Newly acquired outfielder Mookie Betts was hoping to sign a massive contract next offseason, but the economics have changed due to the coronavirus.
If we flip back the calendar just 45 days, it’s amazing to think how different the economics were in thinking about Mookie Betts‘ next contract. It was pretty much guaranteed that he would sign a monster deal before the 2021 season, which would likely fetch him $400 million or more—the entire reason the Red Sox traded him, worried they might lose him for nothing if their checkbooks couldn’t handle all of those zeros.
Turning 28-years-old next October, Betts was hoping to add another superlative season to an impressive resume that already includes an American League MVP Award, four All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves, and a batting title.
The Dodgers traded a young outfielder (Alex Verdugo) and two prospects (Jeter Downs and Connor Wong) to gain Betts’ services in 2020, while, hopefully, convincing him Dodger Stadium is the best place for him to finish his career.
As we head toward the end of April without a Major League pitch being thrown in the 2020 season, the economics of the game have changed. A recent Forbes report projects the Dodgers earn nearly 35 percent of their annual revenue from gate receipts. If fans aren’t allowed to attend games at Dodger Stadium in 2020, if a season is played at all, that is a lot of lost revenue, not to mention the impact to merchandise and related entertainment sales.
How does all of this impact the free agent market in 2021?
“I do think it will be harder to envision a $400 million contract right now,” Vince Gennaro, associate dean at NYU’s Tisch Institute for Global Sport, told the Boston Globe. “Would [Mike] Trout have gotten $400 million next year if he were purely in the free agent market, if he were maybe the one guy who could command that number? I don’t know. [Bryce] Harper might have gotten $240 [million] instead of $330 [million].”
While Dodger fans fret over the possibility of Betts becoming a free agent before he has the opportunity to play in Los Angeles, as more games are canceled, there is less revenue available for teams to offer him a record-breaking contract.
The Dodgers find themselves in relative good position in relation to the luxury tax, and Forbes recently valued the franchise at $3.4 billion, second most in baseball. When baseball finally returns to Chavez Ravine, they will have a newly renovated stadium with added amenities to generate more revenue in the future.
Kershaw 300 wins? Bellinger 500 home runs? Betts 3000 hits? Milestones that could be impacted by a 2020 season lost due to the coronavirus.
It’s possible the Dodgers could end out signing Betts at a discount if the broader market is unable to create a bidding war due to lost revenues. Or perhaps Betts decides to sign a one-year bridge deal and go for the big contract in 2022. Either way, expectations before the pandemic for how Betts’ free agency would unfold need to be adjusted to a post-pandemic (or more accurately, mid-pandemic) reality.