The Dodgers will eventually regret Mookie's new contract

Yesterday was a sad day for Red Sox Nation. The lovable 2018 AL MVP signed a 12-year extension with the Dodgers, and in the virtual press conference, stated that he was looking forward to spending "the rest of [his] career" in LA. It ended any pipe dreams of a return to Boston, and set up the Dodgers to remain a juggernaut in the National League for at least the foreseeable future.

I never bought into the whole "Mookie wanted out of Boston" narrative, and I still don't. The Red Sox lowballed him, and he knew it. I also don't blame Mookie for taking the deal offered to him now. The free agent market will look much differently this offseason than ever before, given the coronavirus pandemic and how it has affected the economy. Mookie and his agent probably know they wouldn't be able to get what they anticipated Mookie would command back in February. Accepting the 2nd largest contract in MLB history while the offer is still on the table might be can be viewed as a smart decision or as "settling" but either way, the right fielder accomplished his financial goals and solidified his job security for the rest of his career.

Here's the thing: one day, that contract will start to look like a bad deal for the Dodgers. It might take years, but at some point, Mookie's production will decline, his salary will outweigh his WAR, and the monetary obligations that the Dodgers made to Betts will prevent them from paying other players, whether that be other free agents or homegrown talent looking for their own massive contract. It happened to the Phillies with Ryan Howard. It happened to the Yankees with A. Rod. It's happening right now to the Orioles with Chris Davis, and the Tigers with Miguel Cabrera, and the Angels with Albert Pujols. Seriously, how else do you explain why a team in Los Angeles who has the best player in the game repeatedly finishes behind the Oakland Athletics in the AL West? I'm sure it hurt Cardinals fans deeply to see their front office let a future HOFer who built his legacy in St. Louis walk out the door and leave for LA in free agency, but it was the right move in the long run.

The problem was never the money. I think Boston would've been happy to pay Mookie an elite salary for as long as he could maintain an elite performance. But that's not what Mookie was asking. He wanted to be paid at the top of 2020's market for as long as he could, and there's nothing wrong with that when you know teams will meet the asking price. Any objectively smart individual would do the same thing, if put in the same position.

I presume Chaim Bloom saw an issue with committing that type of money to this player (probably any player that age) for such a duration, and I don't disagree with that logic. The one major contract that Tampa Bay pulled off in his tenure there was Evan Longoria's 10-year, $100M extension (also another Andrew Friedman deal) back in 2012, which they ultimately had to ship off to San Francisco before it got too ugly. We just essentially paid David Price to go away - a decision with which I still disagree, but that's irrelevant at this point - and the Yankees are already starting to regret taking Giancarlo Stanton's contract off Miami's hands. (If not, they should.) Maybe Bloom wants to avoid similar mistakes immediately after landing his first job as Commander in Chief, or whatever title the role carries these days.

Consider Michael Chavis. He just completed his rookie season, so he has 2 more years of pre-arbitration team control before his 3 years of arbitration. Assuming he's a member of the Red Sox through all of that and he doesn't sign an extension before hitting free agency, he will hit the open market following the 2024 season. At that point, Mookie Betts will be 32 years old, and he will still have 8 years remaining on his extension. The landscape of the entire league will have changed by then. For comparisons sake, five years ago, back in 2015, Prince Fielder was an All-Star, and Gary Sanchez was playing in the Futures Game. We could watch two entire "generations" of prospects debut, play through their team control years, and graduate to free agency while the Dodgers continue to cut Mookie checks for $30M/year.

The new CBA might negate everything I just wrote about team control and the current system that players must endure in order to reach free agency. There might be a salary cap in the future. Even if there isn't, owners treat the luxury tax threshold like a de facto salary cap, and $30M accounts for a considerable percentage of that evolving figure. Even if it were to increase from $210M in 2021 to a number as large as, say, $300M by the end of 2032, that still means Betts is eating up 10% of his team's player budget throughout his entire thirties. It might turn out OK - a few players have managed to stay productive into their late 30s before, so it's not unprecedented - but it will require good health, some luck, and brilliant roster management by the front office for the Dodgers to remain competitive over the life of Mookie's contract. Even still, they probably won't be able to hang onto Betts, Bellinger, and Buehler for the entirety of their respective careers.

Ultimately, Dodgers fans will probably say it was worth it if they win even one World Series with Betts, given the drought they're currently experiencing. If the Red Sox can win one or more of their own between now and 2032, then I think we'll all be able to agree that things worked out for both sides.