UPDATE (Jan. 10, 1:00 p.m.): Mookie Betts and the Red Sox have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $27 million deal for the 2020 season.
Maybe you thought he'd be gone by now, but Mookie Betts remains a member of the Red Sox, which makes Friday an important step in determining his future.
The Red Sox have until noon to exchange arbitration figures with their seven free agents, and all eyes will be on Betts.
The former MVP stands at multiple crossroads, from Boston's efforts to drop below the $208 million luxury tax threshold, to whether this will be a competitive year or a rebuild, to Betts' long-term future with the organization.
The exchange of figures won't solve those issues, but it can provide some clarity on how the Red Sox proceed. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Betts will earn $27.7 million in arbitration, with most estimates placing him in the $27-$30 million range.
A year ago, the two sides avoided this entire process by agreeing to a one-year, $20 million contract that was a record for a player in his second year of arbitration, at a salary befitting a defending MVP and world champion.
Whether they can reach an agreement this time around sounds like a 50-50 proposition. On one side, if the team is sincere in its efforts to sign Betts to a multi-year extension, then it's in Chaim Bloom's interests to strike a good-faith deal for 2020 and extend Betts an olive branch. Locking in a salary could also help facilitate a trade by giving his new team cost certainty.
If the club is intent on making every cent count in a bid to drop below $208 million, however, then it could be in its interests to gamble on low-ball offers across the board, including Betts, in the hopes of saving money.
One thing we know about Betts is that he's unafraid to bet on himself.
His decision to settle ahead of last year's deadline qualified as a mild surprise, since only a year earlier, he took the Red Sox to arbitration and won, claiming a $10.5 million salary instead of the $7.5 million offered by the team. The ripple effect of that $3 million swing compounds with each successive hearing, meaning it could end up netting Betts an extra $15 million when all is said and done.
From Betts' perspective, maybe the Red Sox offer him a settlement he finds acceptable and he takes it. Or he could decide that likes his chances of prevailing in a hearing and wait it out — the Red Sox should be awfully nervous to take a $25 million figure before an arbiter if Betts is seeking $30 million, for instance.
It's important to note that exchanging numbers doesn't preclude the Red Sox from trading Betts. His new team would be free to negotiate a deal with him right up until his hearing in February. Otherwise, it would have to defend the number submitted by the Red Sox.
So how does this play out? As unsatisfying as it sounds, at this point it could go either way.
The other arb-eligible players on the roster, with their salary estimates from MLB Trade Rumors, are: Jackie Bradley Jr. ($11M), Eduardo Rodriguez ($9.5M), Andrew Benintendi ($4.9M), Brandon Workman ($3.4M), Matt Barnes ($3.0M), and Heath Hembree ($1.6M).
Bradley is a candidate to be traded, while the rest should find themselves back in Boston come Opening Day.