Red Sox Rumors: Mookie Betts nearing long-term extension with Dodgers

Former Red Sox star Mookie Betts is nearing an extension with the Dodgers.

The pipe dream of Mookie Betts making a triumphant return to the Boston Red Sox after spending a year as a rental out west is on the verge of crumbling.

According to WEEI’s Lou Merloni, Betts is nearing an agreement on an extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers for 10+ years with a salary in the range of $350-400 million.

Merloni was the one who broke the news back in January that Betts had turned down a $300 million offer from the Red Sox. While this upset a large portion of the fan base that tried to paint the former MVP as a greedy villain, Betts was steadfast in his approach that waiting for free agency was his best chance to maximize his potential earnings.

It appears that wasn’t entirely true, although Betts may still be proven right nonetheless. He might not wait for free agency after all if the rumors of an extension come to fruition but he still seems likely to earn much more than the Red Sox were offering.

As much as Betts insisted that he wanted to test the open market, he did tell the Red Sox that he would be open to signing an extension with them last winter if they were willing to meet his demands. At the time, that was reportedly a 12-year, $420 million deal, just shy of Mike Trout‘s record-breaking deal with the Angels. Betts essentially dared Boston to pay him a top of the market contract in order to convince him to sign early.

The Red Sox wouldn’t bite, instead shipping him to the Dodgers along with David Price and half of his albatross contract. It was clear that ownership wasn’t willing to pay whatever it took to keep Betts in Boston so they used the opportunity to dump the Price contract, reset the luxury tax and create the financial flexibility necessary for a quick restructure of the roster within the next couple of years.

Betts isn’t going to get the $420 million he wanted, but let’s be honest, he was never getting that much. He’s a fantastic player but he’s not in the same tier as Trout – nobody is. Betts will also be 28 years old when he hits free agency, a bit older than Trout was when he signed his extension. Based on what other superstars have signed for in recent years while keeping age in mind, the contract Betts was asking for never made sense.

The average annual value is about right but 12 years at that rate is insane for a player his age. Especially for a player with his frame who relies heavily on quickness and speed, both in the field and at the plate. That length only makes sense for a younger player or if the deal is spread out over a longer period to reduce the AAV for luxury tax purposes, similar to Bryce Harper‘s 13-year deal.

Much has changed since those failed negotiations with the Red Sox. The coronavirus pandemic has shattered the economy and baseball has suffered along with everyone else. Owners will see profit margins shrink considerably in a shortened 2020 season without fans in attendance, leading most to believe that the next free agent class will struggle to find the big money offers they expected.

Betts must realize this and has adjusted his demands accordingly. It won’t take quite as much to keep him away from free agency as he claimed it would earlier this year but it will still take more than most teams can afford. If any team can afford this type of deal, it’s the Dodgers. Los Angeles is a large market team with deep pockets and they reset the luxury tax penalties by dipping under the threshold last year.

Even with the financial resources at the Dodgers’ disposal, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting $400 million in this economy. I suspect the deal, if it indeed gets done, is closer to $350 million unless there is a team option or incentives built in. It might be enough for Betts to claim he’s the second-highest paid player in MLB history but he might not get the full amount if he doesn’t live up to that contract for the full duration.

Guaranteeing anything close to $400 million would be an enormous risk and would leave us wondering why owners were crying poverty during the labor dispute that threatened to derail an already shortened season.

Anywhere near the range the Dodgers are rumored to be paying exceeds what the Red Sox were willing to pay before the pandemic. We can assume they would be hesitant to offer the same $300 million deal now. Los Angeles appears willing to overpay for the security of locking up their superstar and avoiding the stress of a free-agent sweepstakes.

If Betts does sign this extension it will crush any shred of hope we had of a return to Boston. As disheartening as that would be, at least we could finally close the door and move on while trying to convince ourselves that the Dodgers overpaid on a deal they might one day regret.