Dodgers sign Mookie Betts to 12-year deal

July 22nd, 2020

LOS ANGELES -- hasn’t played a game that counts for the Dodgers. But after landing baseball’s richest contract on Wednesday, he said what counts to Dodgers fans.

“I’m here to win some rings and bring rings back to L.A. -- that’s all I’m focused on,” Betts said after signing a landmark 12-year contract extension that runs through 2032.

“This is what I’ve been working for my whole life. I know the Dodgers are going to be good for a long time. I love being here, everything about being here. The people here made me feel so comfortable. Everybody’s amazing. This organization is a well-oiled machine. I love it.”

Entering his free-agent season, Betts was acquired in a February blockbuster from the Red Sox after he turned down a reported $300 million Boston extension offer, but Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Betts was never considered a rental.

“When we made the trade, we did it with more than 2020 in mind,” said Friedman, who dealt Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong for Betts, David Price and cash. “We appreciate the risk that came with that and did go into it with our eyes wide open. We traded a lot of talent away, we got a lot of talent back. Now we’re going to kind of keep the band together for a while, that was front of mind for us.”

Talks toward an extension began in March. Then the pandemic struck and the season was threatened.

“The world changed in the middle of it, but our desire to get something done didn’t change,” said Friedman.

Talks resumed a week ago, with an urgency dictated by Betts wanting a deal done before Thursday night’s opener against the Giants so it wouldn’t become a “distraction” during the season.

Along with what he called “fair-market value” -- presumably Mike Trout’s $360 million neighborhood -- Betts said organizational talent made him comfortable with a commitment likely to last “for the rest of my career.”

For the club, the financial commitment is massive, especially with current economic uncertainty, but Dodgers ownership apparently never wavered.

“It speaks to the faith we have about things getting back to normal,” said Friedman. “Go to 12 years, you’ve got nothing but time.”

The financial terms of the deal were not announced, but MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reports that the contract is worth $365 million on top of the $27 million (prorated to $10 million) salary Betts will earn in 2020.

“When you’re making an investment of this magnitude, you’re not just betting on ability, you’re also betting on the person,” Friedman said. “We couldn’t be more comfortable to make that bet than on Mookie. Mookie can impact a game at every facet. But what really stood out to us is the work ethic, the burning desire to get better on a daily basis. That tone is set for young players now and will come up in the future and will leave an indelible mark on the organization.”

The signing also culminates Friedman’s quest to make Dodger Stadium a “destination” for the kind of superstar who will help end the franchise’s 31-year championship drought, as well as establish a dynasty. Friedman went big-game hunting in the offseason after the Dodgers’ seventh consecutive division title and postseason appearance couldn’t snap the club's World Series-championship drought.

Seeking an October difference-maker, he was outbid by the Yankees for top free-agent pitcher Gerrit Cole. When free-agent third baseman Anthony Rendon wasn’t interested in the Dodgers, Friedman shifted to the trade market, narrowing his primary targets to Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor and Betts.

Betts, 27, won the American League MVP Award in 2018, and his presence gives the Dodgers three former MVPs, along with Clayton Kershaw (2014) and Cody Bellinger, who won the 2019 National League MVP Award. Betts is a four-time All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner, with three Silver Sluggers.

He offers a dynamic leadoff presence whose right-field skills allow Bellinger to be the everyday center fielder, with left field a platoon of Joc Pederson and AJ Pollock. The Dodgers used 10 leadoff hitters last year, but mostly Pederson, who started 103 games there.

Betts won over the clubhouse the first week of Spring Training when he borrowed from 1988 hero Kirk Gibson’s playbook and challenged his new teammates in a meeting, according to undisputed team leader Justin Turner.

“When you stand up in front of the team on the first day and essentially call everyone out, says he wants to hold everyone accountable for their effort -- not just in the game but in the workouts -- that’s like, all right, you learn what he’s about really fast,” said Turner.

It took two tries, the first a four-team arrangement that fell apart when the Red Sox balked at the physical exam of Twins reliever Brusdar Graterol, who ended up with the Dodgers. The original transactions also would have sent pitcher Ross Stripling and Pederson to the Angels.

Ultimately, the Dodgers dealt Verdugo, Downs and Wong for Betts and Price, the former 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner, agreeing to pay $48 million of the remaining $96 million on Price’s contract through 2022. Then Price elected not to play this season, opening a rotation spot for Stripling.