Mookie Betts is the MVP front-runner. A different kind of question about his value may loom
Mookie Betts had a historic season in 2018. Tonight, he will find out if members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America determined it to be the year’s most valuable performance in the American League.
The results of NL and then AL Most Valuable Player voting will be announced on MLB Network and at BBWAA.com between 6 and 7 p.m.
Two years after he was runner-up to the Angels’ Mike Trout in the 2016 MVP race, Betts is considered the runaway favorite to collect the award over fellow finalists Trout and Jose Ramirez of Cleveland.
Betts’s credentials are considerable. He led the majors with a .346 average and .640 slugging percentage, ranked second to Trout with a .438 OBP, and he hit 32 homers and stole 30 bases, becoming the first 30/30 player to lead the league in average.
He also delivered his typically spectacular defense in right, winning his third straight Gold Glove while ranking, according to publicly available defensive metrics, as one of the top five defensive players in the game relative to peers at his position.
Those combined contributions suggested a historically outstanding performance. Fangraphs credited Betts with 10.4 Wins Above Replacement, the highest mark for any player since 2004, while Baseball-Reference.com pegged Betts’s performance as having been worth 10.9 WAR, the highest mark for any player since 2002. (That is also the highest by any Red Sox since Carl Yastrzemski posted a whopping 12.5 WAR in his triple-crown season of 1967.)
While Trout (.312/.460/.628 with 39 homers, 24 steals) and Ramirez (.270/.387/.552 with 39 homers and 34 steals) both had outstanding years, Betts’s overall contributions on a team that claimed a franchise-record 108 victories make him the clear front-runner — to the point where a different kind of question about Betts’s value may loom as the bigger one this winter.
The Red Sox view Betts as a generational talent. The last time they had an MVP winner, they reached a six-year, $40.5 million long-term deal with Dustin Pedroia within weeks of his winning the award. Talks about a long-term deal for Betts — who is two years from free agency, rather than Pedroia’s distance of four years when he won his MVP — would be far more expensive.
Free agents Bryce Harper (who reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million extension offer from the Nationals) and Manny Machado are about to redefine the landscape of what such players are worth. (Harper and Machado are both the same age as Betts.)
The Sox are mindful of that market dynamic, while hopeful that they can keep under team control for the long haul. Team president and CEO Sam Kennedy made that notion clear in October.
“[Principal owner] John Henry, [chairman] Tom Werner, [president of baseball operations] Dave Dombrowksi, [and] yours truly have made it crystal clear to Mookie that specifically we hope he is a member of the Boston Red Sox for his career. We want nothing more than that,” said Kennedy.
“We also understand he has to survey the landscape, and both sides need to agree that a fair outcome is doable. I hope that is the case.
“There couldn’t be a better representative of the Boston Red Sox. On the field speaks for itself, but off the field, he’s such a wonderful guy, such a great leader. He represents everything we want.
“But we also recognize it will be a difficult discussion at some point just given that you want to have a whole team. So, we’ll see when we get there, but we’re going to do everything in our power to keep him.”
Apprised of that notion, Betts — who remains under team control for at least two more years before he’ll be eligible for free agency — expressed gratitude but said that he prefers to stick with the same approach that he’s followed in contract talks to this point in his career.
“Still focusing on one year at a time,” Betts said before the Duck Boat parade. “For 2019, the next year is going to be a special one. That’s my mind-set on that.”
That approach has served Betts and the Red Sox well, with Betts likely on the cusp of recognition as his league’s best player in 2018. He’d become the 10th Red Sox player to claim the award.
More Mookie Betts coverage:
■ From the archives: In 2014, before he was called up to the majors, we went to Durham, N.C., to write about his origin story and his meteoric rise through the minors