Mookie Betts is a Dodger in 2020, but what about 2021? Ranking all 30 MLB teams as free agent suitors
Betts wants to test free agency and will be in line for a huge contract
Mookie Betts is finally on the move. After an offseason filled with rumors, the Boston Red Sox Los Angeles Dodgers. Outfielder Alex Verdugo and righty Brusdar Graterol were sent to Boston in the three-team trade that also includes the Minnesota Twins. The Dodgers now have the 2019 NL MVP (Cody Bellinger) and the 2018 AL MVP (Betts) roaming their outfield.
Betts turned 27 in October and he is on the very short list of the game's best players. He has been no worse than a 6-WAR player the last five years and he's been as good as an 11-WAR player during his MVP season. The Dodgers are getting a superstar in the prime of his career. They made the trade not to win another NL West title, but to get over the hump and win the World Series.
The Dodgers also traded for only one year of Betts. He is due to become a free agent after the season and, given the contracts signed by Bryce Harper (13 years, $335 million) and Manny Machado (10 years, $300 million) last winter, it stands to reason Betts will seek a contract in the $400 million range. It is not an unreasonable demand. Not with another typical Mookie season in 2020.
Betts has not been shy about his willingness (eagerness?) to test free agency. He has reportedly turned down multiple nine-figure contract offers from the Red Sox over the years, which contributed to the trade. Here's what Betts said about his impending free agency last March:
"I love it here in Boston. It's a great spot. I've definitely grown to love going up north in the cold," Betts also said to reporters, including Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. "... That doesn't mean I want to sell myself short of my value."
-- the Dodgers assume that contract now -- and Mookie will go into free agency having already made roughly $60 million in his career. He's already made a fortune. That's no reason to sell himself short in free agency though. Betts will seek a mammoth contract next offseason and he deserves one.
With the caveat that a lot can and will change between now and then, it's worth looking ahead to next offseason to see which clubs will be the most serious suitors for Betts next winter. In fact, let's rank all 30 teams based on how aggressively they figure to pursue Mookie next offseason. To the rankings!
|The Rays are a very good team and I'm sure they'd love to sign Betts. There's just no reason to believe they can made it work financially. They'll continue developing players from within and stealing quality players away from other organizations.|
|Fun fact: The largest contract in Pirates history is still the six-year, $60 million deal they gave Jason Kendall in 2000. New GM Ben Cherington drafted and developed Betts with the Red Sox, so while I would like to tell you that relationship could lead to a surprise Mookie signing in Pittsburgh, there's no reason to think it'll actually happen.|
|Every once in a while the Marlins will surprise you with a big contract signing (see: Jose Reyes and Giancarlo Stanton), but those deals came under a different owner, and the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter group seems determined to build the next contending Marlins team from within. Spending huge won't happen, even for a player as good and as young as Betts.|
|The Orioles lost 115 games in 2018 and 108 games in 2019, and they actively got worse this offseason. Payroll will be in the $60 million range this year after sitting at $80 million last year and $148 million in 2018. The O's have little interest in fielding a competitive team right now, though they certainly have the payroll space to fit Betts going forward.|
|Cleveland's payroll is trending in the wrong direction. Payroll has gone from $135 million in 2018 to $120 million in 2019 to a projected $90 million in 2020. Yikes. The Indians are never going to be big spenders, and, if they are going to surprise us all and hand out a monster contract, it'll be to retain Francisco Lindor long-term.|
|Ryan Braun's contract comes off the books after the season and the Brewers still have Christian Yelich at a bargain rate through 2022. That frees them up to spend elsewhere, so we can't rule out Betts. More likely, GM David Stearns will spread the money around rather than give Betts a massive long-term contract. That's not how the Brewers operate.|
|You know, squint your eyes and you can see the Royals being in the wild-card mix in 2021. They have some really good young pitching coming and a decent big-league core. If enough players break through in 2020 and the team looks like a possible contender in 2021, would new owner John Sherman open the wallet for Betts? Probably not. But maybe!|
|The Tigers are extremely bad and they are likely to be extremely bad going forward. At the same time, they have a history of handing out enormous contracts, even irrationally at times. No, it's almost certainly not going to happen, but some team has to rank atop the rebuilders, and I think Detroit is the best candidate given the club's spending history.|
