Red Sox: Relationship with Mookie Betts fine following arbitration hearing

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 13: Mookie Betts
BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 13: Mookie Betts /

Dave Dombrowski believes there are no hard feelings between the Boston Red Sox and Mookie Betts following their arbitration hearing.

There are no hard feelings between Mookie Betts and the Boston Red Sox organization in the fallout of their disagreement on the player’s 2018 salary, which had to be settled by an arbitration panel.

At least according to the team’s president of baseball operations. Dave Dombrowski told reporters that he’s communicated with his star right fielder since the arbitration hearing and he believes the team’s relationship with Betts is “fine.”

Why shouldn’t it be fine? After all, Betts won the hearing and will be paid $10.5 million in 2018 rather than the $7.5 million he was offered. Betts should be quite pleased with this outcome. Yet some fans still seem to be concerned that the process could put a strain on his relationship with the team.

Arbitration hearings can be an uncomfortable situation for both sides. The team is essentially forced to call out any of the player’s flaws right in front of their face in order to convince a panel of why he’s worth less than he believes his value to be.

While this situation can get a bit awkward, Dombrowski insisted that Betts understands the process and anything said during the hearing was simply part of the business side of baseball.

Obviously, the Red Sox think very highly of Betts but it would have been to the detriment of their case to gush over his talent during the hearing. While we don’t know what was specifically said during the hearing, it seems unlikely that the Red Sox would go overboard in bashing their star player.

The statements the team made to support their case presumably focused more on precedence. No player without an MVP on their resume has ever been awarded a salary as high as the $10.5 million Betts asked for in their first year of arbitration.

Betts remains a bargain at this salary but MLB is structured in a way that limits what young players earn in order for a higher percentage of a team’s payroll to be committed to veterans with longer track records. This is part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that the players agreed to. The big money doesn’t start rolling in until a player has been around long enough to reach free agency.

This dynamic appears to be shifting with players like Betts breaking new ground for what arbitration-eligible players can earn. Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, who won the NL MVP in 2016, set a record this winter for first-year arbitration-eligible players with a salary of $10.85 million. Now a new precedent has been set that first-year eligible players can earn north of $10 million without MVP hardware on their resume. This had never happened before.

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The salary Boston offered Betts was not a low-ball offer when you compare it to what players at the same stage of their career had previously earned. Two years ago, Manny Machado only made $5 million in his first year of arbitration. Betts is making more than double that despite similar accolades and production at the same point in their respective careers.

The Red Sox obviously had no way of knowing what the Cubs would give Bryant when they began negotiations with Betts. The arbitration panel entered the hearing armed with that knowledge, which almost certainly worked in favor of Betts.

Betts should be thrilled to have won his case and the Red Sox are more than happy to pay him. Dombrowski stated that the organization loves Betts and they hope to keep him around for years to come, perhaps alluding to a desire to lock up the star outfielder to a long-term deal.

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That may not happen right away. Given how well it worked out for him this year, Mookie may be willing to bet on himself by going through the arbitration process until he hits free agency in 2021. Regardless of if an extension is on the horizon or not, Betts isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.