David Ortiz is a larger than life figure. He’s not just a physically imposing man, he’s also a man with a reputation for big hits, at big moments, and let’s not forget that he has a sizable temper as well (ask any dugout phone.)
So when the 6’3″, 230 pound Ortiz pulls aside young 5’9″ 180 pound Mookie Betts and tells him that he’s on pace to earn a contract in the neighborhood of $250 million, that’s got to have an impact.
That is what ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reported from the Red Sox spring training facility in Fort Myers Florida on Wednesday.
Yea, $250 million. That sounds like a lot of money, mainly because it is a lot of money. Then again, Betts appears to be on pace to become a lot of things, and one of them is that he’s looking like he will be an All-Star caliber major league baseball player for years to come.
Olney reported on the various ways Betts has impressed him teammates and coaches with his dogged pursuit of information and a seemingly unquenchable thirst to improve.
“You don’t know how good he is,” Ortiz said, talking about how Betts has improved while changing from position to position. “He’s already a leader.”
Red Sox fans already know that Betts is an exciting and dynamic player. The reality is that after one full season, Betts has shown the ability to do just about everything that an offensive player could do.
The slash line of .291/.341/.479 is indicative of his multifaceted attack. It is important to remember that when a player is only 23 years old, there’s more than just room for improvement. Improvement, at least in some arenas, is likely inevitable.
That slash line is complimented by 42 doubles, 8 triples, 18 home runs, and 21 stolen bases.
Betts is not nearly the physical presence that Ortiz is. So it is possible that he won’t be hitting significantly more home runs that the 18 he hit in 2015.
Then again, Betts is an exceptional athlete, and when you add in his much talked-about work ethic and pursuit of improvement. It is hard to see how there isn’t some sort of eventual improvement.
As it stands right now, Betts is one of the premier extra-base hit threats in the American League. Betts finished 2015 ranked third in the AL in doubles, he was tied for ninth in triples, and tied for tenth in stolen bases.
That multi-faceted attack added up to a WAR of 6.0, the seventh highest in the league. Betts’ WAR was higher than that of some fairly recognizable names. Chris Davis,Nelson Cruz, Jose Bautista and Jose Altuve to name a few.
None of that means that Betts is already a better player than the guys he bested in the WAR statistic. It is worth noting that all of those players are older, and have more experience than Betts. Betts is the only guy who you almost have to assume will improve.
When you couple improvement on his already impressive production with the rapidly increasing salaries for top-tier Major League Baseball players, and then throw in Betts age and work ethic, you start to see where Ortiz is coming from.
Betts might not be nearly as good a player as the Miami Marlins Giancarlo Stanton or the Nationals Bryce Harper, but that’s okay because a $250 million contract would be less than the $325 million contract extension that Stanton signed back in 2014.
It would also be significantly less than the $400 million contract that baseball columnists feel Bryce Harper will eventually agree to with some lucky (or maybe not) team.
There’s a lot of room to debate whether or not Betts, or any other pro athlete is truly deserving of that type of money, but that’s not really the issue here. The market is what the market is.
We are coming out of an offseason in which players who are near, or over 30 years old, signed contracts that exceeded $160 million. Chris Davis (29 years old) got seven-years, $161 million. David Price signed his seven-year, $217 million deal at age 30. At the age of 32 Zack Grienke got a six-year, $206.5 million deal.
Betts is on-pace to reach free-agency in 2021, he will be 28 years old. That would make him a younger free agent than any of the players listed above.
Consider this. Five years ago the Red Sox signed a then 29 year old Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million contract. Since then Crawford has been a disappointment to his now former team the Red Sox, as well as his current squad, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In spite of that, teams are still very willing to invest large sums of money on talented free agents. Betts seems unlikely to ever steal more than 50 bases in a season, something that Crawford did five times prior to his free agency. Betts does offer upside in a number of other areas, and the admiration from his peers and coaches is difficult to assign a value to.
Keep an eye on Betts this season. One great season isn’t enough to spur a franchise into a massive contract extension. If Betts improves on his 2015 production this season, the Red Sox might be wise to offer him an extension that at least approaches the lofty numbers mentioned by Ortiz.
For all we know it could be seen as a bargain by 2021.