Reading the tea leaves when it comes to Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez

Rob Bradford
September 30, 2019 - 7:37 am
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It was the kind of dynamic performance that has surfaced this conversation in the first place. Mookie Betts dashing home on a simple dribbler into right field, sliding head-first into home and then celebrating the season-ending walk-off win with a group of adoring teammates. A week before it was the unworldly 305-foot throw from the corner of Tropicana Field to third base and now this. How could this guy not be sticking around for years and years?

But just a few moments later the scene had shifted to the clubhouse where cardboard box after cardboard box were being taped up, farewells were exchanged and pages had been turned.

As Betts has reiterated so many times, this is a business. Often times a fun business -- as was the case with the Red Sox' Game 162 win -- but a business, nonetheless.

Want an example? Soak in what J.D. Martinez told John Tomase of NBC Sports Boston before heading out for the season.

"I think everyone knows we don't think they're going to be able to afford Mookie," Martinez said, referencing Betts -- who will be in line to be paid $30 million in 2020 with or without a contract extension. "It's one of those things. It's kind of hard to have three guys making $30 million on your team. He deserves it. He's earned it."

The Red Sox might not necessarily agree with Martinez's assessment, still pounding the drum that a Betts extension can get done, but the designated hitter's words offered insight into how that clubhouse views the landscape. There is the Gatorade shower and then there are the contract negotations. Both had that dressing room buzzing on the final day of the season.

When it comes to Betts there were few words that offered a clue has to how he might shape his own future. When conducting his on-field interview with NESN he told the fans the Red Sox were already looking forward to doing better in 2020. And a few moments later the outfielder stood in the middle of the clubhouse and stated the obvious - as we sit here, the fate of his existence with next year's Sox club really isn't up to him.

"No, I was thinking about just winning the game at that point," said Betts when asked if he was thinking this might have been his last at-bat as a Red Sox. "That’s out of my hands. I have my representation to take care of that type of stuff so I don’t worry about it."

From his perspective, it continues to really be not that complicated.

The Red Sox will make him a contract offer, he will determine if it's market value and then either accept it or move on to the arbitration process. From then it is in the hands of the team. The timing or destination when it comes to Betts playing for another team in 2020 isn't his choice this time around. That is a different conversation a year from now, but his mantra of simply eyeing rejoining his teammates in five months is understandable.

"This is a great group of guys," Betts said. "Probably one of the best I’ve ever been a part of as far as having fun and enjoying the game."

Then there was Martinez.

For him, this is a choice. He can either opt-out of his contract and find another team or choose to stick around. So what is it going to be? If a guess was to be based on Martinez's comments heading into the offseason it certainly seems he is ready to roll the dice in the free-agent market for a second time in the last three years, although it is clear that the path will be pushed off the advice from his agent Scott Boras.

"I don't know. I'm just going to be sitting at home just kind of hanging out and talking to Scott, and coming up with a decision," he said. "That's really how it will go down, I would imagine. ... I can't spill my beans just yet. We'll see what happens."

He later added, "Like I said, I have to make an individual decision for myself. When the time comes, you see what's in front of you and then you make your decision. I haven't sat down to think about it or go through it all with Scott. I've been focused on who's pitching and where I've got to go, what I've got to do, my work. I haven't really gotten caught up in it. Now that the season's over, I'll have time to go home and think about it.

"I felt like I established myself before, at least personally. But playing in a big market and doing it here is obviously different. But it's been fun. It's been great. Just because the team side of it and being able to win, that's the biggest thing."

While Bogaerts guided Boras in the shortstop's contract extension, it certainly seems as though it will be the other way around when it comes to Martinez. And in this case that is understandable.

Reading Martinez's market is complex, with a good chunk of the conversation centering on whether or not National League teams would get in the mix. While so many are quick to dismiss the idea that the 32-year-old isn't viewed as enough of capable outfielder to regularly play the position, it should be noted that the Red Sox' chief competition for Martinez's services a few years back was a National League team, the Diamondbacks.

And even if the National League doesn't really present a landing spot there is another American League fit besides Boston -- the White Sox.

Whatever Martinez's decision is in those days after the World Series it will undeniably serve as the trampoline for the Red Sox' offseason. He leaves and that will free up upwards of $60 million while leaving the new baseball operations decision-maker with a sizable hole at the designated hitter spot. That's when we truly will find out how complicated this complicated offseason will be.

Until then, however, we are left with a reminder of how baseball can turn from a kid's game to big business in the bat of an eye. Or in this case, it was the time it took to cross home plate and clear out some lockers.

"It’s been amazing," Betts said. "I can’t thank the fans and teammates and front office enough for everything. I’m still here. It’s not like I’m gone until whatever. I’m not going to focus on that now."