Even before Mookie Betts played his first game in Dodger Blue, the superstar outfielder decided his future is in Los Angeles.
Betts and the Dodgers have struck baseball’s first big-money deal since the coronavirus pandemic decimated the sport’s economics, with Betts agreeing Wednesday to a $365 million, 12-year contract through 2032.
The massive deal removes the top offensive player from next offseason’s free-agent class and puts the longtime Boston Red Sox slugger in the middle of LA’s lineup for what he thinks will be the rest of his career. The Dodgers only acquired Betts in a trade Feb. 10, but he eagerly bypassed the uncertainties of free agency for a secure future with an organization that already feels like home.
“I just love being here,” Betts said in a video conference call from Dodger Stadium, where he will make his Dodgers debut Thursday against San Francisco. “I love everything about here. I’m here to win some rings and bring championships back to LA. That’s all I’m focused on.”
Betts’ new deal is baseball’s second-largest in total dollars behind the $426.5 million, 12-year contract for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout covering 2019-30. Trout and Betts are arguably the top two outfielders in the game, and now they’ve both got deals that should keep them playing 32 miles apart for at least the next decade.
“I’m excited for him,” said Trout, who texted his congratulations to Betts. “We kind of went through the same situation. I was laughing because of the physical he probably had to take, because mine lasted about 10 hours. Being so close to him now, it’s pretty cool to have him out here. Southern California is great.”
Betts, who turns 28 in October, was acquired along with pitcher David Price for three promising Dodgers prospects in a blockbuster trade that signaled Los Angeles’ determination to win the World Series after claiming the NL pennants in 2017 and 2018.
While Price opted out of the current season because of family health concerns, Betts will be at the heart of the Dodgers’ lineup as they pursue their first championship in 32 years as a World Series favorite.
The deep-pocketed Dodgers have run their payroll with remarkable discipline under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, even when he occasionally frustrated fans with his caution. Friedman had no such concerns about handing this massive commitment to the 5-foot-9 Betts, the 2018 AL MVP and one of the majors’ top all-around players.
“It was front of mind for us,” Friedman said. “It was something we really wanted to do. … We were hopeful that he’d get here, fall in love with it, go out there and win a bunch of games.”
Friedman began discussing a long-term deal with Betts’ representatives in March before the coronavirus pandemic upended the season. They picked up discussions again last week, and a deal was reached rapidly.
“Our desire to get something done didn’t change at all,” Friedman said. “It helps when both sides are coming at it from a standpoint of wanting to get a deal done.”
Betts had agreed to a $27 million, one-year deal with the Red Sox, a salary that has been reduced to $10 million in prorated pay because of the shortened season.
Betts’ average salary of $30.42 million trails Gerrit Cole ($36 million), Trout ($35.5 million), Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon ($35 million each), Zack Greinke ($34.4 million), Justin Verlander $31.3 million), and new teammates Price and Clayton Kershaw ($31 million each).
A four-time Gold Glove winner, Betts won the MVP award en route to Boston’s World Series title. He hit .295 with 29 homers and 80 RBIs last year, down from a major league-leading .346 average with 32 homers and 80 RBIs in his MVP season.
The Red Sox enraged a large portion of their fan base when they traded their homegrown superstar instead of working for a long-term deal. When Betts was asked whether he would have agreed to a similar deal with Boston, he paused and smiled, calling it “a very valid question.”
“I think I just want to stick with I’m here in LA,” Betts said.
His agreement leaves catcher JT Realmuto, outfielder George Springer, shortstop Marcus Semien and pitchers Trevor Bauer and Marcus Stroman as the top players headed toward free agency