Mookie Betts’ Free Agency: Who Are the Suitors, and Where Do the Dodgers Stand?

Mookie Betts is a Dodger, but for how long? With the 2020 MLB season hanging in the balance, and an 82-game season being the best case scenario, it’s not too early to look ahead to the future of the 27-year-old former MVP.

Betts is rumored to have turned down a a 10-year, $300 million contract extension following the 2018 season from the Red Sox, and countered with 12 years and $420 million.

Now the times are different.

Team’s revenue will take a massive hit this year, not only with a shortened season, but also with there likely to be no fans in the stadiums, a source of income that accounts for up to 40% of team’s overall revenue.

Small market team’s especially even run the risk of going bankrupt. All 30 teams are going to be looking at slashing costs with a drastically reduced 2020 revenue intake, and the biggest of those costs for teams are, you guessed it, players.

There is no question that this will impact the 2020 free agency contract figures, and possibly affect future free agency contracts beyond that.

Where does that leave the Dodgers?

Still in the driver’s seat for Mookie Betts.

Andrew Friedman and Co. traded Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong just to land the superstar outfielder for one year. The team also was willing to trade Kenta Maeda, Joc Pederson, and Ross Stripling, as evidenced in the initial agreement and framework of the first trade that fell through, just to land Betts.

It is abundantly clear that the Dodgers love Betts, but next offseason we will find out if that love extends deep into their now slimmed down pocket books.

Now we’re going to take a look at all 30 teams payrolls and examine who really has a shot at Betts.

NOTE: These payroll figures only account for already signed contracts, and do NOT take into account players in arbitration who have yet to agree to terms for future years. The figure in parentheses denotes the team’s payroll obligations for the 2021 season. 

NOT HAPPENING

Orioles ($34 million): Just no.

Tigers ($30 million): Also no.

Marlins ($18 million): Come on now.

Rays ($38 million): Would be cool, but still no.

Indians ($59 million): Historically cheap ownership, who may not even pay Francisco Lindor.

Athletics ($28 million): Nope.

Pirates ($30 million): Sir, this is a Wendy’s.

Royals ($36 million): No sir.

Mariners ($48 million): Not quite there yet.

TOO HIGH A PAYROLL ALREADY

Astros ($115 million): George Springer is a free agent in 2020, and also, no.

Nationals ($141 million): Way too much committed money already.

Phillies ($150 million): Not happening. Also, Bryce Harper still exists.

Angels ($118 million): If they spend, it will be on pitching.

INTRIGUING, BUT NOT LIKELY 

Blue Jays ($64 million): Exciting young core, but revenue hit may be too much to make a run for Betts

Reds ($102 million): Big spenders in 2019 offseason, but revenue decline all but tanks their possible interest

Twins ($60 million): Don’t think you can fully rule them out, but would be a major surprise.

Cubs ($95 million): Not a secret they were already looking to cut salary before COVID-19, and also Kris Bryant is awaiting his own massive payday.

Rockies ($115 million): Arenado made it public he wants to win or he wants out, but I don’t think Betts is in their price range with an already high dollar figure in committed contracts for 2021 and beyond.

Brewers ($88 million): I think the revenue hit greatly affects any hopes , if any, they may have had here.

Yankees ($135 million): I know better than to rule out ANYONE for the Yankees, but even this would be a complete shock.

NIGHTMARE FUEL (BUT HIGHLY UNLIKELY)

Red Sox ($126 million): Can you imagine? Thankfully, the team is openly trying to cost costs (obviously), and has too much money tied up elsewhere. I think the revenue hit takes them out of it, but I can’t rule it out completely…

THE TRUE COMPETITORS 

White Sox ($114 million): Arguably one of the most exciting young core’s in the MLB, and they made it a point to try and spend last season. Could Betts be their cornerstone?

Rangers ($91 million): The Rangers swung and missed at every big free agent last offseason, could they try and go for the home run again? It’s possible, but again, revenue is a huge factor here.

