Mookie Betts has won his arbitration case over the Red Sox and will earn $10.5MM in 2018, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reports (Twitter link). The Sox had countered Betts’ figure with an offer of $7.5MM in Betts’ first year of arbitration eligibility. The hearing between the two sides took place yesterday, as reported by Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. Betts is represented by the Legacy Agency.
Betts’ $10.5MM is the second-highest salary ever given to a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility, behind the $10.85MM deal the Cubs reached with Kris Bryant earlier this month to avoid the arb process altogether. The number considerably surpassed the $8.2MM that MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected Betts would earn this winter. In an Arbitration Breakdown piece, Swartz actually felt that his projection model placed Betts too high, with the caveat that Betts’ blend of power and speed made him a rather difficult player to judge overall.
Needless to say, the arbitration panel’s decision is a huge victory for Betts and a win for players in general given its potential as a long-term precedent. Ryan Howard’s $10MM stood for years as the record for a first-year arb-eligible player, and now both Bryant and Betts have surpassed that number in a matter of weeks — future superstar-level players could now go into their arbitration years with a solid argument for earning an eight-figure salary.
Betts has been nothing short of outstanding since debuting in 2014, hitting .292/.351/.488 over his 2309 career plate appearances. With 78 homers, 80 steals (out of 96 chances), and an outstanding right field glove, Betts is one of the game’s best all-around talents. After finishing second in MVP voting in 2016, Betts’ performance took a minor step back last year (.264/.344/.459) due in part to a thumb injury that bothered him for much of the season.
The $10.5MM now puts Betts in line to receive even more in his remaining two seasons of arbitration eligibility before hitting the free agent market after the 2020 season. There hasn’t been much talk of an extension between Betts and the Red Sox, with Betts interestingly noting last winter that he would prefer to take a year-to-year approach. Betts is already making good money from endorsement deals and now has this $10.5MM payday guaranteed, so his stance on a long-term contract might not change, though of course that would depend on what the Sox would be willing to bring to the table to lock up the young star.
As per the MLB Trade Rumors ArbTracker, 24 players still have unsettled contracts that could go to arbitration hearings unless an agreement is reached beforehand. It seems likely that this offseason will surpass last winter’s total of 15 arbitration hearings, especially given how many teams have adopted a “file-or-trial” policy that precludes any further negotiation after the filing deadline.