Red Sox showing no concern with Mookie Betts approaching free agency
By Sean Penney
The Boston Red Sox front office doesn’t seem worried that Mookie Betts isn’t interested in an extension that would delay his chance to test free agency.
A portion of the fan base is starting to feel uneasy now that Mookie Betts is a year away from hitting free agency but the Boston Red Sox front office isn’t panicking.
Betts has taken a hardline approach to extension talks, making it clear that he has every intention of testing the free agent market. He’s been consistently humming this same tune throughout the arbitration process the last few years and his stance isn’t changing.
Some have mistaken this as a sign that Betts is eager to leave town. The Red Sox don’t see it that way. Assistant GM Eddie Romero, one of the four executives overseeing baseball operations until a new general manager is appointed, isn’t surprised by this approach and applauds Betts for acting in his own best interest.
"“I don’t think it’s unique at all,” said Romero, per MassLive’s Chris Cotillo. “I think he’s doing what’s in the best interest of Mookie and I think that’s what athletes should do. Every situation of these is case-by-case. Mookie has been the one who has sacrificed his body and has put in the work. He has the right to decide what he wants to do.”"
Does that sound like a front office executive who is concerned about losing his best player? Sure, the Red Sox would prefer to lock up Betts for the foreseeable future to remove any uncertainty from the equation. Negotiating a new deal without the threat of competing clubs driving up the price could lead to a team-friendly contract that Boston would be thrilled to have him sign.
It’s also why Betts has no interest in signing early. He knows that free agency offers him the best opportunity to maximize his earnings. While some players prefer the security of cashing in early, Betts is willing to bet on himself. The Red Sox respect his businesslike approach and admire the confidence he has to stay healthy and productive until he’s eligible for free agency.
The Red Sox have been steadfast about their desire to keep Betts in Boston. If that means paying top dollar in free agency, so be it. Betts is worth it.
"“Obviously, like we’ve said all along, we’d love for Mookie to be here,” Romero said. “We’ll continue to put our best foot forward with Mookie. I respect his decision (to hit free agency). He’s earned it.”"
The Red Sox enter this offseason with payroll concerns. It’s no secret that their goal is to dip below the $208 million luxury tax. Their sudden reluctance to spend isn’t a sign that they can’t afford a long-term deal for Betts. Their intention is to avoid being a repeat tax offender for a third consecutive season, which would result in the steepest penalties. Getting under the tax for one year would reset the penalties and save the Red Sox a tremendous amount.
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Once the penalties are reset, we should assume the Red Sox would be willing to dive back into tax territory in 2021. They can pay the tax for a couple of years under the weight of Betts’ massive contract before ducking the tax again in 2023 when the contracts of David Price, J.D. Martinez, and Nathan Eovaldi will fall off the books.
This isn’t the time to make a panic move by trading Betts simply because he might leave next year. There’s no chance of getting fair value in return for the 2018 MVP and trading him essentially means punting on contending next season. If ownership is serious about paying Betts what he deserves, which they should as long as they reset the tax penalties next season, then trading their superstar would be a huge mistake.
Boston’s brass continues to reiterate that Betts has expressed how much he enjoys playing here and they remain confident that they’ll be able to keep him in a Red Sox uniform for years to come.