Mookie Betts is probably the best player on the Red Sox. David Ortiz's bat is tremendous, but he's not adding anything defensively, and Dustin Pedroia, while well above-average, is coming off his star years and settling into more of a key, veteran piece role in his early 30s. Given Betts is all of 23 years old, and the massive gains he's made in his game since arriving in the majors in mid-2014, it's no surprise that the aforementioned Ortiz is enamored with him.
In fact, Ortiz told ESPN's Buster Olney that he believes Betts is putting himself in a position to become a $250 million player. Now, we're a long way from that happening, but Ortiz is certainly right in that Betts' value is rising every day that he is, well, Mookie Betts.
Ortiz believes it's Betts' ability to not only ask questions, but to incorporate the answers, that will help him continually improve and eventually reach that kind of immense pay day:
But Betts' questions seem to be all about diagnostics. Ortiz and Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis talk about how Betts attacks them with questions, like a scientist looking for solutions to problems, and Ortiz says that if he tells Betts something -- if he gives him a suggestion, like getting his foot down a little sooner -- then Betts has the aptitude to implement a suggestion immediately. "The next at-bat," Ortiz said, with amazement.
Betts' rise to where he is today began in early 2013, after struggling with Low-A Greenville to begin the year. He made some changes to his swing and approach to become a bit more aggressive, and then tore through every level of the minors in just over a year before debuting in the majors with the Sox. He approached adjustments for the second half of 2015 in a similar fashion, making sure pitchers couldn't exploit his patience by becoming a bit more aggressive, and then proceeded to wreck baseballs for the rest of the season.
You might be worrying about who is going to lead the Sox in Ortiz's absence, after he retires. From the sounds of it, Betts has already nominated himself for that role with his off-the-field actions, between his constant quest for self-improvement and his treating the team to dinner earlier this spring -- the kind of thing that veterans tend to do, not faces as fresh as Betts.
Maybe $250 million isn't the dollar amount Betts will end up with someday, but chances are good that dude is going to get paid. The Sox will very likely attempt to extend him beyond 2020, when he'll first be eligible for free agency -- they just might have to wait until after the new collective bargaining agreement is in place to attempt it. Betts, who is just 23, is also young enough to both sign an extension and get that massive free agent check someday: he'll only be 28 years old when he hits free agency as his contract now stands, so there is room to extend him to delay that until he's, say, 30, easy.
And hey, by then, $250 million could look downright normal for Betts -- Bryce Harper's impending $450 million (or whatever gaudy total it will be) contract should help change some perspectives about the value of guys a level or two below his greatness. And if Betts is the inevitable star, clubhouse leader, and inspiration to his teammates it looks like he is becoming, then the Sox should have no problems keeping him around as long as possible.
That's a discussion for another day, of course, but it is comforting to see the defining Red Sox player of his era already entrenched in the camp of his potential successor.