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In the Mookie Betts contract saga, the ball is firmly in the team’s court

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It’s up to the Red Sox to make sure their biggest star doesn’t play for another team.

MLB: Boston Red Sox-Media Day Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The big news in Red Sox camp on Wednesday had nothing to do with the team’s evening game out in Sarasota. It had nothing to do with the big eighth inning rally by the minor leaguers to bring a victory to the Red Sox, nor did it have anything to do with Andrew Benintendi’s two hits, a struggling bullpen or Rick Porcello’s solid night. No, all of the discussion around the Red Sox for this day was about what came hours before first pitch. After Mike Trout’s extension dominated the sport’s news cycle on Tuesday, Boston’s media came in on Wednesday full of questions for Mookie Betts about how the giant contract affects his thinking two years away from free agency. The 2018 American League MVP responded like he has any other time he’s gotten these questions over the last few years.

One of the big stories to come out in recent days was that Betts was offered a big, $200 million extension after the 2017 season and he declined. Betts confirmed that report in his conversations on Wednesday. In addition to confirming that report, the superstar continued to tell reporters that he wants fair value for himself. He’s been saying that all along, and the recent contracts to Trout as well as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado don’t change things. He also said he doesn’t expect to sign an extension prior to free agency, but he’s not going to stop listening to offers. Keep in mind that Betts has always indicated he feels responsible for future generations getting paid on top of simply valuing his own talent. He’s not going to take a discount, but he’s also not going to charge any sort of premium for Boston.

It should be obvious, but it’s worth pointing out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with anything Betts said on Wednesday nor with anything he’s said prior to that. Players don’t owe teams anything, and they are in it to look out for themselves. Some guys will take hometown discounts and value things other than getting the biggest contract, and that’s fine too. Holding any ill-will towards a player for deciding what’s important to them and sticking to it is ridiculous.

More importantly, these quotes have put the ball firmly in the Red Sox’ court as far as these negotiations go. Betts has made it clear that he is willing to listen to contract offers now, even if he doesn’t expect to sign. Even if he doesn’t really want to sign now, the writing is on the wall for what the team will need to do to retain him after the 2020 season. If Betts does end up on another team in three years, based on everything he’s said about the situation there will be no one to blame besides the Red Sox. Again, every indication is that he likes it in Boston. Keeping him is going to be jarringly expensive and perhaps even more expensive than Trout’s contract depending on what happens over the next 12-24 months.

The good news if you’re worried about a future without Betts: The Red Sox can easily afford to keep him while fielding a competitive team around him. Whether or not they’ll want to do so is one thing, but they can do it. Remember, this is a franchise that basically prints money. We don’t have 2018 numbers, but in 2017 the team made $453 million in revenue. Presumably, they saw a big bump in 2018, but even a seven percent increase over the previous season — which was the average increase for the club over the previous three seasons — would put them at $485 million. Considering they were a historically great team that won a championship, I’d imagine the revenue was quite a bit higher than that. Additionally, the team was estimated to be worth $3 billion after the 2018 season concluded. Billion! Remember, a few years ago Tom Werner justified the expensive Fenway experience as a way to produce winning teams. To their credit, they’ve stuck to their word for the most part in this respect (though they could’ve spent more on relief help this past winter), and it’s vital they continue to do so moving forward.

It’s obviously too early to criticize the team for anything with the Betts situation to this point. I certainly don’t think the $200 million extension offer after the 2017 season was a major low-ball a la the Jon Lester negotiations, and they don’t appear to have done much of anything to anger their best player. And, as many will point out, they are a business that can run however they want. The other side of that is us being allowed to criticize the public business in which we have a stake whenever we’d like.

There are two more years to figure all of this out, and you can bet it’s going to be a constant source of conversation until it is resolved. Some are going to put some blame on Betts for not committing to the organization now, and it will be deafening if he does eventually leave town. If that’s you, just consider how valuable this franchise is and pair that with a decision not to do whatever it takes to lock up the most talented player on the team in at least 20 years. There’s no real rush to get something done now, but at this point it’s all up to the team to come up with a resolution that keeps Betts in a Red Sox uniform the rest of the time.