Baseball is probably be delighted that the discussion today shifted from the Blue Jays not having a home because playing a sport at this time is gruesomely asinine, or that six different Royals have tested positive, to on-field matters. Or on-field as much as a player signing an extension is concerned. But it’s normal baseball talk, and that’s what they’re after. Mookie Betts reportedly signing a 12-year, $350 million extension with the Dodgers today accomplishes that.
What it says about where baseball stands financially, at the moment, is harder to pinpoint. The urge is to use this news as a cudgel to beat owners over the head for their claims of financial ruin over a lack of game revenue. Certainly handing out $350 million, no matter how it’s divided up with deferrals or options, makes that look easy.
But the Dodgers kind of operate in their own world. They have a ton of money coming off their books. David Price’s $32 million, Justin Turner’s $20 million. A.J. Pollock’s $15 million. Joc Pederson’s $7.9 million. Blank Treinen’s $10 million. All will disappear after this season. That’s basically $85 million off the payroll they were slated to pay before coronavirus hit — money that’s just going “poof!”, of which Betts’s extension comprises just over a third.
They’re still making out like bandits.
There could be more savings yet. Cory Seager heads into his last year of arbitration after this season, and he’s an excellent candidate to be moved along to make room for Gavin Lux. Kenley Jansen will be in the last year of his contract at $20 million, and he’s another who could be moved along as he’s already in his decline. Quite simply, the Dodgers’ stunning efficiency means they’re proofed against just about any eventuality. They could even let Clayton Kershaw walk/retire at the end of 2021, look over to Walker Buehler, Dustin May, and Julio Urias and say, “Fare thee well.” That would be another $31million off the books without having to scramble to replace it.
Secondly, the Dodgers TV network, seemingly the gold standard for teams with their own RSNs, was signed before that bubble burst. They’re guaranteed their $7 - $8 billion no matter what, with whatever allowances they have to make for this shortened season. Even during their seven-year blackout with DirecTV/AT&T, it was Time Warner who had to eat that loss of subscriptions. The Dodgers came out of it clean. It’s why they weren’t exactly scrambling to make a deal before this year. The spigot never turns off for them.
That doesn’t mean every other team in the league is poor in comparison, and this whole, desperate clawing to have something of a season was about keeping their TV money as best they could. The league will still be flush with cash soon enough, if not currently. Betts not making it to the open market robs us of the chance to see how teams would react in an open bidding war. And we might not get it, as the free agent class is comedically weak, and might get weaker if J.T. Realmuto signs his own extension in Philadelphia.
For Betts, despite what Ken Rosenthal would have you believe, it’s something of a loss. Yes, we should all be so lucky to have to give up our dreams of $40M a year and “settle” for $29 million, but that’s what Betts is potentially out. He reportedly turned down an extension offer from the Red Sox that would have covered 10 years and paid him $300 million, but countered with a 12-year, $420 million proposal. That’s what he and Scott Boras thought he could get as a free agent, or close to it. He’s not getting either.
In normal times, Betts on the open market should have easily approached Mike Trout’s $37.7 million per year. Gerrit Cole just pocketed $36 million per year. Betts’s number won’t even crack the league’s top 10 highest salaries. Again, under normal circumstances, eclipsing $40 million per year would have been possible.
Other top stars may also see the corners of their mouths turn down at the news, especially Kris Bryant and Francisco Lindor, who are two years away from free agency and are two players at least in the same stratosphere as Betts — who aren’t locked up contractually. Perhaps waiting until then and seeing how revenues rebound is an option, but it’s hard to see baseball’s finances returning to what they’d been in the span of a year. Where both could have anticipated deals paying over $30 million annually, that’s a bit of a struggle now given what Betts is getting.
Still, depending on the actual structure, and despite the Dodgers’ unique circumstances, committing to paying a player nearly $30 million for the next decade at least presumes that finances will be restored to normal in the near future. Which makes one wonder just how much of a rupture this season will actually cause the owners’ accounts.