Mookie Betts is incredibly valuable to the Boston Red Sox. In fact, he was the Most Valuable Player in Major League Baseball last year.
But baseball still is a business, and the Red Sox still did all they could to pay him less money in 2018.
That's when Betts entered his first year of arbitration, a process by which players and teams haggle over how much money that player will earn that season.
If player and club can't agree on a contract figure by the mid-January deadline, the next step is an actual hearing in February, where a panel of arbitrators listens to both sides and selects either the player's desired contract (usually more money) or the team's desired contract (usually less money).
Betts and the Red Sox found themselves in this situation last winter. Here's what happened next, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan:
With $3 million at stake, the Boston Red Sox wanted to create the most compelling argument possible against Mookie Betts without alienating or insulting him. So last January, as they tried to convince a three-person arbitration panel that Betts deserved the $7.5 million salary they were offering and not the $10.5 million he requested, the Red Sox fashioned a novel approach in the typically staid, lawyerly arbitration room: They played a video talking about how good Kris Bryant was.
The purpose, multiple sources in the room told ESPN, was not simply to lavish praise on the Chicago Cubs' third baseman but to make their case: As great as Mookie Betts may be, he isn't Kris Bryant. And in the world of arbitration ... the single most important factor is comparable players.
That's right: The Red Sox actually were trying to prove their star player wasn't as good as Bryant (who made $10.85 million in 2018) so they could pay him a lower salary.
This shouldn't be taken as a sign of Boston disrespecting Betts, as every team goes through this negotiation process with arbitration-eligible players. But the Red Sox's plan backfired: The panel ruled in favor of Betts, who walked away with a $10.5 million salary.
Betts wound up proving the arbitrators right, posting better numbers than Bryant across the board during his 2018 MVP campaign. The 26-year-old is eligible for arbitration again in 2019, though, and his monster season means he'll likely request another steep raise.
The Red Sox have until Friday at 1 p.m. ET to find common ground with Betts or go to another hearing.
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