Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts not ready for long-term contracts

Two pillars of the Boston Red Sox aren’t quite ready to lock themselves into a long-term deal to secure a future with the franchise.

The Boston Red Sox have one of the most promising collections of young talent in Major League Baseball, led by a pair of All-Stars that represent a bright future for the organization.

How far that optimism extends into the future remains to be seen. Boston has both Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts under team control for several more years, but nothing beyond that is set in stone.

Teams typically have incentive to try to sign their young talent to extensions years before they would risk losing them to free agency. In exchange for offering the player a bit more on the front end compared to what they would expect to make in their early arbitration years, they can lock them into a team-friendly deal that provides cost certainty that eases future payroll planning.

These extensions often buy out the remaining arbitration years and possibly a few years of free agency, pushing back the deadline for when the team is forced to fend off the wolves in a potential blood-bath for that player’s services.

From the player’s perspective, agreeing to an early extension provides them with the security of a long-term deal. The first year of the deal would usually include a significant boost in salary from what they were previously making, which many players that have yet to bask in the glory of an enormous payday simply can’t resist.

However, it’s not a scenario that currently appeals to either of the Red Sox young stars. Earlier this week at the Boston Baseball Writers’ Dinner, Bogaerts and Betts both told ESPN’s Scott Lauber that they weren’t ready to discuss an extension.

“Not yet,” Bogaerts told ESPN. “I know I still have three more years [of arbitration], hopefully three exciting years that I’m looking forward to, especially with the roster that we have. I always say if you keep playing good, the team recognizes that and maybe you can get something done. As of now, it’s just me going out there and performing and see what happens.”

Bogaerts certainly produced last year, earning his first All-Star nod in a season in which he hit .294 with 21 home runs and 89 RBI. The Red Sox rewarded those efforts with a significant raise from the $650,500 he made in 2016, signing Bogaerts to a 1-year, $4.5 million deal in his first year of arbitration eligibility.

The 24-year old shortstop described his first taste of the arbitration process as a unique experience, but he enjoyed the back and forth negotiations. It sounds like he wouldn’t mind going through the process again each year until free agency arrives.

Betts is an interesting case in that he’s not yet eligible for arbitration, which means the Red Sox aren’t obligated to pay him more than the major league minimum. He’s certainly due for a raise, but given that players have almost zero leverage during their first three years in the big leagues, Betts won’t cash in nearly as much as Bogaerts did.

The Red Sox obviously want to keep Betts happy in hopes that it will help with future negotiations. After finishing as the runner-up for the AL MVP award last season, Betts could challenge the record $1 million salary for a pre-arbitration eligible player set by Mike Trout in 2014. The Los Angeles Angels superstar was coming off consecutive second-place finishes on the MVP ballot before taking home the hardware for the first time that season. The generous raise served as a precursor for the six-year, $144.5 million extension that he signed months later that will keep him in an Angels uniform until at least 2020.

Boston could be hoping a similar scenario eventually presents itself with Betts, but for now their young superstar is echoing his teammate’s sentiment about going year-to-year.

“I know about all of it,” said Betts. “I’m fully aware of everything that kind of goes on, and I just know I have my mind set on one thing and that’s going one year at a time. I don’t need anything extra in my head and in my mind. The game’s already hard enough as it is.”

While neither player is thinking about an extension yet, they haven’t ruled out the possibility down the line. If the right deal presents itself then they are certainly open to getting something done.

At the moment, the Red Sox aren’t concerned about the futures of their young stars. The focus this year was on dipping below the luxury tax in order to reset the steep penalties that repeat offenders face under the new collective bargaining agreement. Extending Bogaerts or Betts now would have impeded their ability to trim the payroll below that threshold, so it may not have been feasible this winter even if the players were eager to sign.

Fans may be getting anxious about securing the future of the two pillars of the Red Sox roster, but neither of them is going anywhere anytime soon. Bogaerts won’t hit free agency until 2020, with Betts eligible to file the following year. A lot can happen between now and then, so there’s still plenty of time to revisit the extension talks.

Neither player is ready to look too far into their future yet, but expect the Red Sox to ultimately find a way to keep both Bogaerts and Betts in Boston for a long time.

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