The risk, reward of paying a player like Rafael Devers


Chaim Bloom talks Rafael Devers situation

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The Bradfo Sho
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The best free agent contract ever!

People were actually screaming that in various corners of social media after Bryce Harper's historic home run. A bit reactionary, but point taken. Harper has given the Phillies plenty of bang for their 330 million bucks, with the National League Championship Series punctuation serving as shiniest example.

Such a deal - and impact - should surface a broader baseball conversation, one which Red Sox should jump in on considering whatever awaits life with or without Rafael Devers.

For those teams that don't get such Harper-esque payoffs, the retort is easy: They don't run isolations for outfielders. In other words, paying such much for one player on 26-man roster is a dicey proposition.

The Angels are the standard-bearer when it comes to this buyer beware mentality. Forget the fact that Anthony Rendon's deal made up 19 percent of their payroll in 2022, even the investment allocated to Mike Trout can be questioned. At age 30, the star accounts for just under 20 percent of the Los Angeles payroll, and will be paid just north of $35 million through 2030.

That is 40 percent of a last-place team locked up through 2026. And that isn't even including the money coming the way of Shohei Ohtani, who the Angels will have to make a decision on prior to his free agency eligibility after next season.

In other words, you better the right guy, and even when you do sometimes that doesn't translate to MLB teams getting to where they want to go.

But ...

There are certainly cases to be made for such allocations. Harper and Devers being two of them.

This is what former Phillies general manager Matt Klentak told when asked about how an organization can function after giving out the kind of 13-year, $330 million deal Harper signed:

"I would be willing to bet it’s different for every team because it’s obviously very dependent on your own individual organization and the circumstance. For us signing Harper, for example, we viewed it as a couple of things taking into consideration. One was the competitive timeline of our major league team which we still feel is heading in the right direction. Two is the relative youth of the player. Harper was entering his Age 26 season. Thirteen years is a long time but among those years are a lot of prime years. There is a lot that goes into it. You want to make sure your market and your revenues can support fielding a team around that player. I think if you have one marquee superstar controlling too high of your payroll that can be a little bit of a challenge. Maybe not for everybody. But those are the things you want to think through. Also how that player is going to fit in that market. If you’re going to make that kind of commitment to that player, there are enough challenges in baseball already you would like to make sure you’re eliminating some of them if you can just by doing your due diligence of the player and his makeup and how he would potentially fit on your club. Even having said that anytime you’re signing a player to a guaranteed contract you know there are some risks. You know over the course of a player’s career there are likely going to be injuries, and there are likely going to be good years and bad years. You just have to bake that into your decision-making process."

As we sit here, it's easy to suggest Harper's deal is a rousing success. He has served as the key cog in leading his team to the World Series ... start and stop. Also, it's not as if the left hitter hasn't produced, hitting .285 with a .950 OPS and 106 homers over his four seasons in Philadelphia. But ...

In games Harper has played in with the Phillies, Philadelphia's overall record is 236-230 with this season representing its first postseason appearance since the star's arrival.

But the facts of the matter is that they have found their way to the World Series, while selling a ton of "Harper" jerseys along the way. And, by the way, it should be noted that as much as he makes in 2022 ($26 million) it represents just 10 percent of Phillies' payroll.

So, where does that leave us with Devers?

If a mammoth extension can be worked out with the Red Sox third baseman, the team would be committing to the player as a similar age as Harper when that deal was struck. The two also have remarkably similar numbers through their first five seasons:

Devers, 2017-22: 2,958 plate appearances, 139 home runs, .854 OPS, .283 batting average.
Harper, 2012-16: 2,770 plate appearances, 121 home runs, .883 OPS, .279 batting average.

Production aside, the teams' need for such a player also lines up.

From a business perspective, Devers' presence at Fenway Park would duplicate the kind of following Harper represents at Citizens Bank Park. Shirts. Tickets. Buzz. That all factors into any financial commmitment.

There is also optimism that the other nine players participating with Devers every night throughout the meat and potatoes of what figures to be a long-term relationship.

When asked out his 10-year, $300 million deal with Manny Machado, San Diego general manager A.J. Preller told, "Each situation is a little bit different. For us, with the last offseason with Manny, the farm system allows us to have some of those conversations. You talk about a percentage of payrolls, it depends on where you’re coming from. When you’re coming from a lower base it gives you the flexibility to consider somebody like that. We’re projecting we’re going to have some of those players in those 0-3 years and producing. I think all of that factors in. You understand you have to put a whole team around a player, so it wasn’t just about Manny Machado. You look up and you have a (Fernando) Tatis or a (Chris) Paddack and more guys who are coming up through the system who are going to be with us during a six or seven-year period with some type of control and some type of salary certainty. ... Manny asked a lot about (prospects). We sat down with myself, his wife and Manny in Miami and we talked for five or six hours. That was a big part of his conversation. His questions to us were asking about the big picture, the plan, the goal. His agent Dan Lozano also represents Fernando Tatis and he had met him at the futures game so he was aware of a few of those guys. Danny also represented Logan Allen. So he was aware of a few of those guys. We wanted to paint the picture that this wasn’t going to be just himself and a bunch of unknown players. We believe in these guys. We believe we’re also going to have the ability to add payroll over the next few years which ownership was committed to. That was all part of the conversations an the process of recruiting Manny."

The narrative wasn't all that different from what Chaim Bloom told the Bradfo Sho, explaining how the organization was in a much better position to support a mammoth deal - such as the one most likely needed to keep Devers - than they were when talking with Mookie Betts. That, he said, was because of the farm system.

“Right now on Raffy, we are in a different position as an organization where I think our talent base — the young talent in the organization — is in a much better spot, and we are not committed in the same way financially to as many players as we were (heading into 2020)," Bloom said. "So, I can’t give a guarantee still based on that, obviously, but part of what we have been trying to do is put the organization in a position where we wouldn’t be backed into that corner."

The Angels. The Rangers. Perhaps the Tigers. All represent cautionary tales.

Devers? Locking him up wouldn't seem reactionary or desperate. Just smart. The kind of smart the Phillies are currently basking in.

Featured Image Photo Credit: USA Today Sports