For the last few years, the Red Sox have attempted to sign Mookie Betts to a long-term contract extension. Every time, Betts and his representatives have politely declined the Sox' entreaties.
Instead, Betts has elected to go year-by-year through baseball's salary arbitration process. It's a path that has paid off handsomely, and beginning Friday, will undoubtedly do so again.
Last winter, the Sox filed at $7.5 million while Betts requested a figure of $10.5 million. Under a policy that has become standard f0r the Red Sox in all of their arbitration cases ("file-and-trial'' -- the team won't negotiate with players further once salary filings are exchanged, and instead will prepare for a hearing in front of a panel of three arbiters), the Sox went to arbitration, where they lost.
(Under baseball rules, either the team's figure or the player's is chosen; no middle ground is permissible).
On Friday, as teams throughout baseball exchange arbitration figures, Betts could well become the first player to request a one-season salary in excess of $20 million. MLBTradeRumors.com, which has predicted arbitration figures with great accuracy, projects Betts to be awarded a salary of $18.7 million, but it's virtually a given that a player would ask for more than the expected "settle'' point.
(Josh Donaldson holds the record for highest single-season salary for an arbitration-eligible player at $23 million in 2018, but that was the result of a settlement between Donaldson and his then-employers, the Toronto Blue Jays, before salary figures were officially exchanged. Similarly, Bryce Harper was paid $21.65 million by the Washington Nationals for 2018, but that, too, was agreed upon ahead of time).
Regardless of the numbers, Betts will have a formidable case to present later this month or early next. He was voted AL MVP in November after a season in which he led all of baseball in runs scored (129), batting average (346) and slugging percentage (.640). He also had a .438 on-base percentage, hit 32 homers, won both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger and saved 19 defensive runs in the outfield.
His 10.9 WAR was the highest for a Red Sox player since Carl Yastrzemski's legendary Triple Crown season of 1967.
If Betts sets a record this winter, it's frightening to think