Mookie Betts in no rush to decide his future with Red Sox
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Mookie Betts has a standard response ready when asked if he will consider signing a contract extension with the Red Sox.
Here was Thursday’s version of that answer when the question came:
“Contracts and those type of things are kind of tough to do, especially with the market and how those things kind of roll. But I will say I love my teammates and my coaches and everybody who’s around and have a great deal of respect for the front office. We’ll just leave it at that.”
It’s impossible to argue with any of that and Betts is undoubtedly sincere. There’s also no reason to make a decision now. Betts has two seasons remaining before he becomes a free agent, plenty of time to make what will be an important choice.
Betts will be 27 when he becomes eligible for free agency, seemingly well positioned to land a huge contract.
But that also should have been true for 26-year-old Bryce Harper, a player comparable to Betts in that both play right field and share similar offensive profiles. But Harper remains a free agent after turning down a 10-year, $300 million offer from the Washington Nationals.
Like Betts, Harper is a dynamic player who has been labeled one of the faces of baseball. But free agency has been a frustrating slog for him, along with Manny Machado, Craig Kimbrel, Dallas Keuchel, and several other prominent players.
Accomplished free agents once had a wide range of choices. That has narrowed significantly over the last two years.
Does Betts want to test those choppy waters?
“It just kind of depends on who you are and where you are in life,” he said. “I don’t want to speak on anybody else’s free agency and how that’s going. But for myself, I think things have been fine. Just have to kind of be patient and let it happen.
“You start rushing and some deals get done that may not be the right ones. You have to settle down and think about what’s going on.”
It’s not only a baseball decision now. Betts and longtime girlfriend Brianna Hammonds had their first child on Nov. 6. So while Betts may be willing to gamble on his talent, he also has a family to consider. Little Kynlee Ivory Betts is part of the equation.
“Not everything’s about me now,” Betts said. “It’s a new perspective on life and something I have to get used to.”
Taking a series of one-year deals and gaining free agency is a strategy that worked out well for former Red Sox stars Jonathan Papelbon and Jacoby Ellsbury. Both signed lucrative contracts, Papelbon with the Phillies in 2011 and Ellsbury with the Yankees in 2013.
But there are also examples that speak to the benefits of signing an extension.
Dustin Pedroia agreed to an eight-year, $110 million extension in 2013. He was a four-time All-Star at the time with three Gold Gloves, a Rookie of the Year, and an MVP on his résumé.
Pedroia has since missed 320 games over five seasons, largely because of injuries. The second baseman averaged 5.6 WAR over the first seven full seasons of his career, 2.8 in the five years since the extension kicked in.
David Ortiz also profited through his late 30s after agreeing to a pair of extensions with the Sox.
Red Sox officials view Betts much as they did Pedroia and Ortiz. Principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, president Sam Kennedy, and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski have all said retaining Betts is a priority and they want to build the team around him.
“We’ve made that crystal clear to Mookie,” Kennedy said. “He knows how we feel about him as a player and a person.”
The Sox backed that talk with action in January when they signed Betts to a one-year, $20 million deal, avoiding arbitration. It was a record for a player in his second year of arbitration.
That will not necessarily open the door to a long-term pact. But it offered tangible proof the Sox could come to an agreement with agents Ed Cerulo and Steve Veltman.
“I love this place,” Betts said. “I love Boston. It’s one of those things where we’ll see how it goes.”