Bet on Betts Getting Paid
By Michael Silverman
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Mookie Betts?
It’s now or probably never.
Now that free agent Bryce Harper has landed the largest contract ever ($330 million over 13 years) and Manny Machado landed the largest annual average value deal for a free agent ($30 million a year for 10 years) the parameters are in place for Betts to strike an even richer deal when he enters free agency.
For the Red Sox and their fans who want Betts to stay in Boston forever and ever, Thursday’s signing of Harper does not help their case much.
Betts, nine days older than 26-year-old Harper and 93 days younger than Machado, is just as good and valuable if not better than either Harper or Machado. He will be 28 when he becomes a free agent after next season
And given that Betts so far has given every indication that he will enter free agency after the 2020 season, that means it will be up to the Red Sox to decide if they want to submit a contract extension offer to him that would make him forego his first shot at calling his own shot.
And how much would the Red Sox have to offer to even catch Betts’ attention?
We’re talking money that would shatter both the Harper and Machado deals: Total value somewhere between $350-$400 million, and an average annual value of, say, $35 million and on up.
Would a 10-year deal worth $400 million surprise anyone?
And while money like that may test your definition of “silly,” please don’t forget that baseball is a $10 billion-plus and growing industry with 30 team owners doing quite nicely.
Think of it this way. The Phillies just made a 13-year investment in a 26-year-old slugger who should be able to not only set new home run records by playing in a home field bandbox but also lead the team to a championship or two as long as the team can smartly manipulate its farm system and 40-man roster while Harper’s around. Which will seem like forever.
The Padres have a farm system that is one of the best in baseball, so the Machado acquisition places them even closer to a title run with Machado.
Neither team is as top-heavy in talent and payroll as the Red Sox are right now, just as neither one is as close to another title as the Red Sox.
The Red Sox’ dilemmas are of a different order, which makes their dilemma with Betts even more complex and fascinating. There’s certainly a sense right now that their other most pressing dilemma, Chris Sale, who is a free agent after this season, is at least open to an extension in a way that Betts is not.
When Betts spoke of the Harper deal after Thursday’s 13-5 victory over the Nationals, he said, “He deserves it - that and more. He’s a great player, so good for him.”
Besides Harper and Machado, the other significant new contract to be hammered out was the eight-year contract extension third baseman Nolan Arenado signed with the Rockies - for eight years, $260 million, or $32.5 million a year, the highest ever for a position player.
Betts did not pour gasoline on the notion that those three deals define a landscape that pertains to him.
“Not really - they’re all different players, we’re all different players,” said Betts. “We all have different things that are important. Like I said, good for those guys, they deserve it. I’ll just continue to worry about what’s going on now.”
What’s going on now for Betts is a 2019 season where he’s looking to approach or better his 2018 MVP campaign as well as help lead his team to another title.
His goals for 2020 are probably not that much different.
Take him at his word when he says he does not think that the deals signed by Harper, Machado and Arenado really apply to him and his economic situation.
That’s how a player who believes he is entering free agency in two years thinks.
Betts would have been foolish to even ponder an extension before Harper signed but now that Harper has, what is going to make him act foolishly and suddenly entertain an extension now?
Look at what the Phillies and Padres did and then look at the marvelous mix of talent, character, drive and maturity Betts has. It’s not difficult at all to imagine a team hungrier than the Red Sox to overwhelm him in two years with a record contract.
The Red Sox don’t have Betts’ attention right now.
To get it, they are going to have to do something bold and dramatic.
They have the means. Whether they have the will is something they now have to figure out.