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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