Why Nolan Arenado’s contract could be blueprint for Mookie Betts
Nolan Arenado was a 27-year-old homegrown superstar when he agreed to an eight-year, $260 million extension with the Colorado Rockies in February, eight months before he would have hit free agency.
It’s a situation that almost mirrors what the Red Sox face with Mookie Betts.
Betts will be 27 after this season and a year away from free agency. Like Arenado, he will be a homegrown star who was drafted out of high school, climbed quickly through the farm system, and helped lead a last-place team back to the postseason.
“It’s pretty similar,” Arenado said a few days ago when the Rockies were at Fenway Park. “Mookie’s in a good position. He’s one of the best players in baseball.”
The biggest difference — and it’s a huge one — is whether Betts has the same attitude about wanting to get a deal done.
Arenado did not offer the Rockies any sort of hometown discount; the deal they settled on set a record in terms of average annual value for a position player. But Arenado and his agents, Joel Wolfe and Nick Chanock of Wasserman, were willing to negotiate. That Rockies owner Dick Monfort got personally engaged helped get the process started.
“It was mutual. We told them we were willing to listen,” Arenado said. “When you’re talking the amount of dollars we’re talking, ownership will be involved.
“It meant a lot to me with the way they started off the negotiation, making it clear they wanted me to stay. No negotiation is smooth, but it was as smooth as it could be.”
Betts and his agents, Ed Cerulo and Steve Veltman, have so far resisted all offers from the Red Sox to talk. There’s no rancor, but also no progress.
There is a trend toward star players staying with their teams, Arenado and Mike Trout being at the head of that group along with Justin Verlander. Betts fits that profile.
“Teams are offering good money to stay and players are taking it,” Arenado said. “It’s hard to turn down money that will set you up for life and allow you to take care of your family. There are so many positives to it.”
Beyond the obvious — all that money — what are they?
“Less stress, honestly,” Arenado said. “There’s no concern for what’s going to happen in free agency. Will I get my market value? That’s not a concern. It’s all baseball and let the chips fall where they may. I don’t need to worry about injuries or whatever. I just play. It’s a good feeling.”
Arenado also said the idea of spending his entire career with one team appealed to him.
“We’ll see if that happens, but that’s the plan,” he said. “It would be special to do that because so few players get to do that. I want to stay here and win here.
“There’s something to be said for having been here when it was bad and helping to turn it good. That means a lot to me. I was here when it was bad. It’s a cool feeling that we were able to do that. The Rockies want to contend and I wanted to be part of that.”
There’s also the lure of avoiding what has been a treacherous market for free agents in recent seasons. But Arenado didn’t sign to avoid it.
“People don’t believe it when I say that, but it’s true,” he said. “I think it’s an honor to get to free agency. You have to work really hard to get to where you can pick where you want to go.
“The way it’s turning out, it’s not good for players and I completely disagree with that. But that didn’t affect me. I would like to think teams would have wanted me. I felt comfortable.”
Betts is under the Red Sox’ control through 2020. I asked if he had started to weigh all the factors that Arenado did before he signed.
“No. I’m thinking about us trying to win the World Series again,” Betts said. “It’s 2019, that’s not what I’m worried about. When 2020 comes, we’ll worry about 2020. Then I’ll worry about whatever happens after that.
“I’ve always been able to compartmentalize things like that. My contract is not on my to-do list right now.”
Where this all eventually leads isn’t certain. But where Arenado landed — $32.5 million a year — offers a map.
“I hope it works out for Mookie whatever he decides,” Arenado said. “It’s a big decision. I’m happy I have it done.”
EARNING THE RIGHT
Pedroia’s future should be his call
Dustin Pedroia has played only nine major league games over the last two seasons because of an injured left knee that dates to 2016 and was exacerbated by Manny Machado’s takeout slide in 2017.
Pedroia has undergone surgery three times and tried different braces in an attempt to get back on the field on a regular basis and it has yet to work.
At 35, the odds are against Pedroia being a viable player again, and there could well come a time when he stops trying given what have been a series of setbacks.
But he gets to decide when that time comes. Nobody else.
It’s unfortunate that every time the Globe reports on Pedroia’s status some of the comments under the story call on him to quit his comeback attempt or suggest the Sox would be better off without him.
The same is true on social media. Consider this selection of recent comments from Twitter:
“We should release him. He’s a drag on the franchise.”
“Pedroia is utter trash.”
“Does anyone want Pedroia to come back?”
Those were the printable ones. To be certain, this does not represent the majority of Red Sox fans. But it’s a much larger percentage than you might think given the number of such comments.
It’s a product of how nasty our public discourse has become in recent years, a drumbeat of relentless negativity and contrived anger with little perspective and a willful ignorance of history.
