SEATTLE – It was almost exactly a year ago – in this same city, no less -- that the Red Sox promoted their top position player and had him make his major league debut at Safeco Field.
It worked well enough for both Andrew Benintendi and the club that now, they’re trying it again.
Desperate for an offensive upgrade at third and in need of a power boost, Rafael Devers, ready or not at age 20, has been summoned to see if he can have the same kind of impact that Benintendi delivered over the final third of last season.
Benintendi posted an .835 OPS for the 2016 Sox, while providing invaluable energy to a team slogging through the season’s dog days. Who’s to say that Devers isn’t capable of doing the same?
There are crucial differences, of course. For one, Benintendi was almost two years older and took the more traditional route traveled by American-born players, playing Division 1 college ball, while Devers is an international free agent from the Dominican Republic who was playing Single A only last summer.
And there’s this: Benintendi arrived after the trade deadline when the Sox failed to land Carlos Beltran as an experienced outfielder/run producer. This year, Devers will join the club a week before the deadline.
But the prospect for the same sort of infusion of production and youthful energy is there.
The timing could be telling. A week is not much of an evaluation period, especially given that Devers won’t play Monday night (the Mariners are throwing lefty James Paxton and as they did with Benintendi, the Sox want to give the rookie a day to get acclimated) and Thursday represents an off-day on the schedule. At maximum, he’ll get five starts before the deadline.
It could be that Dave Dombrowski hasn’t found much he likes on the trade market, or finds the asking prices unreasonable. Or this could all be a bluff on Dombrowski’s part, his way of telling other general managers: You’re return costs are too high; we’re sticking with what we have internally, thank you.
View this as a bit of cost-benefit analysis on Boston’s part. Sure, the Red Sox could include a top prospect and get a more established third baseman for the stretch run. But maybe the Sox have their top solution in-house, and can get better – at the position and in the power department – without sacrificing any young players.
"Our (organizational) people say, ‘Why would you try (giving up a lot for a little); why don’t you try him?'" Dombrowski said.
What’s the worst that can happen? Even if Devers stumbles in his first week and proves not yet ready, the Sox still have time to make a deal before July 31. It’s not like there are any other contenders who will beat them to the top targets. And maybe, forced to sweat out the looming deadline, the absence of a market for third basemen will lower the asking price.
As they did with Benintendi, the Sox will protect the newbie, playing him only against righthanders to start. If he warrants more playing time – as Benintendi did soon after his arrival – he’ll get it.
One thing seemed obvious Sunday, when the Sox announced the move: if Devers fails in his audition, it won’t be because he’s overwhelmed.
“Our people say that he just continues to handle the challenges that are given to him,’’ said Dombrowski. “Our biggest concern with him had been that, if we brought him up and he struggles, like a lot of guys do, how would he handle it? And our people think he will handle it well at this point. They said he’s ready to tackle that next step.’’
Dombrowski didn’t take the prospect of promoting Devers lightly, noting that he’s probably talked to more people, more often in the organization about the third baseman “than any player, maybe, in my career.’’
Universally, the sentiment was that Devers could handle the jump from a mental perspective.
As for being ready on the field, Devers has ripped it up at Triple A since his promotion from Portland a week ago, hitting .400, capped by a three-hit performance Sunday.
Defensively, Devers is less assured, having committed three errors in his first week at Pawtucket.
“Young errors,’’ shrugged Dombrowski. “He has the hands, he has the arm. He’s also made some good plays, too. But most of (the errors) were committed more from a timing perspective. I guess if you had an ideal situation, you’d let him just go out and continue to play third base, continue to play there.
“But it’s a situation where we’re in need here. ‘’
If they can again find they have their own homegrown solution, why not?