The day before the Los Angeles Dodgers open the 2020 season as heavy favorites to win the World Series, they appear to be deep in talks to lock up Mookie Betts for the next decade. Betts and the Dodgers are deep into negotiations on a long-term contract that is expected to keep Mookie Betts in a Dodger uniform for 13 years at more than $380 million, sources told ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Wednesday. While the language of the deal is not completed, the expectation is that Betts will be signing the massive extension in the coming days.
We asked our MLB experts to weigh in on the timing of the deal, how much hardware they think Betts could collect in L.A., who is the city’s best superstar center fielder and much more.
How surprised are you by Mookie Betts’ signing an extension with the Dodgers right now?
David Schoenfield: It may feel surprising coming a day before the Dodgers open against the Giants, but we do see extensions signed in spring training, so now we’ve had our first big one during summer camp. But I’m not surprised at all that Betts decided to sign rather than test free agency, given the uncertain market that will exist in free agency. Aside from the economic fallout from 2020, many of the big-market teams would also appear to be unlikely suitors for Betts.
The Yankees are locked in to big money with Giancarlo Stanton, and they have Aaron Judge to possibly extend at some point. The Phillies have Bryce Harper in right field. The Cubs are paying Jason Heyward through 2023. The Angels have mega-contracts with Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon. The Red Sox just traded Betts rather than sign him. Teams like the Giants, Rangers and Mariners may have been interested, but none of those teams have won seven straight division titles. The Mets are in the process of being sold, complicating any potential signing. Betts and the Dodgers were always a perfect fit.
Bradford Doolittle: What Dave said. I’m surprised by the timing and the fact that there was not much in the way of buzz about this happening now. I’m not surprised by the outcome. The Dodgers were the team best positioned to sign Betts anyway, both because of their deep pool of resources and status as a perennial contender. As Betts hits the middle part of the career, it’s hard to think of a better landing spot for him.
Buster Olney: Very surprised, because of all of the front-office executives in baseball, Andrew Friedman might be the most disciplined, reflexively veering around risk. He has been the blackjack player who never veers from his system. And this deal carries enormous risk, given the uncertainty about baseball’s financial landscape. It seemed more likely, given Friedman’s discipline, that he would wait to see where the salary numbers moved, and whether there would be fans in the stands in ’21. But the Dodgers obviously can assume more risk than most teams, and when the numbers are this big, it’s ownership’s call. And the prospect of Cody Bellinger and Betts playing side by side is like teaming Superman and Batman.
Alden Gonzalez: Of course I’m surprised. Deals as large as this one will be are always surprising, especially amid the backdrop of a looming financial crisis throughout the sport. But I will add this: It always seemed different between Betts and the Dodgers. Friedman is exceedingly pragmatic — Dodgers fans would say to a fault, though the results clearly support his approach — but Betts always felt like someone they would uncharacteristically splurge on.
Friedman has been swooning over him since he came up to the big leagues — so hard that he joked that Betts “may want to get a restraining order against me” during his introductory news conference. Friedman also wasn’t shy about expressing his desire to lock Betts up. His discipline put the Dodgers in a situation where they could, with only three players currently signed beyond 2021.
Sam Miller: At this stage of the pandemic, I’m surprised when I see somebody manage to get a decent haircut, so, yeah, I’m surprised to see human achievement. From the Dodgers’ perspective, this is a bet that they’re going to be able to sell 3 million tickets next year. I think that’s probably likely, but it’s a bet on something that is even bigger and even more out of their control than the typical stuff — player health, aging curves, etc.
Prediction time: How many combined MVPs and World Series rings do you think Betts will collect during his new contract with the Dodgers?
Schoenfield: The Dodgers are loaded with depth, young talent and piles of gold. They have a chance to build a dynasty that will match the Braves’ run of 14 consecutive division titles from 1991 to 2005 (or 14 in 15 years, depending on how you count the strike-shortened 1994 season). Of course, as those Braves and now the Dodgers have shown, winning a World Series is hard! Still, the Dodgers are obviously due. I’ll predict three World Series titles.