Mets ($76 million): The Mets have the financial flexibility to do it, and their GM Brodie brodie Van Wagenen is a wild card, but I wouldn’t put them in the top 5 suitors.

Braves ($70 million): They pulled off highway robbery when they signed Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies to team-friendly long term deals, does that pave the way for them to make a run at Betts?

Cardinals ($110 million): The Cardinals are a sleeper team here. After the $110 million on the books for 2021, that number goes down to $65 million in 2022 (pre arbitration), and St. Louis has a rich history of success.

Now it gets interesting…

Diamondbacks ($90 million): Now I don’t think this is a likely scenario, especially now, BUT… signing Betts could finally put them on the same level as the Dodgers, something they’ve been trying to do for a long time now.

Padres ($89 million): The Padres have  Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack locked down for years on cheap deals. If they can find a trade partner for Will Myers, I think Betts is too much to resist for them. Any NL West team that signs Betts not only gets his services, but also prevents the Dodgers from reaping those same benefits. The Padres are desperate for success, and this is a suitor that has major potential to make a serious offer here, even with the Machado contract.

Giants ($95 million): Just like the Padres and D’backs, the Giants would not only be signing Betts, they’d be preventing the Dodgers from keeping him. The big money contracts currently in San Francisco are ugly (Crawford, Posey, Longoria, Belt, Cueto), but by 2023, they are all gone.  The team hired Farhan Zaidi to rebuild the farm, and while they certainly aren’t actively looking to spend $300-$400 million, they were rumored to offer Bryce Harper a massive deal before he signed with Philadelphia, and now the price for Betts will almost certainly go closer to $300 million than $400 million. It sounds a bit farfetched, but I truly think the Giants will be involved DEEP into the Betts sweepstakes.

These NL West teams will simply value Betts more because of the alternative. The Dodgers have won the division seven years in a row, and there is no end in sight. I’d expect that to be a very prevalent factor for them in pursuing Betts.

Now let’s break down the Dodgers chances.

The team has $121 million committed for 2021, $54 million for 2022, and $23 million for 2023 (Again, these figures do not include any arbitration players).

Corey Seager is a free agent in 2022, but the team has Cody Bellinger under contract until 2024, and Walker Buehler under contract until 2025.

That, my friends, is called breathing room.

The Dodgers are fortunate to be one of the wealthiest teams in the MLB, lead the league in attendance regularly, and have certainly benefited from the past seven years of playoff and TV revenue. They can afford to pay Mookie Betts, and now because of the current situation, many teams that may have been able too, simply cannot, or will not.

As I mentioned earlier, they are in the driver’s seat here.

It’s no secret Friedman and the front office loves Betts. From a talent standpoint you get one of the top 5 position players in the game and a true culture-builder. Looking through the eyes of ownership, from a marketing standpoint, you get the chance to pair him with Bellinger and create and keep the best duo in baseball. Add in Walker Buehler to that mix and you get the triumvirate who can rule Los Angeles for the next decade.

Building around a core of Betts, Bellinger, and Buehler, while fostering and developing players like Gavin Lux and Dustin May, while somehow currently maintaining  a top 5 farm system in baseball simply HAS TO give ownership not only a vision of a World Series title, but a vision of a dynasty. A team that isn’t built to win just one World Series, but multiple.

Factor in what they gave up to get him, where the team’s position to sign him stands among other clubs and what ownership envisions can happen if they keep him, I fully believe that it’s the perfect storm that will create a long-term partnership between the Dodgers and Betts.

Where it could get really interesting is if the free agent market is completely drained, and Betts rolls the dice by signing a 1-year deal in the hopes of attaining a figure closer to $400 million in 2021 when team revenue gets back on track, but that’s a scenario for another day.

For now, the Dodgers are in a group of a select few suitors who can realistically sign Betts to that long-term deal he covets, and they are the top of that short list.

David Rosenthal is a writer and contributor for Dodgers LowDown. Follow him on twitter @_TherealDRose

(Photo Credit: Ric Tapia/Getty Images)