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Mookie Betts Wins His Arbitration Case Against The Red Sox, Will Be Paid $10.5 Million In 2018

Divisional Round - Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox - Game Three

Somewhat surprising to see this, but Mookie Betts has won his arbitration case against the Boston Red Sox. As a result, he’ll be paid $10.5 million in 2018, which is the largest figure ever awarded to a first-year arbitration eligible player through a hearing. If you recall, a grand total of zero Red Sox players went to arbitration under Theo Epstein in Boston. And if you absolutely have to go to arbitration with a player, you’d prefer that it not be with the best player on your team. Like…Mookie Betts on the Red Sox, for example.

For those who are not familiar with the process, because I got a lot of questions about how this all works and what this means for Mookie moving forward — how this works is that a player comes into the league, has their three years of service time where they’re paid league minimum or close to it, and then they either get three or four years of arbitration eligibility before becoming a free agent. This was Betts’ first year of arbitration eligibility, and when you are eligible for arbitration, the player will submit a figure for what they think they’re worth, and the team will submit a figure for what they think the player is worth. When the figures are close, the two sides usually settle before the deadline on a figure that’s in between what the player and the team submitted.

In the case of Betts and the Red Sox, they were too far apart with Betts coming in at $10.5 million and the Red Sox at $7.5 million, so they were not able to settle before the deadline. When the two sides can’t agree, their case is taken to an arbitration panel, who then picks one figure or the other, not somewhere in between or outside the figures that have been submitted.

I was really skeptical about whether or not Betts would win this one, because he was using Kris Bryant’s 2018 salary of $10,850,000 as a benchmark, which the Cubs agreed to pay the third baseman before a hearing was necessary, making that the highest salary ever given to a first-year arbitration eligible player. The only difference is, Bryant has a National League MVP award, a Rookie of the Year award, and a World Series title, while hitting .288 with a .915 OPS over the last three seasons. Betts, on the other hand, has hit .292 with an .842 OPS, and had an MVP runner-up finish in 2016.

Still very, very good, but Bryant has the hardware and Betts does not. What Betts DOES have, though, is the geeky shit. Over the last three seasons, Betts has accumulated a 21.9 WAR to Bryant’s 19.7 WAR, and there’s your comparison to a guy with all of the accolades that Bryant has. Not that WAR alone is enough to win an arbitration case with ten point five million dollars on the line, but the case was certainly there to be made that Betts and Bryant were of similar value and were both in the same years of arbitration, so the precedent had already been set.

Now, the reason why Theo was so great for avoiding arbitration with all of his players is because that shit is awkward. The team basically has to present a case as to why the player isn’t as good as they think they are. We learned this past summer that the Red Sox had approached Betts about a possible extension last winter, and he was all set with going year to year through the arbitration process AKA fuck you, I’m going to free agency and cashing in the second that I get the chance.

If you had hopes of the Red Sox extending Betts before this hearing, they were already fairly unlikely. Those chances surely won’t get any better after going to arbitration with Mookie to explain to a panel why you think he’s not as good as he’s telling you that he is. Being that the Red Sox called Betts up when he was 21 years old, he’s in a position to hit the free agent market prior to his age-28 season, which means he’s going to get a lot of years and a lot of money once he’s free to walk.

And once guys like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado break the bank next offseason, and guys like Nolan Arenado and Jose Altuve continue the holy shit contract trend in 2020, then that’ll set the stage for a major payday for Mookie once he becomes a free agent in 2021. With how far apart the two sides were in this arbitration case — and I hope I’m wrong — I’d say it’s safe to assume that major payday won’t be coming from the Red Sox.