Red Sox

The celebratory tone of Wednesday was destined to ring hollow.

Rafael Devers was smiling in the center of a packed dais for Wednesday's official announcement of his 10-year contract extension with the Red Sox.
Rafael Devers was smiling in the center of a packed dais for Wednesday’s official announcement of his 10-year contract extension with the Red Sox. Jonathan Wiggs /Globe Staff


I can’t decide what’s more bewildering: That the Red Sox really feel like they did something on Wednesday morning, or that so many of the rest of us don’t.

The clearest emotion to find is joy for Rafael Devers, his evolution from a 16-year-old Dominican free agent to the unquestioned face of the franchise complete in a shade less than a decade. Suffice to say, refusing to send him to Chicago as the final piece of the Chris Sale trade in late 2016, instead getting the White Sox to take Luis Alexander Basabe and Luis Diaz, was sound negotiating.

(Fun fact: One of the other major pieces the Red Sox refused to include? Andrew Benintendi, who Chicago gave its largest ever guaranteed contract — five years, $75 million — earlier this month. It’s no $331 million, but it’ll buy plenty of Italian beef.)

Devers is nothing less than one of baseball’s great young talents, dedicated and funny and everything you want a star to be. The 10th-largest contract in MLB history for the game’s leader in extra-base hits since the beginning of 2019. A two-time 30 HR, 100 RBI guy before his 25th birthday, who was only denied a third as a 25-year-old last year by a balky hamstring.

“I love playing baseball,” he told reporters Wednesday at Fenway Park, “and I love doing it here.”

His emergence from the cloud of prospects in which he began — Benintendi, Yoan Moncada, Sam Travis, Jay Groome, Manuel Margot, and countless more you’d never recognize — is a moment of organizational celebration befitting the credits the team ran Wednesday, saluting a fraction of those along Devers’s development way.

It all harkens, at least for the old writing this, to a sunny Wednesday 10 years ago when everything felt right and, of Dustin Pedroia, then-GM Ben Cherington said, “if we’re going to bet on someone at 37 or 38 years old, we’re not sure there’s a better guy to bet on.”

Oops. Hey, we know the perpetual smiles on the press conference dais don’t always last, and in the pantheon of decisions that ultimately cost Cherington his job, the Pedroia deal was nowhere near the top. To me, teams are smart to err on the side of their homegrown talent. Why, just ask Chaim Bloom!

“It’s a wonderful thing to retain a homegrown player who loves Boston and who Boston and Red Sox Nation loves back,” the chief baseball officer told reporters Wednesday.

And just about when everyone who heard him say that stopped thinking about their favorite names who didn’t get that chance, Bloom folded up his notes and began the 90-second soliloquy for which Wednesday will be remembered.

How you feel about a 39-year-old with a Yale degree in Latin Classics declaring, “it’s gonna be awesome” is a matter of personal taste. But there’s no debating it beat 24 hours earlier, when he was summarizing Trevor Story’s 2023-threatening elbow surgery thusly: “It just means there’s more to do.”

That scarcely seems possible. Story’s presumed absence for at minimum most of 2023 means six of the last-place 2022 team’s top contributors by bWAR (Xander Bogaerts, Michael Wacha, Christian Vázquez, Nate Eovaldi, J.D. Martinez) will miss the sequel.

Which is fine turnover if this isn’t the refurbished model.

Lineup: Masataka Yoshida (LF), Kiké Hernández (SS), Devers (3B), Justin Turner (DH), Alex Verdugo (RF), Triston Casas (1B), Christian Arroyo (2B), Reese McGuire (C), Jarren Duran (CF).

Yoshida has never played in America. Hernández likely won’t play short, which is good because (a) he played his career high 24 games there in 2017, and (b) Duran in center and Verdugo in right is already giving me indigestion. Arroyo has never gotten more than 300 plate appearances in a year, nor has McGuire. Casas has 27 MLB games under his belt. Turner? He’s 38, but compared to the rest of them, how can I quibble?

Rotation: Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Nick Pivetta, James Paxton, Garrett Whitlock.

Sale and Paxton threw a combined six MLB innings last year. Kluber and Pivetta each made 30-plus starts, but were below league average. Whitlock not only hasn’t started more than nine games in his career, he’s coming off hip surgery.

Bullpen: Kenley Jansen, Matt Barnes, Chris Martin, John Schreiber, Tanner Houck, Ryan Brasier, Kutter Crawford, Joely Rodríguez (LHP).

The least of Alex Cora’s problems. It’ll probably be fine, but if it needs to throw 650 innings — last year’s threw 623 with Eovaldi in the mix — it’ll probably end badly.

That’s a bad baseball team, people. Yeah, it’s Jan. 12 and the next nine months will be anything but linear, but if I told you that roster won 81 games, you’d race to take it, wouldn’t you?

Which made the celebratory tone of Wednesday destined to ring hollow. This is not a time for Red Sox fans to celebrate, or to be reminded about “two games from the World Series” in 2021 or being “playoff caliber” in 2022.

Signing Rafael Devers is wonderful for him. It’s wonderful for those of us who will get to watch him for another decade. But it should not feel like a genuine surprise for the Red Sox to ante up and keep a homegrown star.

To for once under Bloom not be rooting around the bargain bin while the perpetual contention machine is being constructed in Worcester, Portland, and parts beyond.

Story? I can’t say it enough: Story’s here because the Sox thought they got a $200 million talent at 30 percent off. And why’d they get that deal? Because plenty of people around the game thought his elbow was due to do exactly what it just did.

To be clear, entering Bloom’s fourth year, he’s putting some real stakes in the ground with Yoshida and Devers. And Story will hopefully be healthy after this surgery, with four more seasons (and a possible fifth) to justify Bloom’s faith.

But when the Sox architect talked on Tuesday about adding “impact guys” to the starting rotation who could be in Boston “for a long time,” it reminded that he hasn’t yet. When he mentioned haymakers on Wednesday and how “we’re probably going to take a couple more; this is baseball” . . .

No one who still cares about the Red Sox needs to be reminded about the haymakers. The marathon. The long road to contention, or to the growth of the next Devers.

They need to be reminded that the Red Sox remain a juggernaut. Not just via payroll size, but via the sort of genuine commitment to win now more present in places like San Diego, New York, and Philadelphia, where the chase for a first continues.

It’s amazing that $331 million can feel like just a small step toward what we used to consider the status quo around here. And yet, when you’ve frittered away as much trust and benefit of the doubt as this group has?

There needs to be more reasons given not to check out tomorrow. And that 2023 roster is going to need more than Rafael Devers to do that.


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