Red Sox

Bryce Harper rooting for Mookie Betts 'to make more money than I do' in free agency

Bryce Harper rooting for Mookie Betts 'to make more money than I do' in free agency

BOSTON -- Bryce Harper was one of the earliest passengers on the Mookie Betts bandwagon, even as its namesake made him a victim of highway robbery.

The 2015 Fenway home opener featured the Nationals and their superstar 22-year-old, but Betts stole the show. He not only went 2-for-4 with a homer and two steals, he also made a leaping catch in right-center to rob Harper of a homer and then gushed about what an honor it was to share a field with him.

The two future MVPs were born only nine days apart in October of 1992, but by 2015 Harper had already established himself as a superstar, while Betts was still finding his way. "He'd be in the lineup every day if he was mine," Harper said at the time.

Fast forward just four short years, and there's no missing either of them. Harper is in the first year of a record 13-year, $330 million contract with Philadelphia, while Betts is a year away from hitting the market himself and discovering what riches it holds.

With the Phillies in town for a two-game series, that made Harper the perfect man to discuss Betts' future, because he has lived it.

"Just seeing him play through the minors and then when he got up here, he was such an electric player," Harper told NBC Sports Boston. "He's one of those guys who can change the game in an instant on both sides of the ball. He's a really good person as well off the field. Just a guy you'd want on your franchise for a long time."

The Red Sox agree, but they won't be the only team vying for his services if Betts reaches free agency. Harper faced a similar predicament with the Nationals last year, at one point reportedly declining a $300 million extension.

Whatever connection Harper felt with Washington, the team that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, it didn't supersede his collectively bargained right to test the market.

"For myself and other players, you earn that opportunity to go there," Harper said. "You're locked in for a long period of time with one team once you get drafted, and then you have an opportunity to go and listen to other teams and see what they have to offer. It's a fun time, it's a good time to feel wanted, and Mookie is going to be wanted by a lot of teams and I think Boston is going to be one of them."

Harper rattled off a list of former teammates and executives in Washington he expects will remain lifelong friends. He has nothing but good things to say about his seven seasons there. But he also recognized that perhaps his time had run its course in ways that should make sense to Red Sox fans wondering how the team will find the money to pay Betts, MVP candidate Rafael Devers, and young outfielder Andrew Benintendi, among others.

"It was time for both sides," Harper said. "[The Nationals] have Juan Soto and Victor Robles, [Anthony] Rendon, a lot of players coming up. It was time to go somewhere else and I'm just happy I'm here and very happy I'm in Philly."

Harper's free agency experience lasted months, which is perhaps baseball's new normal. He didn't sign with the Phillies until the end of February, but he didn't sweat it, and he doesn't think Betts should either.

"I didn't mind it," he said. "Only having a couple of weeks in spring training was nice, some extra time with family and friends. But it's part of the process. It's part of what teams and players are doing now. It's going to be a long process for him, but I think he'll be able to handle that. He has a great head on his shoulders and a great family."

While Harper's contract remains the biggest ever signed by a free agent, it was in short order eclipsed as baseball's richest by Mike Trout's 12-year, $430 million extension with the Angels. Harper would love to see Betts achieve even greater financial heights.

"Just like Trout did," Harper said. "Mookie's an incredible player. If he has an opportunity to make more money than I do, then I hope he does."

Whatever Betts ultimately lands on the market, Harper still has one bone to pick. He ended up winning the MVP in 2015 after hitting .330 with 42 homers and 99 RBI. All of those numbers would've been higher, except Betts had other ideas.

"It should've been 43," Harper said with a wry smile. "So, appreciate it, Mookie."

 

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Jackie Bradley Jr. says race relations have to 'start with change of heart'

Jackie Bradley Jr. says race relations have to 'start with change of heart'

Jackie Bradley Jr. has watched the George Floyd protests touch every corner of America, and he can't help but feel emotional.

With the Black Lives Matter movement forcing a long overdue racial reckoning, Bradley hopes the result is permanent change of a very personal nature.

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"It has to start with a change of the heart," Bradley said in a Zoom call with reporters on Monday. "That's what it all comes back to. You've got to have the heart to be able to physically, emotionally, and mentally make that change to be better. Not only for yourself, but for others around. We've come a long way as a nation, but we still have some ways to go. I'm praying that we can get to the place that we need to be."

Bradley has spoken to manager Ron Roenicke and teammates about his experiences. He also took to heart the words of former All-Star outfielder Torii Hunter, who recently told an interviewer that he heard more racist language directed at him in Fenway Park than anywhere else, which is why Hunter had a no-trade clause to Boston.

Bradley declined to discuss his specific experiences, saying those conversations are for another time, but he did empathize with Hunter.

"I definitely heard what Torii talked about," Bradley said. "I've talked with Torii since I was a rookie. He's an amazing mentor, someone that you can go to and just discuss anything, whether it's just life, baseball, family. There's a lot of guys that I've spoken with along the way. For them to give me knowledge to use and help my career is something that I'm very appreciative for.

"I think everybody has different experiences, and I'm not here to compare my experience to his. I'm sure we've all had different experiences in certain situations, certain places. But I just hope we get better and make a change."

And Bradley knows that changes need to happen. It can't be through laws or rules, but core beliefs.

"It all boils down to people just have to want that change," he said. "You can't force it on anybody. We have to show a lot more love in this country."

How Mitch Moreland stayed in baseball shape with the help of his 'party barn'

How Mitch Moreland stayed in baseball shape with the help of his 'party barn'

Mitch Moreland found one way to stay in baseball shape during the pandemic — install batting cages in his party barn.

Moreland bought land in Alabama this offseason, razed a couple of existing structures, and prepared to build a new home. So his family would have a spot to watch construction, they first built a fully furnished barn, which they assumed they could use to host friends and which Moreland described as a "party barn."

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But when the pandemic struck, he found a practical use for the space, installing a full batting cage and pitching machine.

"It just happened to come at just the right time," Moreland said. "Obviously, it's an unfortunate time with everybody having to go back home and kind of stay isolated as much as possible, but having the barn there, being able to get the cage up in it, like I said, it just came about at the right time really."

Moreland's Instagram account includes multiple shots of the barn-as-batting-cage, including one of his son losing a tooth by tying a string to baseball and letting it fly.

"It worked out great," Moreland said. "It was a blast being able to kind of be there and watch the finishing touches. Me and a couple of the guys put the cage up ourselves in like three hours, so I was fired up about it. Something I've always wanted. I think my boys are getting just as much use out of it as I am. It's fun to have and it just kind of worked out well during this time to have it."

The 34-year-old Moreland returned to the Red Sox on a one-year, $3 million deal with a team option for 2021. After spending the first seven years of his career in Texas, he has now made a home in Boston, where he is entering his fourth season.

But it's the new home he's building, with personal batting cage/party barn, that caught the attention of his teammates.

"Actually guys have talked about it here," he said. "They've already brought it up and they said they're all coming to stay with me. I was like, I'll wait until all this stuff is cleared up and then you all can come up anytime you want."