By Matt McCarthy, 985TheSportsHub.com
After a 13-pitch battle with J.A. Happ, Mookie Betts sent Fenway Park into a frenzy Thursday night when he deposited a fastball from the Blue Jays lefty onto Lansdowne Street. The grand slam propelled the Red Sox to their tenth straight win and proved to be one of the standout moments of Betts’ young career in Boston.
Let’s just hope there are more of those in a Red Sox uniform.
Through 75 games, Betts is hitting an American League-leading .352 with 23 home runs. He also leads the majors in slugging percentage (.683), and OPS (1.123). He is mounting his second MVP-caliber season in just his fourth full year in the big leagues.
Betts is rapidly cementing his spot as one of the most dynamic players in team history. Think it’s too soon for that type of praise? Think again. The Red Sox have had precious few players with Betts’ average-power-speed-defense skillset in their 117 years in existence.
He is on pace to become just the second Red Sox hitter ever to record a 30-30 season. Jacoby Ellsbury’s 32-home run, 39-stolen base 2011 campaign is the only one in team history.
Betts is also making a strong case for his third straight Gold Glove in right field. He would join Dwight Evans and Fred Lynn as the only outfielders in team history to accomplish that feat. He is arguably the best defensive right fielder the Sox have had since Evans.
He has only played right field full-time for two and a half seasons.
He is only 25 years old.
And he’s about to be a very rich man.
Betts will become a free agent following the 2020 season, which will be after the market is reset by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado this upcoming offseason. He will likely enter free agency in the middle of his prime, right before his age-28 season. He is scheduled to hit the market at the same time as Mike Trout. The money will go through the roof if those two hit free agency at the same time.
The Red Sox will need to pony up to keep Betts, but will they be willing to do that? Does Betts want to be here long-term? Both look like fair questions at this point.
In 2017, the Sox reportedly offered Betts a five-year contract in the neighborhood of $100 million, according to Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal. The deal would have bought out Betts’ arbitration years and at least one year of free agency.
Betts passed on the deal, presumably believing he could make more on the open market when he gets there in a few years. That looks like a good decision at this point.
Despite not coming to terms a long-term contract, those negotiations were said to be positive, according to McAdam.
But the other contract discussions between the right fielder and the team don’t appear to be so positive. Betts ended up playing 2017 on a $950,000 pre-arbitration deal after his contract was renewed by the team when the two sides could not come to a mutual agreement.
The contract disagreements between the right fielder and the club seemed escalate this past offseason when the Red Sox took Betts to salary arbitration in a squabble over $3 million.
The move was a rare one for an organization that has prided itself on avoiding arbitration cases over the years. Betts, Rolando Arrojo, and Fernando Abad are the only players the team has taken to arbitration since John Henry purchased the club in late-2001.
One of those names is not like the others.
The three-judge panel sided with Betts, awarding him $10.5 million for 2018 and nearly making him the highest paid player in baseball history in the first year of arbitration eligibility. Only Cubs third Baseman Kris Bryant has made more in his first crack at arbitration proceedings.
If the Red Sox thought they could get Betts to agree to a below-market contract, their failure to lock him up in 2017 and their unwillingness to settle on a higher salary for 2018 should be a wake-up call.
Perhaps failing to strike a mutual agreement on Betts’ 2018 salary isn’t as bad as it seems from the outside looking in. Or maybe it is a major cause for concern as Betts rockets towards free agency two and a half years from now.
However you slice it, this much is clear: Mookie Betts is going to get paid, whether that’s here or somewhere else.
It’s up to the Red Sox to make sure that check has a Jersey Street address on it.
Make it a blank check, if you have to. Don’t let him get away.