Red Sox

Are different contract approaches the reason for Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts' different seasons?

Are different contract approaches the reason for Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts' different seasons?

CLEVELAND -- Only about 10 feet separated Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts at their respective podiums during Monday's All-Star media day, but they felt worlds apart.

Seated at adjoining daises in the Cleveland Convention Center, the Red Sox teammates answered very different questions.

Bogaerts looked happy, relaxed, and content as he discussed his monster first half, which included a league-leading 29 doubles as well as 65 RBIs, just two behind AL leader Mike Trout. He discussed his burgeoning leadership responsibilities and the pride he takes in the development of potential stars like Rafael Devers.

Betts, meanwhile, maintained the distance that has marked his personality since he arrived at spring training as the defending MVP and began politely declining interview requests by the barrel. Betts will never be confused for an extrovert, but when he's going well, the joy with which he plays the game and carries himself is infectious. This year, that joy rarely reveals itself. He looks weary.

"I've got to be the energizer and I take pride in that, so I have to find a way to get it done," Betts admitted.

He fielded queries about his struggles during a half that didn't remotely approach last year's breakout, when he legitimately outplayed the great Trout en route to collecting the MVP hardware.

As Betts and Bogaerts spoke, one issue seemed to bridge the disconnect between their demeanors: their respective contracts.

Bogaerts just signed a six-year, $120 million extension that already looks like a massive bargain as he produces like an MVP candidate. Betts, meanwhile, reiterated that he won't negotiate during the season while acknowledging that his contract is on his mind. He settled in arbitration for $20 million and won't become a free agent until the end of next season.

"You think about it, but it's just a thought and it goes in the past," he said. "You have to take care of your business. It's going to come. No matter what you do, it's going to come, so don't rush it."

The two are case studies in the risk-reward calculation of waiting vs. acting, of maximizing earnings vs. accepting security.

Bogaerts, for instance, believes the stability provided by his deal has contributed to his sterling .294-17-65 season. And if it means he left some money on the table, so be it.

"I think it has probably played a positive part," he said. "I don't look at it like, 'Oh, I wonder what I could've gotten?' Once I signed, I was determined to stay here and be a part of this that we have going on. Signing it maybe rewarded me with a good season, being a bit more vocal, a bit more of a leader type, because of the commitment that team and the organization did towards me. I think that has changed and made me expect a lot more of myself, and understand there are a lot of younger guys looking up to me."

Betts, meanwhile, wasn't about to blame his contract for his relatively down numbers. He's hitting .272 with 13 home runs, 40 RBIs, and an .859 OPS, and he's still playing Gold Glove defense. But he entered last year's break hitting .359 with 23 homers, 51 RBIs, and a 1.139 OPS, well on his way to a batting title and 30-30 season.

"There's no talk," he said of contract negotiations. "Once the season starts, there's no more of that talk. I'm just focused on the rest of the year."

While Bogaerts has stepped into a leadership role, whether it's palling around with Devers or serving as a spokesman following tough losses, Betts has devoted most of his energy to extricating himself from what's a slump by his standards but would be pretty good by anyone else's. He fills the spokesman's role, too, but far more reluctantly.

"He's still having a great season -- he's here," noted fellow defending MVP Christian Yelich of the Brewers. "Maybe it's not up to his standards of an MVP level, but I think when this thing's all said and done, by the time the season's over, he's going to be right where he needs to be."

And that brings us to a nine-figure question: would Betts change a thing? He has set records in arbitration while maintaining that he will play out his contract before hitting free agency just a couple of weeks after his 28th birthday. With another MVP performance, he'd have a chance to earn the largest contract in history, surpassing the $330 million deal Bryce Harper signed with Philadelphia this February.

Betts has earned the right not to leave a single cent on the table, and signing now would almost assuredly preclude that from happening, even if the Red Sox offered him a $300 million extension. He need only look at Bogaerts to see what can happen when a player chooses security.

Super-agent Scott Boras expressed no regret over fulfilling the wishes of his client.

"Obviously he's very comfortable and playing at a high level. He's an All-Star," Boras said. "A product of that was Xander knowing where he wanted to play and what he wanted to do. My job is, you certainly want optimization economically, but the real job is you want to get the player to play optimally and do well. . . .  From a player perspective, I think Xander Bogaerts is one happy guy."

Happy is not a word that applies to Betts at the moment. He's by no means a malcontent or malign influence -- he has always been a pleasant, grounded guy -- but he's certainly not happy.

It's fair to wonder how much his contract has to do with it.

