LOS ANGELES (AP) — 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 on the eve of opening day.
The massive agreement 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 winning seven straight NL West titles and 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.
Dodgers fans were fearful Betts might never play for their team at all if baseball had failed to start a season this summer and he subsequently left as a free agent. Instead of that catastrophe, they could now get to see Betts play until his 40th birthday in October 2032 — and Betts is thrilled.
“The time that I’ve been here, the people have made me feel so comfortable,” Betts said. “The talent all the way up and down, the minor leagues, everybody in the front office from the owner on down, everybody is amazing. I think this organization is a well-oiled machine, and I love it. I’m super, super-excited to be a part of it for the next 12 or 13 years. Got to bring some rings back to LA, for sure.”
The deep-pocketed Dodgers have run their payroll with remarkable discipline under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, even when his caution occasionally frustrated fans. The Dodgers are easily among the majors’ richest clubs, with a massive local television deal and bounteous gate revenue from the biggest crowds in the majors.
Friedman had no concerns about handing this 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’s planning has also given the Dodgers an incredible young core of talent and no financial commitments beyond 2022 before this deal for Betts. NL MVP Cody Bellinger is signed through 2023, and probable future ace Walker Buehler is committed through 2024.
Betts also had plenty to lose during this unique baseball season. He was expected to get a deal worth more than $300 million this winter, but the pandemic has thrown the sport’s entire salary structure into question amid an uncertain future.
Instead of rolling the dice, Betts agreed to a deal that undoubtedly stacks up with just about any offer he might have entertained in the offseason.
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 the contract was reached rapidly.
Betts had agreed to a $27 million, one-year deal for this season with the Red Sox. His salary has been reduced to $10 million in prorated pay because of the shortened season.
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. Boston reportedly offered a $300 million deal to Betts before the trade.
“I don’t regret turning down that,” Betts said. “Once I make a decision, I make a decision. I’m not going back and questioning myself. I don’t worry about that. The market will be what the market is.”
When Betts was asked whether he would have agreed to a deal similar to the Dodgers’ offer 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.
AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.
Photo credit – Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press / Los Angeles, CA