Mookie Betts and the Red Sox head to arbitration
Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (Oct. 8, 2017 – Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America)
Restating some not-so “breaking news,” the Boston Red Sox and Mookie Betts could not agree to a dollar figure for the 2018 season. As such, the two sides will probably be heading to an arbitration hearing to determine how much the franchise outfielder will receive. The Red Sox are looking to pay him $7.5 million, while Betts desires $10.5 million. The stark discrepancy between the two sides will likely make for an intriguing hearing.
On the open-market, he would easily command $30-$40 million in average annual value, leading some people to suggest Boston’s “refusal” to meet his request as absolutely ridiculous. This line of thinking completely ignores how MLB’s arbitration system operates. The fact of the matter is first-year eligible players (and, let’s face it, every arbitration-eligible player), which is what Betts is, do not experience the hefty pay raises they may or not may deserve. They are still under team control, not on the open-market.
According to Fangraphs, Mookie’s 5.3 fWAR was worth to the Red Sox $42.8 million last year. He will not even get a fourth of that. In fact, it is possible he won’t get that much money for his next three arbitration seasons combined. This is the way Major League Baseball is, folks, love it or hate it.
So, with that out of the way, we must ask a question: based on this current structure, what would be a reasonable dollar amount for Betts’ first arbitration-eligible season?
Cubs’ third baseman Kris Bryant just set a record for first-year eligible players, netting $10.85 million for the upcoming season. The Cubs and Bryant did not have to go to arbitration to determine the number.
Like Bryant, Betts is a young star, with both experiencing an abundance of success in their early careers. One was a 2016 NL MVP (Bryant) and the other was a 2016 AL MVP runner-up (Betts). Considering the somewhat similar career trajectories — in terms, of value, not skillset — it is reasonable to assert Betts can point to Bryant’s $10.85 figure to aid in his arbitration case.
While this could certainly help Betts get the dollars he wants, I think it can also be a great tool in determining how much he truly is worth as a first-year arbitration-eligible player. Bryant set a precedent, essentially saying the 21.2 fWAR he has accumulated in his three-year career is worth $10.85, something like $.51 per win.
Now, the arbitration panel has historically favored old-school metrics when conducting these hearings, so this is not only an inexact science — given WAR’s limitations — but an exercise that will serve a negligible purpose in the arbitration hearing. Regardless, this could give us a number, imperfect and all, which could answer the question of how much Betts is worth for 2018.
The rest of this is simple. We will now look at two dollar amounts based on Betts’ accumulated fWAR over the last three seasons and accumulated fWAR over his career. We are doing this because Betts had 213 plate appearances in 2014, accumulating 1.8 fWAR, giving him an extra partial season worth of data against Bryant’s three seasons. To reiterate, we are operating under the assumption a win for first-year arbitration-eligible player is worth $.51 (512K), which it was for Bryant.
Betts’ 18.2 fWAR between 2015-2017: $9.31 million
Betts’ 20.0 fWAR between 2015-2017: $10.24 million
I’ve included both numbers because I can see validity to both reflecting how much Betts should make in ’18. On one hand, comparing Betts’ last full three seasons to Bryant’s just seems to be more “fair.” On the other hand, there exists a plausible argument the arbitration panel should reward Betts’ for the totality of his contribution to the team.
Whichever camp you lean towards, the conclusion of this flawed exercise has determined that Betts is closer to how much he should make in 2018 than the Boston Red Sox. Let’s just be thankful the luxury tax is not something Dave Dombroski and Co. are particularly concerned about.