Mookie Betts is a veteran of all of 52 Major League games and under team control through 2020. Of all the players likely to start the season with the 2015 Red Sox, his contract situation would seem to be the one least in need of attention.
And yet, per Rob Bradford, the Red Sox are already throwing around the idea--internally, mind--of locking Mookie Betts up with a long-term deal. Or, rather, and even longer term deal than the six years they're guaranteed:
According to a major league source, the Red Sox have at least internally discussed the possibility of exploring an extension with Betts some time in the semi-near future. Such a path hadn't been broached thus far in part -- despite the promise shown during his big league stint last year -- because the outfielder was coming into camp competing for a major league job.
Betts' spring has been unreal so far. He's currently hitting a cool .448, with more than half of his 13 hits going for extra bases. He hasn't drawn a walk only because it's pretty hard to get to ball four when you make as much contact as Betts has in March.
The Red Sox are not new to this game, however. They know spring success guarantees nothing in the summer. Jackie Bradley Jr., for instance, tore up spring training in 2013 to the tune of a .419/.507/.613 batting line, but has done nothing against Major League pitching in the summer months to date. Mookie Betts does have a .812 OPS in those 52 games he played last year to help his case, but Major League pitching adjusts, and Betts has the sophomore slump to avoid or, at the very least, overcome if he's going to make a career of it. Nothing is certain this early on.
It's this sort of uncertainty that might lead the Red Sox to wait a bit before jumping to action on Betts. It's also this sort of uncertainty that could push Betts to sign a massive deal right away. Bradford cites the example of Christian Yelich, who is currently in the process of signing a seven-year, $49.5 million contract with the Marlins. That's life-changing money. Betts raked in $750,000 from his signing bonus, and will get a decent chunk of change simply by virtue of being on the 25-man roster. But Christian Yelich could suffer a career-ending injury tomorrow and likely not have to worry about money for the rest of his life. Or he could simply flare out in 2015 and have the same be true. Either way, he's financially secure.
There are some players who are confident enough not only in their own ability, but also their own luck to turn down such an offer in pursuit of an even bigger payday down the line. Red Sox fans will remember Jonathan Papelbon insisting on going year-to-year, and Scott Boras is infamous for keeping his clients away from extensions before they hit the open market. For most, however, a deal like Yelich's would be a tempting offer indeed.
From Boston's perspective, on the other hand, this is probably a deal that can wait at least a little while. It's a cold way to look at things, but Mookie Betts has little reason at this point not to be confident in his abilities. He's barely made an out in the last two years. If he's amenable to a deal like this, it's going to be about insuring against an injury more than anything else, and that's a concern that will still be there after, say, another half season in Boston. The Red Sox won't really be losing any leverage by waiting a few months, and will be gaining that much more evidence that Betts is the star-in-the-making these last couple years would suggest.
If Betts proves capable of passing that test, then it would be no surprise to see the Red Sox push and push hard to lock him in. Recent years have shown that this team is not interested in meeting the market for the best of the best. They know how badly it can hurt to swing and miss on the 10-year superstar deal. That leaves them with few opportunities to pick up players who can pack a lot of value into one roster space, making it imperative that they hold onto their best homegrown talent for as long as possible.
Of course, it's not as easy as just offering the deal and leaving it at that. There's no guarantee that Betts' idea of a fair deal and Boston's are anywhere close to one another. But if there's one thing the Red Sox have proven willing to do of late, it's to play heavily in this in-between market. They may not jump to offer 10-year, $250 million deals to big-name free agents. But when it comes to $60-70 million expenses for players like Rusney Castillo or Yoan Moncada, they're not ones to pinch pennies. If being generous with $5 million extra here and $10 million extra there gets them players like Mookie Betts and out of Prince Fielder sized risks, that seems like a winning strategy.