Red Sox

If Dodgers are smart, they'll sign Mookie Betts to massive deal right now

Red Sox

If there's one incongruity about day-to-day life in a pandemic, it's the stock market.

The virus rages across the South and the Dow just keeps on trucking toward its pre-COVID highs. The United States becomes the epicenter of disease and the NASDAQ soars to twice its value during the 2000 tech boom. Everyday Americans seek unemployment in record numbers and the one percent fatten their portfolios.

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The market is cooking because investors are taking the long view. We will eventually come out of this either because there's a vaccine or the disease burns itself out or the survivors have crowned a new champion in Thunderdome; however it ends, there will be an economy on the other side and the rich intend to be ready.

The stock market has gotten me thinking about the future of Mookie Betts. The former Red Sox MVP was traded to the Dodgers this winter because the Red Sox knew they couldn't afford him in free agency. Betts appeared well on his way to a $350 million contract before the pandemic hit, if not $400 million.

Post-coronavirus, we assumed his market had cratered. How could it not?

Baseball's owners fought for a shortened season to avoid paying their players. Now someone was going to shower millions on Betts? Maybe he'd be forced to take a one-year deal. Maybe there'd be no serious long-term offers. Maybe he'd be lucky to find a contract topping out at even $250 million, a theory posited by Hall of Fame scribe Peter Gammons. I wrote as much last month. 

 

But the people buying stocks are planning for a post-COVID future. And if the Dodgers are smart, between now and Thursday's opener vs. the Giants they'll do the same thing and announce that they've signed Betts to a massive extension, keeping him in blue for the rest of his career.

How massive? He shouldn't settle for a penny less than $350 million over 10 or 12 years. That was his floor before the pandemic struck, and if it's his ceiling when it's over, that just means the Dodgers will have made a wise long-term business decision. (Update: ESPN's Jeff Passan reports Betts has agreed to a 12-year, $365 million extension.) 

Their billionaire owners have almost assuredly made money in the markets over the last few months, which means they know an opportunity when they see one. They won't find a better big-ticket investment than Betts, who has done his best to assume more of an outward leadership role in Los Angeles than he did in Boston.

He surprised teammates with a speech about professionalism to kick off spring training, and he recently hooked up spring training 2.0 sensation Chico Herrera — a clubbie turned acrobatic intrasquad outfielder — with custom Jordans because they wear the same size.

Betts is making an effort to act like one of the highest-paid players in the game, even if being the face of a franchise isn't exactly in his comfort zone.

It's all he needs to add to a skill set that already makes him the total package on the field. He has finished no worse than eighth in the last four MVP votes, winning the award in 2018 and giving future Hall of Famer Mike Trout a legitimate run for his money in 2016, when he finished second.

He hits for average (.301 lifetime), he hits for power (.519 slugging percentage), he steals bases (30 in 2018), and he's the best defensive right fielder in baseball, with four straight Gold Gloves. There's nothing he can't do, and at age 27, he's only just beginning what should be a lengthy prime.

That's the kind of player you pay for, like right now. The Dodgers shouldn't mess around with Betts reaching free agency, or signing a one-year deal and leaving next year. They didn't acquire him to suddenly become cautious about his future.

They should read the market, recognize the possibility of a more hopeful landscape after the pandemic, and secure Betts for the long haul.