Mookie Betts

Red Sox, Mookie Betts far apart on salary and heading toward arbitration

red-sox-mookie-betts.jpg

Red Sox, Mookie Betts far apart on salary and heading toward arbitration

The Red Sox and star right fielder Mookie Betts intend to go to an arbitration hearing in February, and there were signs this was coming even a year ago.

Betts was the only arbitration-eligible player on the Red Sox who did not settle on a contract with the team on Friday, when a deadline arrived for all teams and arbitration-eligible players to exchange 2018 salary figures. Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts and Drew Pomeranz were the biggest names to avoid hearings.

Betts filed for a $10.5 million salary and the Red Sox filed at $7.5 million.  Betts and the Red Sox agreed previously that if no figure could be settled on by the Friday deadline, they would proceed to a hearing, assistant general manager Brian O'Halloran said. 

A three-person panel of arbitrators therefore is set to determine what Betts makes in 2018: either the $7.5 million figure the Sox filed or the $10.5 million figure Betts' camp submitted. The arbitrators won't settle on a midpoint for the parties. 

O'Halloran noted to the Globe there are no hard feelings involved.

Nonetheless, such a large gap would seem to provide incentive to settle. The parties technically could still decide to do so, but that would take a change of course from the present plan. The idea was to settle any time before Friday, and they did not. 

Betts is asking for near-record money for a first-year arbitration eligible player. Kris Bryant set the record Friday with a $10.85 million settlement.

The hearings can be difficult for player-team relations because teams have to make the case in front of the player that he is worth less money than he wants.

Betts, 25, hit .264, with 24 homers, 102 RBI, 25 stolen bases and a .803 OPS in 2017, numbers that fell from his American League MVP runner-up performance in 2016, but were nonetheless very strong and coupled with first-rate defense.

This offseason is Betts' first of arbitration eligibility. In the first three years of service time in a players' career, there's no recourse if you don't like the salary a team is offering. Teams can pay players anything at league minimum or above. 

The only option a player has in those first three years is to make a stand on principle: you can force the team to technically "renew" your salary, which notes to everyone that you did not agree to the salary. Betts and his agents did that in 2017 when the Sox paid him $950,000, a very high amount relative to most contract renewals.

Some of the standard thinking behind forcing a team to renew a contract is that if an arbitration case comes up down the road — and one now looms for Betts — it's supposed to show the arbitrators that the player felt even in seasons past, he was underpaid.

Still, the Sox may have effectively combatted that perception by paying Betts almost $1 million on a renewal. Per USA Today, that $950,000 agreement in 2017 was "the second-highest one-year deal ever for a non-arbitration-eligible player with two-plus years of big league service." Mike Trout got $1 million in 2014.

Which version of Bradley, Bogaerts and Betts can Red Sox expect going forward?

Which version of Bradley, Bogaerts and Betts can Red Sox expect going forward?

The most important evaluations the Red Sox have to make this winter are internal.

Who exactly is Jackie Bradley Jr.? And Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts? Can all three be expected to return to their 2016 forms, or is 2017 closer to reality? Who are they actually? Maybe 2016 was an exception.

(Betts, it should be noted, remains a player who should be viewed a little differently, a step above.)

From there, the question is whether the Red Sox should really be trading any of the Bradley types after a down 2017. It’d be a great winter to try to lock someone up long term, although fat chance getting Scott Boras (Bradley, Bogaerts) or Greg Genske (Betts) to bite just because of a down year.

Last winter, it was the opposite. The kids were coming off great seasons, and paying them with the mindset they’d perform similarly every year forward could have hurt financially.

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But this is where the Sox’ judgment, where Dave Dombrowski’s long experience in the game, can show its merit. Ostensibly, the trade value for Bradley should only rise from here. Yet, if the Sox don’t feel it would rise appreciably, it’s easier to justify moving him. 

Part of the failure of the 2016 offense, which still pumped out 93 wins in conjunction with a great pitching staff, was the overestimation of the Killer B’s. David Ortiz was gone, and the Sox just didn’t seem prepared for the possibility that on top of his departure, some individual performances in 2017 weren’t shoe-ins to be repeated.

Whether the Red Sox are actively shopping Bradley seems to be a matter of semantics. Baseball sources said the Red Sox have made clear the center fielder is available. They’ve talked about him in potential trades for power hitting, to be specific.

Dombrowski doesn’t agree with the notion he’s shopping Bradley, however. It’s more of a listening mode, the way he tells it. 

“I don’t know where those rumors have started, but they’re not accurate,” Dombrowski said. “I can say that we have interest in our players and people have asked us about our players often. But I’d say we’re very happy with our outfield. Could we do anything? I can't say we can't do anything with any of our players. But we like our outfield.”

How about this: Bradley is a chip they could reasonably move.

The Cubs are listening on Kyle Schwarber. But it’s hard to see a fit for a trade because Chicago is after pitching. Eduardo Rodriguez, due back in April, could be a chip but he doesn’t move the needle enough given his knee troubles.

“He's always been someone that teams have an interest in, I guess,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Monday about Schwarber, via The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. “But we have probably the most interest.”

The Sox, at some point, have to choose which of their young stars to hitch their ride to. Is it worth parting with Bradley now? Who is he really?

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Does 'due diligence' mean Red Sox are in on Giancarlo Stanton?

Does 'due diligence' mean Red Sox are in on Giancarlo Stanton?

Dave Dombrowski told the Boston Herald he can't talk about specific players, of course, but responded to reports of the Red Sox being in on Giancarlo Stanton trade talks by saying they "try to do our due diligence in every regard.” 

This comes after a Saturday report where a source told the Miami Herald of the Red Sox, “They’re definitely in play,” on Stanton, 28, the right-handed slugger who hit 59 homers for the Miami Marlins last season but carries with him a contract due to pay him $295 over the next 10 seasons, with an opt-out after the 2020 season.

There's also the matter of what young players the Red Sox would part with to make a deal and beat out the other suitors. Mookie Betts? Rafael Devers? Andrew Benintendi? Xander Bogaerts? Other prospects?  

An earlier report from MLB.com Friday said the Red Sox had been in on "preliminary talks" on Stanton, along with the Cardinals, Phillies and Giants. 

Red Sox owner John Henry said after new manager Alex Cora's introductory press conference last week that the team was prepared to add payroll even if it meant exceeding the luxury tax threshold. Dombrowski also has made no secret of the Sox' need for a power bat. The Marlins, with ex-Yankees legend Derek Jeter among their new owners, are looking to shed payroll. Dombrowski, the former Marlins and Tigers executive, dealt with his old team before with a blockbuster trade that sent Miguel Cabrera from Florida to Detroit in 2007. 

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