What Mike Trout’s $360m extension might mean for Mookie Betts’s future
FORT MYERS, Fla. — The road signs are now in place, markers that the Red Sox and Mookie Betts can follow to get to what would be the richest contract in Boston sports history.
Manny Machado took 10 years and $300 million from the San Diego Padres. Bryce Harper was next with a record-setting 13-year, $330 million contract to play for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Then on Tuesday came the news that Mike Trout was closing in on an extension with the Los Angeles Angels that would pay him $360 million over 10 years after his current deal expires in two seasons.
For the 26-year-old Betts, those are his peers. Harper and Machado are 26, and Trout is 27.
From a statistical perspective, Betts stands with Trout. Or at least as close as anyone can stand with Trout.
As calculated by Baseball-Reference.com, Betts has 32.9 WAR over his four full seasons in the majors. Only Trout (36.6) has more over that same period. Machado (23.2) is seventh, and Harper a surprising 23rd with 17.5.
The difference is that Trout has been outlandishly valuable for seven full seasons.
Betts essentially shrugged when asked his opinion of the Harper and Machado deals.
“We’re all different players,” he said after Harper signed. “We all have different things that are important. Good for those guys.”
Betts had good reason not to overreact. Agents Ed Cerulo and Steve Veltman can make an unimpeachable case that Betts is more valuable statistically than Harper and Machado.
As a hitter, defender, and baserunner, Betts compares most favorably to Trout.
But he’s certainly not better than Trout, because nobody playing now can credibly make that claim.
Trout’s OPS+, a statistic that accounts for league and park factors, is 175. That’s tied for fifth all time with Rogers Hornsby. Only Babe Ruth (206), Ted Williams (190), Barry Bonds (182), and Lou Gehrig (179) are higher.
Trout is an all-timer. He’s already done enough to be an automatic choice for the Hall of Fame.
But Betts has plenty of other points in his favor. He has led the Sox to three consecutive division titles and a World Series championship.
John Henry, Tom Werner, Sam Kennedy, and Dave Dombrowski are all on record saying that Betts is the kind of player and person they want to invest in.
“We have made it crystal clear to Mookie we want him to remain with the Red Sox,” Kennedy said last month.
Betts also has a more marketable personality than Trout, who has made a career of never really saying much.
There’s also the value Betts brings as a team leader, which carries extra weight in Boston. Having Betts as the focal point of the clubhouse for a decade would be a comforting feeling.
So that’s one way to look at Tuesday’s news, that Betts and the Red Sox now have a general idea of how an extension could be structured. It would be in the neighborhood of 10 or 12 years at $32 million or $33 million a year, somewhere in there.
It’s fair to judge Betts as being more valuable to the Red Sox than Harper and Machado were to their teams, but not quite as valuable as Trout is to the Angels.
Angels owner Arte Moreno would have been his generation’s Harry Frazee if he let Trout get away. Henry will feel some of that same pressure, but not to the same degree.
The other way to look at it is that with Trout off the market, Betts will far and away be the prime free agent after the 2020 season.
The contenders for second place would be Mets ace Jacob deGrom and Giancarlo Stanton if he opts out of his contract with the Yankees, which seems unlikely.
As a free agent, Betts could line up the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Cubs, Giants, and Phillies and see where it leads. Betts is so talented that even second-tier teams would consider him an exception to payroll discipline.
The Red Sox would have nowhere else to go but to outbid the field. The fan base would not accept less.
But that strategy carries risk. Betts would have to stay healthy and productive over two more seasons.
His inner circle also can’t yet calculate what the atmosphere in the game will be like following the 2020 season.
The collective bargaining agreement expires on Dec. 1, 2021. For the moment, there is evidence that MLB and the Players Association are communicating effectively, given the rules changes they agreed to last week. But that can change quickly.
If both sides are gearing up for a work stoppage in two years, Betts could find the free-agent market unforgiving. Machado ended up in San Diego, which wasn’t his first choice. Betts likes playing in Boston and how the organization has supported him and treated his family. He also knows the Sox are set up to contend for years to come.
It’s a lot for anybody to think about. But Trout had the same decision to make, and the Angels made it for him.
Now the Red Sox are up.
Peter Abraham can be reached at email@example.com.