The league-wide loss of revenue due to the current pandemic means former Red Sox star Mookie Betts can’t expect the massive free agent contract he expected.
It’s no secret that ownership desperately wanted to slash payroll this year to avoid the luxury tax but they also feared that the massive salary Betts would command on the free-agent market would exceed their limits. The former MVP had rebuffed all of their efforts to negotiate an extension so the Red Sox shipped him to Los Angeles rather than risk losing him for nothing.
It turns out that Betts may have been the one who gambled by not taking the money when he had the chance. It wasn’t long ago that many were predicting Betts to be the next $400 million man but that estimate seems like a pipe dream now.
The coronavirus-delayed season has resulted in a significant league-wide loss of revenue. There will be a shortened schedule this season – if one is played at all – and fans almost certainly won’t be able to attend games in the foreseeable future. The loss of ticket sales and the reduced revenue stemming from televising fewer games is a massive blow to the wallets of every MLB owner.
The ripple effect of teams losing money this year is that there will be less to spend on the next wave of free agents, a class headlined by Betts. While it’s possible that the new economic climate will hurt the middle class and lower tier free agents while the elite talent still gets paid, it’s hard to believe anyone will approach the level once predicted for Betts.
During an appearance Wednesday on 670 The Score’s “Mully & Haugh Show,” Peter Gammons of The Athletic predicted that the drop-off from those pre-pandemic predictions will be steep.
"“Free agency is not going to even be, there are no screams — free agency is going to be a whisper for the next three years,” Gammons said. “There are few people that I like better in baseball than Mookie Betts. I thought he was going to make between $350 (million) to $400 million. He’d be lucky to get up to $250 (million) in free agency this coming winter, if they play. It’s just the reality of economics. It’s true in almost every business.”"
Betts reportedly turned down a $300 million offer from the Red Sox before he was traded. Now he’d be “lucky” to get $250 million. His willingness to bet on himself by insisting on waiting for free agency to explore his value on the open market once seemed reasonable but now it looks like a massive mistake.
Is it realistic to believe the market for a player of this caliber will plummet this far? Personally, I never believed that $400 million was realistic so the $250 million estimate sounds reasonable. Betts is great but he’s not Mike Trout and shouldn’t be paid in the same stratosphere.
Betts will be 28 when he hits free agency, a year older than Trout was when he signed his record-breaking extension. He’s not getting more than 10 years on his next deal, which is what it would take to approach Trout territory. Boston’s $300 million offer was very reasonable when you compare it to deals handed to other elite talent and factoring in age. Now he’ll probably have to settle for far less.
If the market for Betts falls this far then it might give the Red Sox a chance to reclaim their star outfielder. They weren’t going to shell out $400 million for him but they might be enticed if the price tag is lower than their last offer.
Boston’s bid for Betts depends on at least a partial season happening this year. The luxury tax penalties wouldn’t reset if the season is cancelled, placing the Red Sox in the same spot they were in last winter with limited funds to spend. They won’t even bother trying for Betts if it would mean paying the tax for a third consecutive season. If we get baseball back in 2020, Boston can duck the tax this year, paving the way for them to spend freely on the next class of free agents.
The fate of this season depends on the outcome of another financial debate. Owners want players to take an additional pay cut on top of the prorated salaries they already agreed to. Gammons believes that failure to agree to a labor deal that allows the season to begin this year could do “irreparable damage” to the league.
Both sides need to stop being so stubborn and figure this out. Owners are taking a hit from a loss of revenue and the players are missing a chunk of their paychecks but the ones hurt the most by a lost season are the fans.