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Projecting the Red Sox' 2020 Opening Day roster

Projecting the Red Sox' 2020 Opening Day roster

The Boston Red Sox begin their offseason with a number of question marks. We could be looking at a familiar roster in 2020, but the hiring of Chaim Bloom as Chief Baseball Officer all but confirms significant changes are about to be made.

It's still too early to get a read on which way the wind is blowing for the impactful decisions Bloom will be faced with this winter, the most important of which will be the future of superstar right fielder Mookie Betts. But as we look forward to what's sure to be an eventful offseason, we can at least take a shot at what the 25-man roster could look like come Opening Day.

Here's a look at the potential roster before free agency gains some steam in the coming weeks:

Catcher: Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon OR free agent/trade

Vazquez is locked in as Boston's starting catcher after producing the best offensive season of his career and earning a Gold Glove award nomination. The real question is who will back him up.

Leon could be non-tendered if the Red Sox ultimately decide they want more offensive production behind Vazquez on the depth chart. If Leon isn't brought back for 2020, expect Boston to sign a cheap alternative in free agency.

First Base: Michael Chavis, Bobby Dalbec, Sam Travis, free agent/trade

Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce both are unrestricted free agents with the latter pondering retirement. It's a possibility Boston re-signs Moreland on a reasonable one-year deal, but there are some interesting alternatives.

Chavis could see a lot of playing time at first depending on how the second base situation plays out. This also could be the year we see minor league slugger Dalbec get some big-league at-bats. We should expect to see Travis in the mix too following a 2019 season in which he appeared in 59 games.

Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic recently noted one player the Red Sox could pursue to replace Moreland and Pearce is free agent Justin Smoak, who spent the last five seasons with the Blue Jays.

Second Base: Michael Chavis, Dustin Pedroia, free agent/trade

It's safe to say we probably shouldn't enter 2020 with an optimistic outlook on Pedroia, but he's on this list as a formality.

Don't rule out Brock Holt returning in free agency. Though if he doesn't, we could be looking at another year of Chavis as the team's primary second baseman.

Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts

Barring some ridiculous trade this offseason, Bogaerts is locked in as the starting shortstop for 2020 and years to come.

Third Base: Rafael Devers

Devers ain't going anywhere.

Left Field: Andrew Benintendi

We'll see what happens with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts, who we'll discuss momentarily, but for now it looks like Benintendi will again be the starting left fielder for the Red Sox as he looks to improve in 2020.

Center Field: Jackie Bradley Jr. OR free agent/trade

Here's where it starts to get interesting. Ken Rosenthal reported the Red Sox trading Bradley this offseason "seems all but certain." Bradley is set to make $11 million before he hits free agency in 2020.

For what it's worth, Rosenthal mentions Astros outfielder Jake Marisnick as a potential replacement if Bradley is moved. Of course, if Bradley isn't traded before Opening Day, he'll resume his role as the Sox' starting center fielder.

Right Field: Mookie Betts OR free agent/trade

To trade Mookie or to not trade Mookie? That is the most glaring question Bloom is faced with as he begins his Red Sox tenure.

Betts will become an unrestricted free agent after the 2019 season if he and the Red Sox cannot come to terms on a contract extension. If Betts is adamant about testing the free-agent market, Boston could opt to move the 2018 American League MVP for a haul. That would have to be a last resort as obviously the Red Sox would prefer to keep the homegrown 27-year-old.

This will be the most compelling storyline of the offseason. For now, mark Betts down as the starting right fielder.

Designated Hitter: J.D. Martinez

Martinez decided to not opt out of his contract, so he'll be back as the Red Sox' stud DH next season unless they decide to trade him, which doesn't seem likely. The 32-year-old can block trades to three teams.

Starting Pitchers: Chris Sale, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, free agent/trade

The Red Sox are looking to shed payroll this offseason. One way of doing that would be to part ways with the expensive contracts of Price and/or Eovaldi. In fact, rumor has it Boston has already discussed such a deal with the Texas Rangers.

Sale, assuming he's healthy, is the clear-cut ace with Rodriguez looking to build off an impressive 2019 campaign. Rick Porcello is a free agent, so unless the Red Sox bring him back on a cheaper contract, they'll need to sign or trade for someone to replace him in the rotation.

