One of the most talked about stories of this offseason, has been how much longer Mookie Betts will be on the Red Sox. The Red Sox have reportedly been trying to extend their star player long term since as far back as 2017. Each winter this conversation exists and every year it has produced the same result: Mookie Betts wants to test free agency and get the money he has earned. Much of the Boston media has tried to criticize Mookie for this. Criticizing somebody for prioritizing money over loyalty is outrageous. In any other industry, it is nearly a given that many employees would leave a given employer if another job with higher pay was available. Mookie is entitled to get that paycheck just as much as anybody else. He does not owe Boston a damn thing.
That said, there is no reason that the Red Sox can’t retain Betts. This is the Boston Red Sox. The idea that they need to be careful with their budget is unfounded. John Henry, the Red Sox owner, has an estimated net worth of 2.7 billion. His soccer team, Liverpool Football Club, just won the European cup. His baseball team won the 2018 World Series. The money is there.
Some like to say that Mookie doesn’t want to be in Boston. There is not really any evidence to back this claim up. His refusal to sign the extensions that have been offered have been about the dollar amount, not the team. The two reported deals that Betts was offered and subsequently rejected were $100 million over 5 years in 2017 and $200 million over 8 years in 2018. These are both absurdly low offers (granted he has done nothing but build his value since these offers). If the Red Sox are the highest bidder, Mookie will stay in Boston.
Let’s, for a moment, pretend that the Red Sox do not have zero chance of retaining Mookie Betts past 2020. Then they should trade him, right? No. If the Red Sox didn’t look to compete in 2020, then yes, it would make sense to trade him. But, the Red Sox should compete. Just two years ago, they won 119 games (including the postseason) on their way to a championship. The most notable pieces from that team that are no longer on the team are Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly, Rick Porcello, and Brock Holt (who should be brought back). None of those guys are the difference between winning a World Series and competing. Are they good players? Yeah, they are. Would the 2018 Red Sox have been non-competitors without them? No, not at all.
The team underperformed severely in 2019. Regression (positive regression) alone makes them competitors in 2020. By fWAR, the 2020 Red Sox are projected to be the 4th best team in baseball, with 48.8 projected fWAR as a team. This puts them behind the Astros, Yankees, and Dodgers, and ahead of teams like the Twins and Rays (who the Red Sox might be competing with directly in the AL Wild Card race, should the Yankees take the division, as many expect). They are still one of the best teams in baseball. George Springer is set to be a free agent next offseason. Is anybody calling for the Astros to trade George Springer? Of course not. He’s going to help them win baseball games in 2020. A lineup anchored by Betts, Devers, Bogaerts, and JD Martinez, along with a rotation headlined by Sale, Price, and Eduardo Rodriguez is good enough to compete with anybody.
This winter, the Red Sox reportedly offered Betts an extension worth $300 million over 10 years. Anybody who thinks that’s a fair price for Betts hasn’t been paying attention. This is the second best player in baseball. Does he deserve Trout money? No, probably not, but he is not that far off. 2020 will be Mookie’s age 27 season. He’s the best player the Red Sox have had since Carl Yastrzemski. He is going to be a first ballot hall of famer. He is the 1B to Trout’s 1A. Mookie countered the 300/10 offer with 420/12. That number seems ridiculous, but it really shouldn’t. I can’t say for certain that I would agree to that deal right away if I’m the Red Sox, but if that’s his starting asking price, there is no way I wouldn’t get a deal done. Even if Mookie won’t budge from that number, I still think it’s pretty reasonable to sign that deal. $35 million in AAV already isn’t that extreme, and 12 years from now it probably won’t seem like a huge figure. 12 years ago in 2008, there were only 3 players making over $20 million (Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, and Derek Jeter). In 2020, 47 players will make over $20 million. Beyond the numbers, this counter offer is critical in that it shows a willingness to negotiate and an interest from Betts in staying in Boston for the remainder of his career, which many have doubted.
Mookie Betts is a generational talent. He’s the best player in baseball, non-fish category. The last player the Red Sox developed that was this good had his best season over 50 years ago. A player like Mookie Betts comes along once, maybe twice in a lifetime. Don’t trade him. Don’t let him walk. Pay the man. If Mookie Betts ever wears another jersey, it will be a total failure on the part of Red Sox ownership and management.
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