Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts wins arbitration case

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 06: Mookie Betts
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 06: Mookie Betts /

Right fielder Mookie Betts won his arbitration case against the Boston Red Sox and will earn $10.5 million for the 2018 season.

The million dollar smile of Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts just grew a bit wider. Actually, more like ten times wider.

FanRag’s Jon Heyman reports that Betts won his arbitration case against the Red Sox. He’ll receive a raise from the $950,000 he made last year to $10.5 million in 2018.  This represents the largest salary ever awarded through an arbitration hearing to a first-year eligible player.

The Red Sox were only offering $7.5 million, creating a significant gap between their perspective and where the player values himself. This led to an arbitration hearing where a three-man panel reviewed the cases made by both sides on Tuesday, as reported by the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo.

The Red Sox rarely go to arbitration with eligible players but this was a rare case of a budding superstar with a pair of Gold Gloves, All-Star appearances and top-six MVP finishes on his resume.

Before we jump on Boston’s brass for being cheap when it comes to their franchise player, let’s note that the salary Betts was awarded is well above the $8.2 million projected by MLB Trade Rumors.

The contract is still a bargain for a player of his caliber but we have to view this in the perspective of first-year arbitration players. Betts will make more than Ryan Howard or Buster Posey made in their first year of arbitration eligibility when they were coming off MVP seasons. His salary more than doubles what Manny Machado made only two years ago in his first arbitration season, despite similar accolades to what Betts boasts. He’ll be paid just shy of the record-setting $10.85 million the Chicago Cubs gave Kris Bryant earlier this winter. Bryant was the NL MVP in 2016 and is coming off a better season than Betts.

One would imagine that the arbitration panel may have been influenced by the salary Bryant received. The production Betts has given the Red Sox can’t match what Bryant has done for Chicago but it’s not far enough off to warrant making Betts settle for $7.5 million. In fairness, the Red Sox couldn’t have known what the Cubs were going to do with their superstar when they entered negotiations with Betts, which explains what may now be perceived as a low-ball offer.

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News of the Betts case will be music to the ears of other young stars around the majors. A precedent has now been set that a star player can earn north of $10 million at this stage of their career regardless of if they have MVP hardware to support their case.

The fallout of this decision could be significant. Players entering their second and third years of arbitration could see a similar boost in future seasons. With younger players earning more at a time when most teams are leery of the stricter luxury tax rules, it could leave less in the budget for veteran players.

This could have serious consequences for future free agent classes. We’ve already seen the free agency process crawling along at a snail’s pace this winter as owners are hesitant to commit expensive long-term deals to players into their 30’s. It won’t help matters if those owners now have to factor in a larger percentage of their budget to players eligible for arbitration in the near future.

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As for the Red Sox, the extra $3 million they need to pay Betts this year won’t break the bank. It may give the team more incentive to push for a long-term deal with Betts rather than risk going to arbitration with him again. The silver lining at least is that Betts should be happy with his 2018 salary, whereas a loss in the arbitration hearing could have left a sour taste in his mouth entering future negotiations.