|True story: I was planning to rank the Mets much higher, maybe even in the top five, prior to the recent Steve Cohen news. Reports indicate Cohen will not be purchasing the Mets as expected, meaning that huge influx of cash is not coming. Betts would solve the club's longstanding center field problem, and they will be free of Yoenis Cespedes' and David Wright's salaries after the season, but man, the Wilpons signing off a contract of this magnitude? Don't hold your breath.|
|Financially, the Mariners can make it work. They've shed about $50 million off their payroll this offseason and don't have any significant arbitration raises or impending free agencies to worry about. With enough positive development in 2020, Seattle could be a candidate to spend big next offseason. It's just a matter of convincing Betts to join the team.|
|Well, their franchise player feels disrespected and the owner had his analytics staff "interpolate' a 94-win prediction in 2020, so things are going great in Colorado. The Rockies will shed a few pricey contracts next offseason and pursuing Betts could be their way of making Nolan Arenado happy. They have a history of spending and Mookie may be planning to take the largest offer no matter which team makes it. Hmmm.|
|The Reds signed several mid-range free agents this offseason and will carry a franchise record $141 million payroll in 2020. Can they afford a huge contract for Betts, even with Trevor Bauer coming off the books? It seems unlikely. Then again, I did not expect Cincinnati to give Joey Votto $225 million, or spend like it has this offseason. Another underwhelming season could push the Reds to do something crazy in free agency.|
|They'd love to sign Betts. I'm sure of it. The Athletics have to first worry about one of their own impending free agents though (Marcus Semien) and they have been phased out of the league's revenue sharing program, so they don't have as much money to spend as in years past. The A's will surprise you -- remember when they tried to sign Edwin Encarnacion three years ago? -- and they are contenders. Never say never.|
|The Padres tried to acquire Betts this offseason, but trading for one year of Betts and signing Betts to a big long-term deal are very different things. The Eric Hosmer contract already looks bad and they have a $300 million player already on the books in Machado. San Diego has surprised us enough the last few years that we can't rule them out. I think that, if they were going to acquire Betts, it would've been a trade though. Not a free-agent signing.|
|The Cardinals really should have made an aggressive push to acquire Betts. He fits their needs very well. There was no good reason not to get involved. (Note: "He's expensive" is not a good reason.) St. Louis already has a few too many 30-somethings making big bucks on the roster. I'm not sure they'll pile a near $40 million per season contract for Betts on top of their existing commitments at this point. A trade was their best chance to add Mookie.|
|It wasn't until the rest of baseball practically gift-wrapped Josh Donaldson that the Twins signed him. They need to lock up a few core players soon and the outfield is pretty full, but you make room for a player like Betts. Guys like Eddie Rosario and Trevor Larnach should not stand in the way. The Twins are contenders and they have a great ballpark. The appeal is there. Swinging it financially will be the biggest challenge.|
|Yes, the Red Sox could circle back and try to sign Betts as a free agent next offseason. Trading him for young talent and then re-signing him would be a nifty little move. The only thing standing in their way is their own self-imposed payroll limit. Realistically, if the Red Sox were going to make Betts a competitive long-term offer, they would've done it already. I don't think it's likely they pursue a reunion with Mookie this winter. I don't think it's completely impossible either.|
|You know what's really scary about the Cubs crying poor this offseason? They don't have much money coming off the books after the season. Tyler Chatwood and Jose Quintana, and maybe Jon Lester. That's about it. Arbitration raises for Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber will eat up those savings. That said, all it takes is ownership agreeing to raise payroll for the Cubs to make a run at Betts. Similar to the Red Sox, the Cubs can afford him, but do they want to?|
|The Nationals have chosen to invest in pitching, so much so that they let Harper and Anthony Rendon leave the last two offseasons. They won a championship with that pitching, so who am I to argue? Eventually Washington has to get to work on a Juan Soto extension. With little on the books outside the big pitching contracts long-term, the Nationals could swoop in to make a serious run at Betts next offseason. We're getting warmer.|
