By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Whenever an athlete decides to “bet on himself” instead of signing a long-term deal with security, there’s always risk involved. Generally, a player understands that he’ll lose a lot of money in the event of an injury or just an old-fashioned underwhelming season in terms of performance.
Never in the history of sports, though, has an impending free agent had to consider the potential impact of a global pandemic.
That was, obviously, until now, as the novel coronavirus has impacted just about every industry in the world and the country. Major League Baseball is certainly far from immune to that reality.
And regardless of whether or not MLB plays a single game this year, the financial impact that COVID-19 has been made will be felt for years to come.
For Mookie Betts, who had his eyes set on a near-record level contract, that one’s going to hurt quite a bit.
“Free agency is going to be a whisper for the next three years,” longtime baseball reporter Peter Gammons said in a radio interview on 670 The Score this week. “There are few people that I like better in baseball than Mookie Betts. I thought he was going to make between $350 [million] to $400 million He’d be lucky to get up to $250 [million] in free agency this coming winter, if they play. It’s just the reality of economics. It’s true in almost every business.”
Of course, at a time when 38.6 million Americans have filed for unemployment, nobody is going to shed any tears for a baseball player making “only” $250 million when he was supposed to make significantly more. That much is obvious.
Yet in terms of the tale of how and why Mookie Betts’ tenure with the Red Sox ended, that is a most significant plot twist.
The exact numbers of the Red Sox’ offers and Betts’ counter-offers aren’t on the record, but through reports we can gather a decent ballpark figure of where they were.
Lou Merloni reported that the Red Sox offered a 10-year, $300 million contract prior to the 2019 season. Betts’ counter-offer was for 12 years and $420 million.
Whether the 12/$420 request was a firm number or whether it was the opening salvo in a back-and-forth negotiation that ultimately could have found some middle ground? Unknown. But there’s reason to believe it was the former, as Betts has seemingly been intent on getting his maximum value in free agency — as is his right as one of the best baseball players on the planet.
Yet if there was some wiggle room, and if the Red Sox might have gone as high as, say, $375 million over 11 years, then it appears as though Betts may ultimately lose in this high-stakes game of “Deal Or No Deal.”
He’s still done all right for himself. He got $20 million in 2019, so that cool $20 mil would have to be added to any “what if” scenario regarding the Red Sox’ offer prior to that season.
He and the Red Sox then agreed on a $27 million salary in 2020, prior to Boston trading him to the Dodgers. He’s not currently getting that $27 million, but that’s the case for all players with all their salaries at the moment.
There was nothing that Betts could have been done to avoid missing out on this year’s pay, but the pandemic and the MLB shutdown that followed have uniquely affected Betts as he sought to approach Mike Trout-level money in free agency. With MLB losing revenue every day this year, that money may not be coming for Betts or anybody else for a number of years.
In hindsight, negotiating a bit more with the Red Sox looks like it will end up being the better financial move for Betts, though that’s not something he nor his agent nor anybody in the world could have foreseen last winter.