Mookie Betts is one of baseball's brightest young stars, and not yet 25, has a seemingly unlimited future ahead. He's a fan favorite and a key part of the Red Sox foundation. It would make sense for the team to try to secure him to a long-term contract extension.
Earlier this year, they did. And Betts passed.
According to multiple league sources, the proposed deal was said to be for five years and in the neighborhood of $100 million. Betts isn’t eligible for free agency until after the 2020 season. The deal would have seen the Sox buy out multiple years of salary arbitration along with at least one year of free agency.
It’s unclear whether the deal included any option years that would buy out additional free agency years from Betts, who will turn 25 next month. Most of the talks took place in March, when deals of this nature often are completed without the backdrop of distractions that can come during the regular season.
With an average annual value of $20 million, the deal would make Betts’s contract the second richest for players with – at the time of the negotiations — two-plus years of service time. Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, who beat out Betts for the 2016 American League Most Valuable Player award, signed a deal worth just over $24 million in average annual value. Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants is next on the list of players in the same service class, with an AAV of $18.5 million.
One source characterized the negotiations as positive even though no deal was struck. Indications are the Red Sox may again try to secure Betts to a long-term deal this offseason, though it’s unclear what their chances would be to get something done.
“I’ll listen,’’ Betts told BostonSportsJournal.com on Wednesday night, “but in my position, I’ll probably just take it year-to-year.’’
The initial offer came at a time when the Red Sox made the decision to renew Betts this past spring, an unusual tact for the organization. With no salary arbitration eligibility, Betts had little leverage in contract talks, but the Sox elected to renew him – i.e. assign him a salary that he hadn’t agreed to – when they couldn’t come to terms on a figure for 2017.
The Sox paid Betts $950,000 the highest figure ever given to a renewed player and the second-highest ever given to a player with two-plus seasons of service time and without arbitration eligibility.
“There’s no animosity or anything going on,’’ Betts told reporters at the time. “They didn’t let my hopes down. Now, I’ll focus on baseball. …It’s behind us and we go forward and play the game. I can’t focus on that. Right now, I just worry about bringing home a World Series.’’
It’s unknown whether any fallout from the renewal carried over to the longer-term contractual talks, though, at the time, Betts said he harbored no ill will toward the Sox for their stance.
Betts finished second in balloting for the American League MVP last season, losing out to Trout.
This year, Betts leads the team in WAR (5.5) and doubles and leads all of baseball in runs saved (29), but has been in something of an offensive funk in the second half, with just one home run dating back to July 17. His OPS of .775 is down from last season's .897. The Sox see value in achieving some cost certainty and locking up Betts for the near future.
The team’s two other homegrown players with fairly similar service time – Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. – are both represented by Scott Boras, who, as a rule, advises his clients against such deals, preferring to maximize their salary arbitration years while reaching free agency as scheduled.