In case you missed it last night, Mookie Betts took home baseball’s top individual honor, winning the American League MVP after receiving 28 of 30 first-place votes. It was his first time winning the award, though he’s now finished in the top six in each of the last three seasons. This was, of course, the expected result, and from a fan’s perspective I’m not sure this MVP really matters. I mean, obviously it’s cool when your favorite team has the MVP and we’re all ecstatic for him, but when you watch this team every day you know how good Betts with our without an MVP trophy. Though, again, it is well-deserved as is the financial bump that comes with the territory. Best of all from my perspective, it is an excuse to write about Mookie Betts, and there are few things as fun in this job as writing about Mookie Betts.
As I was trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to say about Betts in this space — it can be surprisingly difficult to articulate new thoughts about someone who is as good at everything as he is — I was messing around on the ol’ Twitter machine looking for inspiration. I got some when I made an innocuous comment about it being cool as hell that someone like Betts is in Boston. Not surprisingly, one of the responses I got was “Yeah, but for how long?” This is, of course, a valid question. Betts hasn’t really shown interest in a long-term deal to this point, and he’s a free agent after the 2020 season. The issue is that it shouldn’t be a valid question to ask. There is absolutely no reason the Red Sox should let Betts wear another uniform in his career, and there is no way they should give him the opportunity to do so.
I don’t really have to explain how good Mookie Betts is, right? He’s coming off a year in which he was 85 percent better than the league-average hitter (by wRC+) while still playing the best right field in the game in the most difficult right field in the sport, all while providing some of the best value on the bases in all of baseball. And it didn’t seem that unsustainable. I’m not saying we should expect ten-win seasons from Betts for the rest of time — though, at this point I’m not going to bet against anything — but he’s going to be in this MVP conversation for years to come. This was his best season, of course, but he’s hit for big power before, and he’s hit for high averages, and he’s shown off great plate discipline, and he’s played big-time defense, and he’s put on clinics on the base paths. If you’re into WAR, by fWAR he’s already at 30 wins above replacement for his career, which is essentially halfway to a Hall of Fame career. The man spent this entire 2018 regular season as a 25 year old. It’s absurd, and he’s probably (definitely? maybe?) the second best player in all of baseball. The only player better just might be the best player we’ve ever seen.
We know all this, though, and at a certain point the numbers are just numbers, and when you only focus on the numbers you can kind of talk yourself out of keeping Betts. Maybe there is a limit to any potential contract negotiation, because there is (presumably) an upper limit on Betts’ on-field production. It’s not just the numbers, though. Betts isn’t the best player in baseball, but he might be the most fun. Obviously, I’m coming from a position of extreme bias since I watch him on a daily basis. Other players — Francisco Lindor immediately comes to mind — certainly have arguments, but Betts can do everything you love about baseball on the field. You don’t have to know what any of the numbers mean when you watch Betts player. You know just how good he is because it doesn’t seem possible to be better. Don’t take my word for it as a Red Sox fan, though. Read Grant Brisbee, a noted not-Red Sox fan.
Above the numbers, and maybe even above just watching him play, there’s some inherent value that is hard to exactly pin down in having a homegrown star spend his entire career with the hometown team. That’s especially true for Betts, who has this uniquely magnetic personality while also being almost impossibly humble. I think about him publicly wondering if 2016 was as good as it was going to get for him, or about him saying he wasn’t in the Home Run Derby because he isn’t a home run hitter, it just goes over the fence sometimes. I look at that subdued player being interviewed on MLB Network last night, looking like he didn’t believe this would be his only time in this position, and I compare him to the guy who Salt Bae-ing after doubles and shimmying on the bases and leading outfield dances after wins.
Boston sports belongs to Tom Brady right now, and the Celtics and Bruins each have fun young players of their own. Once Brady retires, though, Betts has every chance to be the new face of Boston sports, and that’s no small feat. It’s also not one without monetary value for the team. Players and personalities come around like this once in a generation, and the Red Sox can’t let this one slip away. The “it’s not my money” argument goes both ways, and in most cases even if I think Boston should spend all of the money possible for the best possible team I realize it’s not possible. I’m not allowing that rationale here. There is literally no upper-limit to what Betts could ask for that would mean the Red Sox should walk away. If Mookie Betts ever wears another uniform, he’ll get the hate from the fan base, but really it will be a massive failure on the part of the front office and ownership. It can’t happen.