In a rather surprising outcome, Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts won his arbitration case over the Red Sox and will earn $10.5 million for the 2018 season.
Meanwhile, dialogue between the Red Sox and agent Scott Boras has continued in hopes that J.D. Martinez could be in the fold at some point.
Many “experts” in the arbitration field figured the Red Sox would come away with the win after offering Betts $7.5 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility. The hearing took place Tuesday in Phoenix before a three-man panel of Daniel Brent, Mark Burstein and Phillip LaPorte, and the decision came Wednesday.
“We thought our chances of winning the case were solid, but you are never surprised when you get an arbitration ruling,” said Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.
Betts’s salary is the second-highest ever given to a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility, surpassed only by Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, who recently settled for a $10.855 million offer from the club to avoid a hearing.
The Red Sox and Betts could never quite get to a midway point in their negotiations, and thus let the arbitration panel settle the score.
Matt Swartz of MLBTradeRumors.com, who has had a successful model for estimating arbitration salaries, had pegged Betts at $8.2 million. The feeling was that because Betts is a multidimensional player — excelling at defense, with speed and power — that he was tough to predict, but the arbiters clearly recognized Betts’s enormous talents.
Betts hit .264 with 24 homers and 102 RBIs in 2017 after hitting .318 with 31 homers and 113 RBIs in 2016.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the Red Sox open talks with Betts on a multiyear deal at some point; they reportedly tried to sign him to one at this time last year but Betts declined. He was renewed by the team for 2017 at $950,000, so this is a massive increase. It will add to the Red Sox’ bottom line, but they have indicated they will have to exceed the luxury-tax threshold because of their need for a slugger.
To that end, they still have their eyes on Martinez as they attempt to read the market for him. The Red Sox may still be at their five-year offer in the $125 million-$130 million range. There have been no reports of other offers for Martinez, though Boras has hinted about some.
The Red Sox would want him to be a DH, while Boras indicates that other teams are looking at Martinez as a right fielder.
Logan Morrison could be an alternative for the Red Sox.
There are still more than 100 free agents flooding a very slow market. Pitchers and catchers around baseball are due to report to spring training Feb. 14. There could be a frenzy of activity coming soon.