In Boston, it’s fueled by some in the media who view tearing down a successful athlete as an easy way to get attention.
It’s so foolish if you step back to look at the entirety of his career.
Pedroia was the 2007 Rookie of the Year and the 2008 Most Valuable Player. He’s a four-time All-Star and a four-time Gold Glove winner who has appeared in 51 playoff games, third in team history.
He had leading roles for the 2007 and 2013 World Series championship teams and is 10th in team history in WAR. Six of the players ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame. Another one (David Ortiz) will be eventually, and two others (Roger Clemens and Dwight Evans) should be.
Only 10 players have appeared in more games for the Sox and only seven have more hits.
By any tangible measure, Pedroia is one of the most impactful players in franchise history and one of the best second basemen of his generation.
Such players should not be harangued into retirement. There are no free passes, but Pedroia has earned the right to try. If his knee won’t allow it, at least he can go into retirement knowing he took his best shot.
This is a player who played through injuries for championship teams and set an example with how hard he played. Nobody, even the most obtuse trolls, can deny his accomplishments.
There’s also nothing to be gained. Pedroia will get every dollar remaining on his contract no matter how many more games he plays and it will all count toward the luxury tax.
There’s also at least some chance he could help the team given all the other injuries they’ve had at second base.
Fortunately, most fans are like the four teenage boys who were in a tour group at Fenway Park on Wednesday afternoon. They were on the suite level above home plate when they spotted Pedroia down on the field taking batting practice.
“Hey Dustin! Hey Dustin!” they yelled until he turned around and waved. The kids applauded and Pedroia smiled.
Maybe all of Fenway will applaud Pedroia again this season, or maybe not. But let him decide when to stop. For all he has given the Sox and their fans, he’s owed that.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
■ As well as Michael Chavis has hit, some scouts are even more impressed with his defense.
The rookie arrived in the big leagues with five games of experience at second base but has handled the position well. His first two errors were the result of wild throws trying to turn double plays, a case of trying too hard.
Chavis has been a neutral defender based on Defensive Runs Saved, which is far better than what the Red Sox expected when he was called up last month.
Chavis has benefited by being positioned well by the coaching staff and playing next to an experienced shortstop in Xander Bogaerts. There are also fewer conventional double plays with the amount of shifting teams do, and when there are, runners can’t take fielders out like they used to.
“He reminds me of Dan Uggla,” said one scout. “It’s not perfect defensively but it’s effective enough, and he hits. He’s a good athlete.”
Daniel Murphy is a good comparison, too.
Maybe the infield of the future has Rafael Devers at third, Bobby Dalbec at first, and Chavis at second.
■ The amateur draft starts on June 3 and at the stroke of midnight that day any team can sign Craig Kimbrel without losing a draft pick. It likely won’t happen at this point, but the Sox should at least investigate what it would take to bring Kimbrel back — under the provision he would pitch as Alex Cora sees fit and not be locked into save situations.
One way or another, the Sox will need another high-leverage reliever.
■ The Sox had seven sacrifices through 43 games. They had seven all of last season. Giving away outs is generally a bad idea, but four of the sacrifices this season came from players struggling to hit (Jackie Bradley Jr., Sandy Leon, and Eduardo Nunez). But two came from Andrew Benintendi and that should never happen.
■ Mitch Moreland on Devers: “He’s a great kid. He works his butt off. He’s constantly learning. We talk daily about our game plan against pitchers. That’s helps me, too. I’ll tell him what I’m doing and ask him what he’s thinking. We bounce stuff off each other. Talking about it keeps it fresh on your mind. So when you get in the game it’s right there. I feel like he’s making great strides in all aspects, not just offensively but defensively as well.
“He’s played great over there. He’s had some tough ones. Some of those errors, I don’t think those were routine plays. But he works at it every day and wants to be better. He’s growing up in front of us and playing at a high level.
“He’s always got a smile on his face. Getting to know him has been fun. Raffy is going to have a great career.”
Harper has yet to get hot for Phillies
Bryce Harper went into the weekend leading the National League in walks and strikeouts. That left him with a .365 on-base percentage and a .221 batting average.
In terms of WAR, there are 13 players on the Phillies roster who have so far been more valuable than Harper. That includes Jerad Eickhoff, Zach Eflin, Scott Kingery, and Adam Morgan.
Harper is getting chewed up by righthanders, striking out in 44 of his first 139 plate appearances. Everything is down and away and he’s chasing. When he does make contact, it’s often into a shift over to the right side because he’s such a pull hitter.
Harper hits the ball hard when he does make contact and his defense in right field has been better than it was last season for Washington.
Philadelphia is in first place even with Harper struggling. Once he gets hot, the Phillies could take off in the National League East.
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