It's the question none of us can really answer: What does Mookie Betts want?
As the Red Sox embark on their most momentous offseason since Theo Epstein took the helm 17 years ago, determining Betts's future is the primary item on chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom's agenda.
But beyond a stated desire to reach free agency, we know frustratingly little about Betts's long-term goals. Does he want to stay in Boston? Does he want to be the highest-paid player in the game? Would he like to play closer to his home in Tennessee? Might he want to give the National League a try?
During Bloom's introductory press conference, owner John Henry shed some light on how the Betts conundrum factored into the interview process. And his answer revealed the key unknown the Red Sox are grappling with as they try to determine whether to keep or trade their homegrown MVP.
"It was more of a general discussion," Henry said. "We talked about Mookie, J.D., other issues, but we didn't focus on, oh, what should we do? Because you're going to be looking at a number of factors, including where Mookie wants to play for the long term."
"Including where Mookie wants to play for the long term" suggests the Red Sox have their doubts that place is Boston, which is a reasonable position to take. Though Betts periodically declared his love for the city last season, usually in response to suggestions that he's looking forward to taking his talents elsewhere, actions matter more than words.
And thus far, Betts has shown little inclination to engage with the Red Sox on a long-term extension, even though the parameters should be pretty clear, as Harold Reynolds noted on the MLB Network. CEO Sam Kennedy recently told MassLive.com that the sides haven't talked extension yet, but it feels like that conversation could be a one-and-done proposition, because the market is well-established.
Hell just froze over.— Red Sox Stats (@redsoxstats) November 7, 2019
I agree with Harold Reynolds. pic.twitter.com/lJFLtbIdQ7
Betts can rightly argue that he's better than both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. The Red Sox can counter that he's a good couple of notches below perennial MVP favorite Mike Trout.
It just so happens that all three signed massive contracts last winter. The Phillies gave Harper 13 years and $330 million. Machado signed with San Diego for 10 years and $300 million. Trout then trumped them both by inking a massive 12-year, $430 million extension.
Slotting Betts onto that continuum isn't particularly challenging. He falls between Harper and Trout, though his relative lack of size makes him a bigger breakdown risk. But let's just split the difference between $330 and $430 and say he's worth $380 million at the high end of the scale and $350 million on the low end. An offer would then take shape thusly: 10-12 years for $350-$380 million.
If Betts agrees, then sign him up, accept that you're not dropping the payroll below $208 million this winter, and start planning for a future built around Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez. (I've already argued that 10-year, $300 million contracts are bad business no matter who's signing them, but it's not my money).
If he balks, which feels more likely, then the Red Sox should begin trade talks the second they hang up the phone, because carrying him into the season risks losing him for nothing. While they could try to ship him out by July 31, how do they make that case if they're contending? Better to tear off the band-aid and start planning for life after Betts immediately.
There's no reason to let this uncertainty linger. Mookie's market is clear. Put the ball in his court and see what he does with it.
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