On the day before the Dodgers open up against the Giants, the best team in baseball decided to hand one of the best players in baseball a massive extension before he hits free agency. Mookie Betts agreed to a massive 12-year, $365 million deal to keep him in LA through his age-39 season.
Before the pandemic, I would’ve been shocked to see Betts sign an extension below $400 million, or even sign an extension at all. He certainly seemed adamant about testing free agency and setting a precedent, which he had every right to do. As someone who is a strong proponent of seeing as much money go to the players as possible, because they’re the reason why we watch, I fully supported him.
Unfortunately, the pandemic might negatively impact free agency, especially if the season is unable to be finished. For one, the owners, who have always been happy to privatize MLB’s gains but socialize the losses, have leveraged the pandemic to try and pay the players even less than the previously agreed upon amount in March, which is not only morally reprehensible, but it also might be signalling an excuse to not spend during the next offseason. In that context, it’s understandable for Betts to not take a risk and settle for less than $400 million.
“Settling” for $365 million might sound weird, but it really is significantly less than he is worth. I would’ve given him $450 million without even batting an eye, especially if I’m the Dodgers or another high market team. Next year he’ll be entering his age-28 season as the second-best player in baseball. Any team that really cares about winning should have no problem breaking the bank for him.
My immediate thoughts when I heard about the deal were similar to articles such as the one Craig Edwards wrote for FanGraphs when Mike Trout signed his big extension last year: this is a great bargain. He is still a young, generational talent who has averaged almost 8 WAR a season for the past five years. It’s really, really difficult to overpay someone like that. I’m sure there are more than a few teams that are groaning over the Dodgers getting such a great deal on Betts. Of course, the Dodgers had to part with significant talent in Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong just to be in the position to offer Betts this big extension, but factoring that in still makes this a great deal.
I understand how some might push back on calling a 13-year deal a bargain, and I get that. My stance is that eating bad years on the back end of a contract isn’t a big deal if you’re making up for it on the front end. At the pace Betts is going, he could earn the money on that contract before it’s even halfway done. If that sounds crazy to you, keep in mind that mediocre free agents (i.e. average, two-win players) get $12-$15 million a year. Betts is an MVP caliber player who will be making approximately $30 million a year. Regardless, it’s not like it would keep the Dodgers from continuing to spend if the Betts deal went bad quickly.
The big losers here are the Red Sox. I excoriated their ownership in my preseason preview of the team for wanting to save money they don’t need instead of fielding the best possible team they could. From that article:
“When you trade a generational talent, a player that is the best your franchise has developed since Ted Williams, someone who is on a Hall of Fame track, and the results make your competitive team worse, there is something seriously wrong with your sport. It’s disgraceful.”
Betts was on track to have his own statue outside of Fenway Park. That’s saying a lot, because only Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski have their own statues (I am just counting individual statues, not the Teammates one). That’s how good you have to be for the Red Sox to give you a statue. Betts could’ve joined them, which would not only be great for himself and the Red Sox, but the team also lacks statues of players of color. As an aside, I think giving Pedro Martínez and/or David Ortiz a statue would be a great idea.
The Red Sox could’ve had another all-time great player be associated with the team. As a Boston resident, I can tell you that fans loved him. Now it’s likely that he won’t even be wearing a Red Sox hat on his Cooperstown plaque. Again, this deal is great for Betts and the Dodgers, but this is going to sting Red Sox fans for a long time.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.