David Ortiz in 2007.

His teammates let him know about double No. 50, which made him the youngest player in franchise history to reach that mark.

"Of course, they all congratulated me, but it's one of those things, if I stay healthy, I know the kind of offensive game that I have," Devers told reporters in Toronto. "It feels great, but just because I'm the youngest doesn't really mean much. At the same time, because we're all grown men, and I know what I have to do and the type of job that I have, I'm just really thankful to be able to have that."

What's scary is how much better Devers could be in a couple of years when he adds even more strength, not to mention experience.

"I think I'm just continuing to learn, and there's a lot of room left for me to grow," Devers told reporters. "During the offseason, I'll go and check out what it is I need to work on to get better because that's what I love to do, just to learn more about my game and try to get as much knowledge as possible, but obviously if I can stay healthy, I know I can have more successful seasons like I am now."

Bogaerts joked at the All-Star Game that he's glad he got his six-year, $120 million extension when he did, because Devers suddenly looks like someone who's going to command a sizable chunk of the payroll. Devers' emergence could make defending MVP Mookie Betts expendable, especially if the Red Sox decide $30 million annually is an unwise investment, because with pitchers David Price and Chris Sale on the books for over $30 million apiece next year, the Red Sox must ask themselves how many $30M players is too many.

Devers is taking a more grounded approach.

"Overall, my health, that's been the biggest thing that's contributed to the success that I've had this season, because I haven't had any really real injuries like I've had in past years, so the fact that I'm fully healthy is why I'm having the season that I'm having," Devers told reporters.

Devers went 1-for-4 in Thursday's listless loss to the Blue Jays. He has scuffled a bit recently, but hopes to finish strong.

"It's just part of the game," he told reporters. "Obviously, during the season you're going to have ups and downs and I've had a lot of ups this season, so obviously at some point I knew I was going to have some struggles at the plate, but I'm just trying to grind it out and go through it so I can finish strong."

In a parallel universe, a strong finish could land Devers a long-term contract offer. In this one, that's a much dicier proposition. At the very least, the Red Sox might have to structure an offer that doesn't kick in until 2021, which will only raise his price.

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Red Sox' Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Rafael Devers get some MVP recognition in AL voting

Red Sox' Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Rafael Devers get some MVP recognition in AL voting

In a disappointing season for the Boston Red Sox, the productive years of Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Rafael Devers did warrant some MVP recognition.

Bogaerts finished fifth in the American League MVP voting (The Angels' Mike Trout was your winner for the third time in six years), Betts, who won the award a year ago, was eighth and Devers 12th in the voting by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Bogaerts hit .309 with 33 homers, 52 doubles and 117 RBI; Devers .311, 32 HR, 54 doubles and 115 RBI. They became the first teammates to ever reach the 30-homer/50-doubles mark in the same season. The numbers for Betts (.295, 30 HR, 80 RBI), the subject of trade rumors this offseason, were considered by many to be a down year for him.

The Dodgers' Cody Bellinger was voted National League MVP.

Justin Long, the Sox Senior Manager of Media Relations and Baseball Information, points out that having three players in the top 12 is the best showing for the Red Sox since 2011:    

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There's only one way Astros sign-stealing story blows back on Red Sox, and we're not there yet

There's only one way Astros sign-stealing story blows back on Red Sox, and we're not there yet

Let's say for the sake of argument that Alex Cora played the role of lead drummer when the 2017 Astros were stealing signs like a merry band of trash-can pounding subway buskers.

So what?

That's an institutional crime and Houston should pay the price, not a former bench coach. Think of it like Deflategate. The Patriots deserved their punishment, but taking Tom Brady within a whisker of the Supreme Court was overkill.

Here's where things get dicey. What if Cora imported some of Houston's less savory tactics to Boston, a team that has already been censured by MLB — under former manager John Farrell, to be fair — for using Apple watches to help steal signs in 2017?

Because Cora and bullpen coach Craig Bjornson were both members of that compromised Astros staff, and because the arms race to gain even a tiny edge can very easily blur the line between gamesmanship and fraud, the only way this story truly becomes relevant to the Red Sox is if an MLB investigation reveals that Boston has enacted some of Houston's worst practices over the last two seasons.

There's no evidence that the Red Sox have deployed technology with similar nefariousness, and the numbers under Cora don't reveal any wild home-road splits. Since 2013, for instance, the Red Sox have outperformed their road OPS at Fenway Park by anywhere from 3.34 percent (2014) to 17.65 percent (2015). Cora's two Red Sox clubs fall in the middle of that range — 9.66 percent in 2018 and 7.33 percent last year.

In conversations with multiple executives at this week's GM meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz., one theme emerged consistently — the Astros don't consider their actions cheating, because they believe they live in a world where Everybody is Doing It, and if they happen to be better at finding those edges at the margins, that's not their problem. Don't hate 'em 'cuz you ain't 'em, so to speak.

This issue has burst into the public eye because The Athletic has broken a series of stories about the Astros stealing signs. Former Astros reporter Evan Drellich and national writer Ken Rosenthal first reported that the Astros stole signs in 2017 by positioning a center field camera on the opposing catcher, connecting it to a monitor outside the dugout, and banging on a trash can in real time to warn the hitter when a breaking ball was coming.

The Athletic followed up on Wednesday night with a report that Cora and Mets manager Carlos Beltran — Houston's DH in 2017 — will also be summoned as part of MLB's investigation. ESPN added that the league has already spoken to Bjornson, who served as Houston's bullpen coach in 2017.

While the involvement of Cora and Bjornson makes this tangentially a Red Sox story, for the time being it's just an Astros story. That will change if MLB determines the ex-Astros didn't want to fall behind their former team in the information race after they arrived in Boston, but so far there's no indication that they're under suspicion.

Making all of this murkier is Cora's well-earned reputation for sign stealing and pitch tipping. He was considered one of the best in the game at these very particular skills as a player, and he hasn't lost his touch as a manager. Of course, there's a big difference between noting glove placement on a fastball and cracking opposing signals on a high def monitor over the toilet next to the dugout.

So let the Astros take the heat on this one, at least for now. If something changes, we can reconvene.

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