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MLB Rumors: How Red Sox tried to lower Mookie Betts' salary in arbitration

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USA TODAY Sports

MLB Rumors: How Red Sox tried to lower Mookie Betts' salary in arbitration

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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Chris Sale on extension: 'I flat out told them I want to be here'

Chris Sale on extension: 'I flat out told them I want to be here'

Chris Sale won't hit free agency next offseason. The Boston Red Sox ensured that he would be with the team for the foreseeable future by inking him to a five-year extension worth $145 million.

After signing the extension, Sale opened up about the process of agreeing to the deal and explained that there were few issues in getting him to return.

I flat out told them, ‘I want to be here.’ They flat out told me they want me to be here. It was very transparent.

It makes sense that Sale wanted to stay in Boston. He spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Chicago White Sox. They were never able to qualify for the postseason with Sale on the roster.

In Boston, Sale has made the postseason in each of his first two seasons and has already won a World Series title while finding tremendous success on the mound. He has logged a 29-12 record with a 2.59 ERA in the regular season with the Red Sox. He also recorded the final out of the 2019 World Series.

Sale still seems hungry for success and credited the Red Sox' attitude as one of the reasons that he wanted to return, per Jason Mastrodonato of The Boston Herald.

We’re never going to be satisfied with anything. We’re all going to keep pushing and trying to gain ground and especially from established guys you don’t see that very often, you know. That’s a special thing to have and a very special trait to have and I think going forward I like where we’re at.

With Sale's extension taken care of, the Red Sox and Dave Dombrowski can shift gears and focus on some of the other impending free agents on their squad. However, the team likely won't negotiate after Opening Day, so it seems unlikely that any other deals will get done this offseason.

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Aaron Judge on Red Sox outfield: 'I love those guys'

Aaron Judge on Red Sox outfield: 'I love those guys'

The Boston Red Sox have one of the best outfields in all of baseball. The trio of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Andrew Benintendi has helped to carry the Boston offense while providing excellent defense for the past few seasons.

The three outfielders have endeared themselves to many, and that includes one of the Red Sox' biggest rivals, New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge.

In a recent interview with Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe, Judge commented his thoughts on Benintendi, Betts, and Bradley Jr., and said the following.

“I love those guys,” the Yankees right fielder said. “There’s a lot of mutual respect there, I feel. I’ve known those guys for a while now, especially Jackie and Mookie. You never see a roller coaster with them; they’re always where they need to be mentally.

“They’re great players. I think this is a good time to be a fan of the Yankees or Red Sox. The games are a lot of fun.”

It's easy to see why Judge admires the Red Sox' three starting outfielders. Betts is coming off an MVP season. Bradley Jr. earned a Gold Glove and was named the ALCS MVP after clubbing two home runs and driving in nine against the Houston Astros. And Benintendi hit .290 with 16 home runs last year. All three have proven to be excellent major league players, much like Judge.

And the feeling of admiration is mutual, as Betts pointed out to Abraham.

We come in different packages, but [Judge is] a great player and I respect him. We know he’s really good. It’s fun watching him. I know how the fans get, but there’s a brotherhood among the players.

Judge hit .278 with 27 homers last season and helped lead the Yankees to a Wild Card berth. The previous year, he hit 52 homers, won the Rookie of the Year award, and finished second in MVP voting.

The Red Sox and Yankees will go toe-to-toe this season in what figures to be a competitive AL East race. Needless to say, the outfields will play a big role in which team emerges victoriously from the division. But despite the rivalry, there will remain mutual respect between both sides.

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