A Red Sox contract for Mookie Betts is awash with caution
By Rick McNair
The Boston Red Sox will have a two-year window to evaluate a Mookie Betts contract. Historically there are caution flags to any long term deals.
Is there a baseball metric to analyze angst? Have a battalion of sabermetricians created a web of intrigue formulas to decide fan volatility? The reasoning is that Red Sox Nation is facing an apocalyptic moment in just two years. This is not a devastating impact asteroid, but something far more threatening – the free agency of Mookie Betts.
Betts is the little dynamo that drives the lineup – the little steam engine that could. The best player in baseball? Go to WAR – baseball WAR that is – either fWAR or bWAR and you can make my argumentative case to any baseball jury. Mike Trout or Betts? Being a provincial I will take Betts. But the point is the debate is centered on just two players in the entire world of baseball.
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Trout just got paid and will be forced into 12 years of servitude with the Angels for $430MM. That is now the payroll bar for Betts, and Trout, with his professed love of Southern California, may actually have left some money on the table. Betts will not. Betts has already rejected a possible extension and the apparent gameplan is to go into free agency – a risk if Betts suddenly has a physical issue that diminishes his value.
Let’s project which is a long time baseball pleasure that often does not eventually match out, but if Mookie continues to be what was on display in 2018 then you have a baseline. I would “project” Betts being the first $40M AAV (Average Annual Value) player. I would also be willing to consider Betts go elsewhere. Now that statement alone should put me on the fast track to the backroom of a sanitarium. A Red Sox Nation heretic!
Long term contracts could also be defined as long-term nightmares. My first recalled nightmare was Wayne Garland a highly successful righty who parlayed his 1976 season (20-7, 2.67) with Baltimore into a ten-year $2.3M deal with the Indians. How did that work out? “Torn rotator cuff” explains that contract.
For position players, I just think of Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols who now are contractual and performance wise albatrosses, but neither had the five-tool talent and athleticism of Betts or Manny Machado or Bryce Harper and Trout. Jacoby Ellsbury certainly had skills that were at times comparable to Betts’, but Ellsbury had an injury history. Then there is Carl Crawford.
Crawford was a magnificently talented player with four All-Star selections, a Silver Slugger Award, and a Gold Glove Award. Crawford pocketed seven-years and $153M to bring his phenomenal speed to Boston and team with Ellsbury. Crawford had led the American League four times in steals and four times in triples but had the power hitting 104 home runs in 1,235 games with Tampa.
Games are also a key ingredient since Crawford had proved his durability by six times playing more than 150+ games for Tampa. Speed, great defensive instincts, moderate power, and whatever could go wrong, did. Fortunately, Boston had a lifeline and the Dodgers traded for Crawford and eventually released Crawford and paid the remaining $42M on his contract.
In the great pantheon of talented players, Crawford was no Betts or Trout and very few are. They are generational players, but that does not mean a generational player is not susceptible to eroding skills. Ask the Twins about Joe Mauer or the Pirates about Andrew McCutchen. Or the Giants about Barry Zito to toss in a pitcher.
The list of large contracts that do not play out as anticipated is extensive, but Betts could be the exception or not. The golden ticket. The noted exception. The gamble is he will maintain his baseball skills until late baseball middle age and I find that a risky option since very few do.
For now, we can enjoy watching the effervescent Betts be the dynamo with his splendid speed, exceptional glove and arm, and a bat that hits for power and average. And the debate will only intensify as the timetable for free agency ticks down and Betts’ talent continues to tick upwards.