By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, gather round for this bit of shocking news: A baseball player has gotten a contract.
No, it wasn’t a big-name free agent, but it was nevertheless significant that Nolan Arenado put pen to paper on a long-term extension with the Rockies — a deal that will make him a very wealthy man for a very long time.
The contract is for a reported eight years and “more than” $255 million, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Ken Rosenthal said it’s for $260 million, which would come out to an average annual salary of $32.5 million, which is the highest in history for any position player.
Passan and Rosenthal both added that the contract includes an opt-out clause after the third year, which would allow Arenado to test the free-agent waters if he so desired at age 30. Free agency will be avoided in the meanwhile, as Arenado’s contract had been set to expire following the 2019 campaign
The news is presumably great for the Rockies, a franchise that has won precisely two playoff games in the past 11 years. Perhaps Arenado will be the centerpiece of something great. Perhaps he won’t. That’s hardly a concern of the Boston Red Sox.
But the Red Sox may be very interested in the specifics of Arenado’s contract, because it could provide a basis if the team seeks to work out a long-term extension with Mookie Betts and/or Xander Bogaerts.
To be clear, Betts is not quite yet at Arenado’s level. Bogaerts certainly is not. Still, it’s more than fair to compare Betts and Arenado over the past three years:
Betts, 2016-18: .308 BA, .917 OPS, 87 HR, 295 RBI, 135 2B, 12 3B, 82 SB
Arenado, 2016-18: .300 BA, .942 OPS, 116 HR, 373 RBI, 116 2B, 15 3B, 7 SB
(Mandatory note here about Coors Field stat inflation, a factor that can be disputed.)
Betts has been an All-Star all three years, as has Arenado. Betts was a Gold Glover all three years — so was Arenado. The Rockies’ third baseman was the Silver Slugger winner all three years, while Betts skipped 2017 amidst earning the honors in 2016 and 2018. Betts, though, has a league MVP Award under his belt, while Arenado’s best finish was third.
Where Betts does not measure up to Arenado is simply a matter of experience; Arenado has played in 876 games, while Betts has played in 644. If Betts is healthy for all of 2019, he’ll be close to 800 career games at season’s end.
And, if Betts performs in 2018 at age 26 on a comparable level to how he’s performed for the past three years, then a case could be made (and will be made by agent Steve Veltman) that Betts is an equal or superior player to Arenado, and thus deserves a similar or richer contract at the end of the 2019 season. (Betts is slated to be a free agent after the 2020 season.)
The specifics of that potential long-term extension can be figured out from there. But at least there is a concrete basis from which to begin.
Going back at least two years, everybody has known that extending Betts and keeping him from free agency will cost the Red Sox a lot of money. And then some. That remains true.
Now, though, with Arenado locking down a record salary, there is at least a little bit more clarity on what a long-term extension for one of the best players in baseball might actually cost.
Additionally, though dealing with Scott Boras clients is always a wild-card scenario, it adds some basis if Bogaerts wants to work out an extension with the Red Sox. He’s set to become a free agent after this season, and when speaking to the media last week, the 26-year-old shortstop at least gave off the impression that he was open to the idea of signing an extension. As previously stated, he is not at Arenado’s level, though he is a two-time Silver Slugger winner, a one-time All-Star, and a two-time World Series champion. He’s coming off the best season of his career, and if he can repeat that in 2019, he’ll no doubt cash in as a free agent next winter.
That is, though, assuming that any free agent cashes in next winter. The past two offseasons have shown that the days of all of the big names on the market getting rewarded with massive contracts are not quite in full swing the way they used to be. The possibility of signing a deal that pays Bogaerts a percentage of Arenado’s deal feels possible.
Betts remains — or should remain — priority No. 1 for the Red Sox. Arenado’s deal helps paint a picture of what it might take to actually get something done. Arenado will be making $32.5 million. Manny Machado will be making $30 million. The Red Sox and Betts’ agent can quibble over whether the outfielder will deserve slightly more or slightly less after the 2019 season, but at the very least there is now a very specific target that both sides can work from when it comes to reaching a long-term agreement.