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With $331 Million Deal, Red Sox Will Construct Around Rafael Devers

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

Confused? It was just one other day within the bewildering off-season of Major League Baseball’s most puzzling franchise, which swerved again this week from frustration to elation.

The sport on Monday was the N.H.L.’s Winter Classic, and the Boston Bruins defeated the Henry-owned Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-1. Each teams wore baseball uniforms to the ballpark, and when Henry arrived, a fan on Van Ness Street, along the stadium’s first final analysis, spotted him within the car parking zone and cried, “Pay Raffy!” Henry — whose ever-expanding sports portfolio had appeared to dampen his enthusiasm for spending on the Red Sox — could have listened.

Rafael Devers, Boston’s star third baseman, was said to be within the technique of finalizing an 11-year, $331 million contract extension with the Red Sox on Wednesday. The agreement was first reported by the previous major leaguer Carlos Baerga on Instagram. The deal would supply a jolt of optimism amid a dreary winter for a team coming off a dizzying decade: five playoff appearances, five seasons ending no less than 15 games out of first place within the American League East.

Devers, 26, is the last remaining position player from Boston’s 2018 championship roster. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts left for the San Diego Padres in free agency last month, and other homegrown starters, like Mookie Betts, the 2018 A.L. most respected player, Andrew Benintendi, and Christian Vázquez, were shipped off in trades.

In a phone interview on Wednesday morning, Chaim Bloom, the team’s chief baseball officer, explained why the time was right to make a long-term commitment to Devers — and why it wasn’t quite right to accomplish that with the others.

“We absolutely need to keep him here and we would like to construct around him, and I do know we’ve had players in recent history that we’ve felt that way about and it didn’t work out,” Bloom said.

“The difference now’s while you’re making those bets, it’s not only in regards to the talent of the player, it’s also in regards to the positioning of the organization and are you well positioned to back up the bet? Are you well positioned to have the muse around that core piece that can mean you can maximize the prime years of the player? And easily put, I just think we’re significantly better arrange for that at once than we were just a few years ago.”

It’s unimaginable to know precisely how long-term deals with Betts and Bogaerts — or other free agents the Red Sox didn’t explore — could have altered the team’s long-term outlook. But Betts and Bogaerts are 4 years older than Devers, and Bloom believes the timeline matches up higher with Devers, whose prime may coincide longer with Boston’s next glory era.

On the other hand, predicting the Red Sox’ fortunes has been vexing for years. After a last-place finish in 2012, they signed some midlevel free agents and won the 2013 World Series. After two more last-place seasons, they won three division titles in a row, culminating within the 2018 World Series title.

A mediocre follow-up season led Henry to fireplace Dave Dombrowski, a probable Hall of Fame executive who focuses on constructing through acquiring superstars. The hiring of Bloom, who had been a top official with the thrifty and successful Tampa Bay Rays, a division rival, appeared to signal a shift in philosophy.

Bloom insisted that isn’t quite right. He believed the Red Sox needed to make hard decisions without tearing down completely — that’s, attempt to contend without being reckless and weakening the longer term. His three seasons have reflected the range of outcomes for that sort of strategy: last place in 2020, a surprise visit to the American League Championship Series in 2021, and last place again in 2022.

“Rewind the clock three years, to after I came,” Bloom said. “You had a club that obviously was coming off a whole lot of recent success, but clearly was not able where it was at or anywhere near the highest of the division anymore. The talent wasn’t close within the farm system to replenish that roster, and there have been quite just a few commitments on the books. That’s not an ideal position to be in.

“And, really, the strategy all along has been to reset the table for a run of prolonged success, but to attempt to do it in a way where we were winning while we were doing it. There’s no doubt it’s a heavier lift to attempt to serve each masters. We were capable of do it in 2021. Obviously in ’22, for quite a lot of reasons, it didn’t work. But the way in which you try this is by maintaining elements of that core while replenishing the organization as much as you possibly can with young talent. We’ve a few of those young guys who’re coming — a few of them are going to play really distinguished roles in ’23 — and there’s more coming behind that.

“If you happen to proceed taking up massive commitment after massive commitment, you never really get out of treading water around those.”

The Red Sox have largely avoided such deals recently. Officially, they’ve only 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 profession in Japan.

Their other deals this winter have been risk-averse: two years each for infielder Justin Turner and the right-handed relievers Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin, and one 12 months for the right-handed starter Corey Kluber and the lefty reliever Joely Rodríguez. The team hopes that three young pitchers — Whitlock, Tanner Houck and Bryan Bello — can establish themselves within the rotation, however the veteran starters — Kluber, Chris Sale, James Paxton, Nick Pivetta — offer little certainty.

The 2023 outlook could be different had the Red Sox made a stronger offer to Bogaerts before free agency or matched the Padres’ winning bid (11 years, $280 million). They may have moved aggressively on one other alternative from a deep class of free agents. Their passivity made you wonder if Henry simply didn’t need to pay the going rate for superstars anymore.

Would the Red Sox make those sorts of investments again? Bloom emphasized on Wednesday morning that they might.

“Absolutely — when it aligns with winning,” he said. “The tip point is winning. It’s not commitments for their very own sake. It’s commitments you could win with. As we see, you win with these after they’re a part of a whole team and complete organization. With every move, whether it’s a waiver claim or a big, multiyear contract, the endpoint is at all times: is that this going to assist us deliver to our fans what we’re here to deliver, which is winning baseball on an annual basis? And if the reply is yes, it’s something we should always pursue.”

The Red Sox have passed on a whole lot of those options. They won’t be anyone’s favorite within the A.L. East. But a deal for Devers is a robust sign that a stubbornly pragmatic front office believes in its long-term direction.

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