It feels like a lifetime ago, but it was less than five months ago that the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired former AL MVP Mookie Betts in a nine-player, three-team trade with the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. The trade was agreed to, then reworked because of medical concerns. It was a hectic week.
Betts is scheduled to become a free agent this offseason and, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dodgers will only have him for 60 games this year, not 162. They will have him for a full postseason, however, and that's the point. Los Angeles was plenty good enough to win the NL West without Mookie..
MLB payrolls are expected to shrink going forward as teams deal with the financial fallout of the pandemic. Top-tier free agents like Betts are still going to get paid and paid well, though perhaps not quite as well as originally thought. Despite that, Mookie says he has no regrets about rejecting a reported 10-year, $300 million offer from the Red Sox last offseason.
"I don't regret turning down that," Betts said. "Once I make a decision, I make a decision. I'm not going back and questioning myself. I don't worry about that. The market will be what the market is. We'll just cross that bridge when we get there. But for right now, it's just the safety and health that I'm worried about."
The Red Sox made several attempts to sign Betts long-term over the years. They offered him a $200 million contract back in 2017, the year before he won MVP, and they reportedly offered $300 million later. Betts was said to be seeking north of $400 million, which wasn't crazy seeing how he's arguably the second-best player in MLB and Mike Trout recently signed a $430 million contract.
Betts said his impending free agency is on the "back burner" now as he prepares for the season and focuses on his health, as well as the health of his family, friends, and teammates.. Betts supports his friend but acknowledged he is not in position to do the same thing.
"He has to take care of himself. And if that's what he feels is best for him and his family, then I'm fully on board with it. He's one of the best teammates I've ever had, he's a competitor, plays the game the right way, great in the clubhouse. He's doing this for himself, and sometimes you have to do things for yourself."
"I'm not in the same predicament as someone who can opt out," Betts said. "I'm in a different spot. My decision is obviously going to be different."
High-risk players can opt out of the 2020 season and still collect pay and service time. Other players can opt out but would not be paid or accrue service time. Thus far Price and eight others have opted out of the season. None are believed to be high risk.
Betts is not a high-risk individual, so, if he were to opt out of the season, he would not collect $10 million in prorated salary. More importantly, Betts would not accrue the year of service time necessary to become a free agent this winter. Opting out would push his nine-figure free agent payday back one year, so he's going to play.
Other high-profile impending free agents, like George Springer and J.T. Realmuto, are undoubtedly feeling the same pressure to play this season. They want to be safe and protect their families. They also want that life-changing contract, because success in this game can be fleeting and they may never have a better chance to cash in than right now.
Betts, 28 in October, authored a .295/.391/.524 batting line with 40 doubles and 29 home runs in 2019. Since 2015, his first full MLB season, Betts is second among all players with 39.5 WAR, trailing only Trout (45.1 WAR). Nolan Arenado is a distant third (31.4 WAR).