Bullpen: Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, Darwinzon Hernandez, Ryan Brasier, Josh Taylor, Marcus Walden, Brian Johnson, Travis Lakins, Heath Hembree, free agent/trade

Workman likely earned the closer role after being one of the bright spots in an otherwise bleak 2019 season. Barnes and Brasier should resume their roles as the set-up men and "spot-closers." Left-handers Hernandez and Taylor were effective down the stretch and provide hope for a more stable bullpen in 2020. There's some uncertainty in the rest of this group, including Hembree, who could be non-tendered.

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Yankees cut Jacoby Ellsbury, proving that sometimes stars don't come back to haunt you

Yankees cut Jacoby Ellsbury, proving that sometimes stars don't come back to haunt you

The duck boats were still idling on the infield dirt when a handful of reporters covering the 2013 championship parade asked Jacoby Ellsbury if he had a minute to talk.

"When I come back out," Ellsbury said while descending the dugout steps.

Those would be his last words in a Red Sox uniform, because he never returned.

Six years later, Ellsbury's a fascinating study in how sometimes the best decision a franchise can make is to walk away. A month after celebrating Boston's third title in 10 seasons, Ellsbury signed a seven-year, $153 million contract with the Yankees. Despite being a homegrown star who had only just turned 30, Ellsbury's departure didn't inspire much rage amongst Red Sox fans.

That will certainly not be the case if Mookie Betts is traded this winter, and while it would be disingenuous to compare Ellsbury to Betts, it's nonetheless worth noting how frequently massive free agent deals end up biting the new team more than the old one. (Ask the Nationals if they miss Bryce Harper.)

The Red Sox made no effort to retain Ellsbury and fans were fine with it because they had him pegged. Those who considered him an injury-prone soldier-for-hire disinclined to play through pain watched his forgettable Yankees tenure confirm their instincts.

His career likely came to an end with a whimper on Wednesday night when the Yankees announced they would eat the final year and $26 million remaining on his contract. He hasn't played since 2017, when he hit .264 in 112 games. The Yankees actually hold a $21 million option for 2021, but they shan't be paying it.

What did $153 million get them? A .264 average in parts of four seasons and only 520 out of a possible 1,296 games played. That's what's known as money hemorrhaged.

And yet the Yankees can partially thank him for their newfound financial discipline. When the 2013 offseason yielded overpaid bloat in the form of Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran, a profligate era (century?) effectively ended. Two years later, the Yankees sold off stars Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman and Beltran, released the disgraced Alex Rodriguez, and kickstarted the rebuild that has produced 100 wins in each of the last two seasons.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, suffered no consequences. In fact, they benefitted from Ellsbury's unreliability and the drag he put on New York's payroll.

Ellsbury was always a bit of an odd duck in Boston. Perfectly amiable and pleasant, he nonetheless projected a vibe of corporate detachment, that corporation being Jacoby Ellsbury Ltd. The phrase "Scott Boras client" is used pejoratively to describe players loyal only to their bank accounts, and even if it doesn't actually apply to the super-agent's entire stable, Ellsbury embodied that mercenary ethos like no other.

He tended to act in his own best interests at the expense of, say, playing more than 18 games in 2010 with the infamous "front . . . and back" rib injury that the team's medical staff considered nothing, much to Ellsbury's consternation. His clubhouse standing seemed directly tied to how well he played. Teammate Dustin Pedroia probably shouted, "Yo, Ells!" more in 2011 than the rest of Ellsbury's career combined. That's the year Ellsbury delivered one of greatest all-around seasons in Red Sox history, hitting .321 with 32 homers and 39 steals while winning a Gold Glove and finishing second in the MVP voting. He was Mookie before Mookie.

(It's also worth noting that he wasn't humorless. During Ellsbury's breakout 2011, hitting coach Dave Magadan held up a $100 bill and asked if the center fielder could make change. "That is change," Ellsbury deadpanned before breaking into a wide grin).

Ellsbury never approached that level of brilliance again, but he did steal a league-leading 52 bases in 2013 and hit .344 that postseason, making him a priority for a Yankees club that had just finished third in the division while missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Then the injuries started and everyone who ever doubted Ellsbury's ability or desire to stay healthy just nodded knowingly.

It's hard to imagine Betts's next team experiencing similar regret, but he's not the biggest guy and injuries happen. At the same age, after all, 27-year-old Nomar Garciaparra had already won two batting titles and a Rookie of the Year and looked like a first-ballot Hall of Famer. A couple of years later, the Red Sox couldn't win a World Series until they got rid of him.

They won a pair of titles with Ellsbury, so no complaints there. Then he ghosted us and took his talents to New York, and it turns out Red Sox fans had no problem with that, either.

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