|Looking for a dark horse? This is your dark horse. The Diamondbacks have no significant long-term commitments other than Madison Bumgarner. They have only $61.5 million on the books in 2021 and only $40.9 million in 2022. GM Mike Hazen was a high-ranking member of the Red Sox's front office when they drafted and developed Betts, so there's a relationship already in place. Stealing Mookie away from the Dodgers and claiming NL West supremacy would be awfully tempting.|
|The Yankees are ranked this high mostly because they're the Yankees and they can still outspend every other team when they want to (see: Gerrit Cole). The outfield is not a priority, neither short-term nor long-term, but Betts came up as a second baseman and DJ LeMahieu will be a free agent after the season. Hmmm. Hmmmmmmmm.|
|Another year with no postseason berth will likely cost GM Billy Eppler his job and it could push owner Arte Moreno to do something crazy. Even after signing Rendon this winter. The Angels need pitching more than anything, but Betts is an elite player, and there's nothing wrong with adding to a strength. Signing Betts and trading outfield prospect Jo Adell for a top young starter is a viable plan. Likely? Nah, I don't think so. Tantalizing? Oh hell yes.|
|The Astros are... complicated. They only recently hired a new general manager, James Click, and we have no idea what to expect going forward. Will they remain ruthlessly efficient or get a little reckless with their spending? Click's history with the Rays suggests the former, but we don't really know. George Springer will be a free agent after the season. As good as he is, replacing soon-to-be 31-year-old Springer with 28-year-old Betts sure would be something.|
|I don't think any team improved as much as the White Sox this offseason. They made upgrades up and down the roster and they did it mostly with mid-range free agent signings. Yasmani Grandal was the priciest at four years and $74 million. Young players like Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert are locked up long-term and the ChiSox are clearly in it to win it right now. I will need to see owner Jerry Reinsdorf hand out a $300 million contract to believe it, but I don't think it's impossible.|
|The Phillies already have one $300 million contract on the books in Harper, and they seem to have decided not to exceed the $208 million luxury threshold in 2020. If they miss the postseason again in 2020 though? Hoo boy. Desperation could set in and jobs could be on the line in 2021, and that usually equals wild offseasons. Philadelphia strikes me as the club most likely to shoot up these rankings as the season plays out.|
|The sleeping giant. The Blue Jays are loaded with young position player talent, almost all of it on the infield, and their only significant long-term contract belongs to Hyun-Jin Ryu. Toronto is massive and Rogers Centre is always packed when the Blue Jays are good. All that cheap young talent leaves payroll space for Betts and fitting him into the outfield would be a piece of cake. Team president Mark Shapiro is not known for spending big. Mookie could change that.|
|The expectation was the Rangers would have an active offseason as they head into Globe Life Field's inaugural season and they have, most notably adding Corey Kluber. They did not add the big bat the offense needs, however, and they will shed Shin-Soo Choo's big salary after the season. A new ballpark equals increased revenue, and there's a good chance Texas will still need another bat in 2021. The pieces fit and the money should be there.|
|The Giants have tried to make big splashes under president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. They tried to acquire Stanton in Dec. 2018 and made a run at Harper last winter. Signing Betts this offseason would be similar to signing Barry Bonds in 1993. He's in the prime of his career and among the game's best players. Mookie's defense would fit wonderfully in Oracle Park, and the Giants have a ton of money coming off the books after 2021. Long-term payroll flexibility exists.|
|I don't know if it was intentional, but gosh, the Braves are set up very nicely to pursue Betts this offseason. They went heavy on one-year contracts this offseason (Cole Hamels, Marcell Ozuna, etc.) and have their best young players signed long-term (Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies), plus Mark Melancon comes off the books after the season too. The Braves only have $68 million on the books for 2021 and a ton of cheap young pitching coming. The long-term payroll flexibility is in place to add Betts to what is already one of the best talent groups in the game. Mookie to Atlanta is a great fit. A great, great fit.|
|Even before trading for Betts, the Dodgers were the team best positioned to pursue him in free agency. Now they get to wine and dine him for a year, and see how he fits into the organization. Los Angeles reset its luxury tax rate two years ago and has quite a bit of payroll space under the luxury tax threshold going forward. The Dodgers can afford Betts, they're a no-doubt World Series contender, and they play in one of the biggest markets in the game. The Dodgers have fewer roster and financial obstacles than other teams, and few teams can offer a similar off-the-field experience.|
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