This could be Mookie Betts’s last year in a Boston Red Sox uniform. It could be his last spring training, his last Opening Day. There were questions if he would even be a member of the Red Sox once the New Year rolled around.
Betts, who is a free agent at the end of the 2020 season, has turned down extension offers from the Red Sox. Instead, he’s betting on himself that he will be adequately compensated for his value on the field, in addition to the market set by some of his peers.
Reports had him going to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a trade. Or, perhaps, since he’s a Nashville-born, Southern kid at heart, the Atlanta Braves. Imagine the 1-2 punch of Betts and Ronald Acuna Jr.? But throughout this offseason, the Sox haven’t indicated they would trade their superstar under the new leadership of Chaim Bloom, or, at least not yet.
For now, Betts is still in Boston after he agreed to a record-setting $27 million in his final year of arbitration on Friday. Betts eclipsed Nolan Arenado’s arbitration record of $26 million set in 2019.
Four other Red Sox, Heath Hembree, Jackie Bradley Jr., Brandon Workman, and Matt Barnes agreed to settle. Andrew Benintendi and Eduardo Rodriguez did not, and will head toward an arbitration hearing.
In his six seasons with the Red Sox, Betts’s average WAR is 7, according to Baseball Reference. In that span, which dates to 2014, the only player to post a better cumulative WAR is Mike Trout.
Betts didn’t duplicate the season he had in 2018, when he won the American League MVP award, but those were tough numbers to replicate. Nonetheless, he still dominated, hitting .295 with a .915 OPS and 29 homers. He led the league in runs (135) for the second year in a row and registered a career-high 97 walks.
In 2018, the Red Sox and Betts couldn’t reach a deal, which resulted in an arbitration case. Betts won, earning $10.5 million that year. The fact the Sox and Betts settled so easily the past two years proves they see his worth. But that’s the short term.
How the Red Sox view Betts in the long term is yet to be determined.
Bradley and the Sox settled on $11 million. Bradley made $8.55 million last season, and, like Betts, is a free agent at the end of the year.
In his seven seasons with the Sox, he’s been inconsistent at the plate, hitting just .236 with a .727 OPS. Last year, Bradley struck out a career-high 155 times.
Bradley still posted a 2.0 WAR, hit 21 homers, and is arguably the best defensive center fielder in the game. He won the ALCS MVP in 2018 and was an All-Star in 2016, when he hit .267 with 26 homers. There could be a market for Bradley, but much like Betts, interested suitors run the risk of Bradley just being a rental.
Workman and Barnes took on larger roles in the bullpen last season. Workman had a career season as the team’s closer. In 71⅔ innings, he posted a 1.88 ERA and a 1.033 WHIP. He struck out 104, averaging 13.1 per nine innings, and led major league relievers in opponent batting average (.123), slugging (.166), and OPS (.433).
After making $1.15 million last season, Workman agreed to a $3.5 million deal in his final year of arbitration.
Barnes agreed to a $3.1 million deal, and he has one year of arbitration remaining before becoming a free agent. He struck out 110 in 64⅓ innings but struggled with his command, walking 38.
Hembree signed a $1.612 million deal, looking to have a bounceback season. He pitched just 39⅔ innings because of right elbow inflammation.
Benintendi regressed last season, hitting .266 and striking out 140 times. He’s a first-year arbitration-eligible player seeking $4.15 million, with the Red Sox countering at $3.4 million. He made $717,500 in 2019.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, had a breakout year, carrying a pitching staff plagued by injuries. He filed at $8.975 million, more than double the $4.3 million he made in 2019, while the Red Sox countered at $8.3 million. Rodriguez was a 19-game winner; he pitched at least five innings in each of his final 28 starts, and seven-plus in nine of those. He found consistent success for the first time, too, posting a 3.81 ERA with 213 strikeouts in 203⅓ innings.
An arbiter will decide if each are worth more or less than the midpoint of the competing offers. If more, the player gets his full requested amount. If not, the Sox filing wins.