As for MVP, not many players win more than one, and Betts already has one. I also think his offensive numbers will dip a bit moving from Fenway Park to Dodger Stadium, and his defense, a huge part of his all-around excellence, will probably start slipping a little bit in a couple years. I’m going with several top-five MVP finishes, but no MVP hardware.
Doolittle: I’ll say two rings, just to be conservative. But this team is working on a seven-year division title streak and it’s hard to envision missing the playoff any time soon. This season, just because of the short schedule, may be the last chance for another NL West team to win the division for quite a while. And if you’re in the playoffs every year, you’ll win a World Series at some point. The Dodgers are becoming a baseball version of the Patriots. Well, without the rings.
As for MVPs, Betts gets out of the shadow of Mike Trout and Luis Robert (OK, maybe I’m a little too excited about the latter) and joins an elite NL group that includes him, Bellinger, Christian Yelich and Juan Soto. And of course we don’t know who might be coming down the pike, though it’s worth noting that rebuilding AL teams have picked at the top of recent drafts. I’ll say one more MVP, which would mean Betts would join Frank Robinson as the only player to win one in both leagues. You could see him and Bellinger splitting the vote a couple of times.
Olney: I’ll say four. Bellinger might be his greatest annual obstacle in the MVP voting.
Gonzalez: I’ll bring LeBron James in to answer this question. Not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6 … Kidding, of course. In fact, if that seminal moment taught us anything, it’s that nothing in sports — in life — is guaranteed, particularly not in baseball. Still — the Dodgers are in an enviable position where they not only possess two of the next, say, five best position players in the sport, but are able to balance that with a wealth of young, controllable talent and the resources to acquire whomever they want. He’ll only be 27 this season, so I’ll say two MVPs and three World Series rings over the next decade for Betts. I’m sure the Dodgers will take it.
Miller: The Dodgers are permanently in Superteam territory. I know every team declines eventually, but the Dodgers’ combination of wealth, smarts, player development and existent talent extends their dominance to as far as my eye can see. According to my handy-dandy actuarial table, they’re good for two and a quarter titles in the next 13 years. Betts’ status as an MVP favorite is much less permanent. As good as he is, and even as relatively young as he is, he’s quite likely already entered his (graceful, gradual) decline, as most players in the majors are. I’ll say 2.98, rounding up to 3.
Which L.A. superstar outfielder would you rather have for the rest of his long-term contract: Betts or Mike Trout?
Schoenfield: Trout, mostly because he’s better right now, which means he’s likely better in 10 years as well. Trout, 28, has hit .303/.447/.634 over the past three years compared to .299/.389/.535 for Betts — while playing in a tougher hitters’ park. The one caveat: Betts, 27, has actually been the more durable player, averaging 146 games per season over those three years compared to 129 for Trout. If Betts ages well — say, like Ichiro, a player similar in build — while Trout continues to have injury issues, Betts could win out over the long haul.
Doolittle: I’d say Trout, even if the accumulation of his injuries has me a little concerned. The thing with him is that even when his athleticism declines — which might not happen anytime soon — he could still have an early-’60s, Mantle-like stretch where he’s hitting 50 homers and drawing 130 walks. But that’s not to demean Betts at all, because Trout is in the very cream of the historical crop. There aren’t many players whose next 10 years I’d want more than the next 10 years of Betts.
Olney: Trout. Betts has more value in his defense and as a baserunner, but Trout is one of the greatest offensive players of all time and seemingly getting better.
Gonzalez: Do we have to choose? They’re both still relatively young — Trout will turn 29 in August, Betts 28 in October — and have the type of strike-zone discipline that allows hitters to age more gracefully. Trout is a better hitter and a more explosive athlete; Betts is faster and has a better arm. It may simply come down to who plays the most games over these next 10 years. But I’ll join the chorus and take Trout, who remains on a path to someday be the greatest ever.
