The Los Angeles Dodgers traded for Mookie Betts in February and now Dodger fans are worried that he will be the Dodger that never was.
The MLB Players Association and MLB agreed to a deal in wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic that established a gameplan for the rest of the season and when, if ever, the league will return to action.
According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, there are three necessities that must happen for the league to return to action. First, there must not be any government bans on gatherings that would keep teams from playing. Second, there cannot be any travel restrictions in the United States nor Canada. And third, they must be certain after speaking with health experts that playing does not expose the players, nor the fans, to health risks.
Some estimates believe that social distancing must last at least 1-3 months, which at the absolute earliest, would lead to a mid-June start. Some estimates believe that this could last a year, 18 months, or even more. Which would mean no baseball in 2020.
The worst part of the new deal, as least as far as the Los Angeles Dodgers are concerned, is how the year is going to count towards service time. Part of the deal was that the 2020 season would count as a year of service for every player, despite how many games are played.
That means that Mookie Betts would be a free agent for the 2021 season. With the Dodgers historically not signing massive contracts during Andrew Friedman’s tenure with the team, many believe that the end of Mookie Betts as a Dodger will happen before the beginning.
However, an extension, or just a new contract, is more likely than you think. There are two possibilities that could happen with Betts that would benefit the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Mookie Betts re-signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers version 1: Betts signs a one-year, $30 million contract
Betts will have the opportunity to test the open market and in any other instance, a one-year deal for a superstar as big as Betts would be asinine. However, this situation is obviously different.
Betts would not have had a 2019 season to work with and while he would not be alone, there is a reasonable expectation that teams will be wary of signing him to a massive contract not just because he took a year off, but because the league would still be recovering from a potentially massive revenue loss.
As a result, Betts may look to sign a one-year deal on a ‘prove-it’ deal instead of taking a 5-6 year deal where his annual salary is significantly lower than it otherwise should be. If that is the case, the Los Angeles Dodgers should be considered the favorites, as while he has not technically played with the team in the regular season, there will be some form of unfinished business.
Mookie Betts re-signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers version 2: A short-term, massive AAV contract
This would be the Bryce Harper approach and could happen whether Betts plays on the Los Angeles Dodgers or not in 2020. Betts’ best bet after this season might be to sign a three/four-year contract that pays him a massive AAV, similar to the offer the Dodgers reportedly gave Bryce Harper.
The Dodgers can afford it with the likes of Justin Turner, Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen hitting free agency in the next two years and this would not restrict the team from extending any of its franchise pieces.
The Dodgers could realistically afford to pay Betts $40-45 million per season. Maybe it is a three-year, $130 million ($43.3 million per year) or a four-year, $170 million ($42.5 million per year) contract. Either way, that will present the most value in terms of average salary.
There are two reasons why Betts could look to do this. First, he could be bet on himself after a canceled or even a reduced season with a high AAV and then still hit the free-agent market at 31. At that point, he will still get offers in the six-eight years range worth $30-35 million a year, so he can maximize his earnings.
Secondly, if you look at the teams that typically spend big on contracts, it is hard to find a fit for Betts.
The Yankees are so far over the luxury tax threshold they won’t sign Betts, the Angels just signed Anthony Rendon, the Red Sox traded him to save money, the Phillies just spent big on Zach Wheeler and Didi Gregorious, the Chicago Cubs are probably going to end up trading Kris Bryant at some point.
The only team that could maybe offer Betts a big contract is the New York Mets, unless a smaller-market team makes a shockingly big offer, which is unlikely.
For that reason, Betts may realize that his best fit for the time being is a contending team like the Dodgers and then he could re-evaluate the market later.
For more information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website or the website for your state’s Department of Health.