Mookie Betts was just 22-years-old during the 2015 season when he just missed becoming a modern day 20-20 player and did end up establishing himself as part of the Red Sox future core. Along with Xander Bogaerts, Betts is young, exciting, and difficult to gauge in terms of how much money he will command down the road. While the second baseman-turned-center fielder is only in his second season and not eligible for free agency until after the 2020 season, he does make an intriguing extension candidate for a team moving on past a successful David Ortiz era after this season.
Betts hit: .291/.341/.820 with 18 HR and 77 RBI, striking out just 82 times in 597 at bats last season to go along with 21 stolen bases. Now 23-years-old, Betts has continued where he left off and after a slow couple of weeks already has four home runs and an .819 OPS, stealing three bags so far.
A 20-20 season seems inevitable and Betts is still two or three years away from his prime. While his prospect status has never indicated 30 home run power, we could see Betts, particularly as a right-handed hitter at Fenway Park, hit 20-20+ every year while playing elite center field defense.
So while we don’t believe, based on the way the Red Sox operate or based on most precedent, Betts will hit free agency, the Red Sox will likely look to lock him up at the end of this year or possible the end of next season. Betts will be turning 28 when he is scheduled for free agency and the Sox would be wise to buy out a year or two of free agency.
Mookie Betts Salary
Betts’ Current Salary: $556K (second year of pre-arbitration).
Betts’ Free Agency Year: End of 2020 season.
Projected Salary: 6 years, $70 million
Why? This one is admittedly not easy. Brett Gardner is older and signed a 4/52 extension, but with one year left before free agency. Starling Marte, very comparative in stats, signed a 6/31 extension, but it was after 2013 and the market will figure to be very different a good five years later when we expect Betts to get extended. Dexter Fowler, more or less a victim of free agency, is 30-years-old and was phased out by a bigger fish in Jason Heyward and still secured $10 million a year for three years.
Boston has $28 million coming off of the books this winter and Betts will head into his final year before arbitration next season. We could see him get extended after the 2017 season, buying out all three arbitration years and three years of free agency. It would be a win-win from both sides as Betts would guarantee himself some big money and would still be only 30-years-old when he hits free agency, likely securing himself another big contract after the 2023 season.
So why $70 million? We figure next season Betts will still be cheap, possibly under a million dollars since he is not yet in arbitration. We have seen players of his caliber rise into the $10 million range in arbitration and maybe even higher. Betts, in a market six years from now, would easily command upwards of $15 million per year and more than likely over $20 million a year if growth continues at this rate.
Suppose the center fielder were to earn roughly $20 million in his arbitration years, account for inflation since Gardner signed his 4/$52 contract by three years, account for Betts’ younger age and it’s conceivable the Sox will still be saving some money on the deal as he may have made $60 million just in his first three years of free agency.