Miller: Trout. Not to be dismissive of Betts, but Trout’s better than anybody.
What does Betts’ signing a long-term extension right now say about the state of free agency for the 2020-21 offseason?
Schoenfield: We have two big issues affecting the 2020-21 offseason: Teams are coming off a season in which they will lose money; and with the CBA expiring after 2021 and the two sides coming off an ugly spat about playing during the pandemic, everyone is expecting another difficult negotiation, with a worse-case scenario involving some sort of shutdown in 2022. Hopefully we won’t get to that point, but it all creates a lot of uncertainty and likely a tough winter for free agents. So if the Dodgers are going to throw a few hundred million at you right now, take it.
Doolittle: Crickets. One of the biggest mysteries of the season was whether Betts’ market would be depressed by pandemic-related fallout, or whether he’d be the one player to rise above the strange circumstances. I think his skill set is in such rarefied territory that one way or another, his contract wouldn’t have any real impact on the free-agent market. He’s just not comparable to anyone. But after Betts … the big, multiyear contracts could be hard to come by. J.T. Realmuto should do well, as Yasmani Grandal did this past winter, only because full-service catchers at that level are hard to come by. But for everyone else, it could be a cold winter.
Olney: Nothing. He is the outlier; a lot of front-office types and agents believe almost all of his free-agent peers are going to get crushed this winter.
Gonzalez: The concern mostly centered on the middle class of free agency, which will diminish even further this offseason. A transcendent star like Betts was going to get life-changing money from someone, even if — like Machado and Harper before him — he had to wait a little longer to get it. This was more about the Dodgers taking advantage of the circumstances to lock in a player they really like.
Miller: Four and a half months ago I was planning a birthday party to be held in a trampoline gym, so, no, I wouldn’t say much with confidence about four and a half months from now. The state of free agency in 2020-2021 will be tremendously affected by the state of the coronavirus, the development of a vaccine for it, and the billion-dollar implications to baseball of both. Large gatherings in 2021, or even 2022, are not certain to be any different than 2020.
Now that Betts has his deal, who do you think is another candidate to land a massive long-term extension?
Schoenfield: Francisco Lindor is eligible for free agency after 2021. He’ll be entering his age-28 season in 2022 (the same as Betts would have been in 2021) and while he’s not quite as high-profile as Harper and Manny Machado were in their free agency and not quite as good as Betts, he’s still an obvious franchise player as a power-hitting, Gold Glove shortstop.
Doolittle: While the Dodgers have their checkbooks open, why not Bellinger? I understand he’s got three more arbitration seasons left, but why wait? You lock him in and you have twin lineup anchors, both of whom play great defense, for the next decade. And if you move now, you might get him for a reasonable number, as Bellinger gets security against an uncertain baseball landscape over the next couple of years.
Olney: It certainly begins to set the market price for the second-best free-agent outfielder, Houston’s George Springer; it’s easier to place Springer on the salary scale now that Betts has agreed to terms.
Gonzalez: Bellinger is the obvious one here for several reasons — he’s young relative to his service time, is a true five-tool player and is far enough away from free agency that the sport might financially recover by then. Bellinger is primed to hit the market after the 2023 season, by which point he will be 28 years old. That could be the time for the next major deal to shake up the market. Surely the Dodgers would love to lock him up before then, but that prospect is always unlikely for a player represented by Scott Boras.
Miller: It obviously takes two parties to make a deal, which makes me think the answer to this might be Aaron Judge. The Yankees make Judge — one of the most popular players in baseball, the most popular post-Jeter Yankee — a career pinstriper. Judge, a full three years from free agency, gets the stability and certainty that, given his recent injuries, he might well value more than Bellinger (or Soto or Tatis) would. And his opposite-field power plays better in Yankee Stadium than it would anywhere else.