LOS ANGELES — Tuesday marks 16 days until the Dodgers are scheduled to open their 2020 regular season at home against San Francisco. It’s almost as close to the season as they were on March 11, when Mookie Betts played in his last Cactus League game of 2020 before the sport was shut down.
In the interim between spring training and summer camp, Betts stayed in shape, though he didn’t do many baseball activities. He fished and golfed, and lowered his handicap from 12 to eight.
“Not knowing when the season was going to start, I didn’t have a goal,” Betts said in a Zoom press conference with media on Monday. “I didn’t want to drive myself crazy during those three months. So I just stayed away from baseball.”
The Dodgers went all in with their acquisition of Betts this winter, trading for one year of his services and three years of David Price, trying to maximize a deep roster with two World Series trips and an average of 101 wins over the last three seasons, but no championship yet.
That one regular season of Betts has been diminished to 60 games, and that’s if everything goes smoothly. In the first weekend of summer camp, things have not gone smoothly at all, with testing delays that caused at least the Angels, Cardinals, Nationals, and Astros to postpone or cancel workouts.
Betts admitted he has doubts whether the 60-game season can be completed.
”I can’t say I’m that confident because I haven’t been shown that yet,” Betts said. “There’s not really a whole lot I can do. It’s kind of out of my control. It’s in somebody’s control and whoever controls it has to make it work.”
It’s not just the Dodgers who have a lot riding on the 2020 season. Betts does, too. He’s going to be a free agent after this year, and is sure to be the prized target on the market. Betts says there’s time for that later.
“Free agency is on the back burner. That will come. It’s nothing I’m really thinking about right now. The main concern is safety and health,” Betts said. “We haven’t gotten tests back. We don’t know who’s sick, and who’s not sick. There’s a lot going on that needs to be addressed, and free agency is not one of those things.”
There’s also the question of what exactly the free agent market this winter will bring. MLB owners spent the better part of three months proclaiming how much money they were going to lose in a season without fans, and that’s sure to tighten things up this offseason when it’s time to dole out contracts.
Betts probably won’t get the $400 million contract that has been anticipated for a while. After his MVP season in 2018, Betts turned down a 10-year, $300 million contract offer from the Red Sox, per a report from WEEI in Boston. After a season racked by the coronavirus, will he be able to top that offer this winter? Either way, Betts said Monday he didn’t regret turning down the offer.
“I made the decision I made, and I’m not going to go back and question myself. I don’t really know what the market will be and what the market is,” Betts. “We’ll just kind of cross that bridge when we get there.”
Betts will get there through free agency. Per the March 26 agreement between players and owners, if the 2020 season is canceled, every player gets the same major league service time this year as they did in 2019. That would give Betts the six years of service time he needs for free agency.
If the season is played, Betts needs to play to get the necessary service time to hit free agency.
David Price, who was teammates with Betts for four years in Boston, will not play this season, deciding over the weekend it was in the best interest of his health and his family not to play in 2020.
“He has to take care of himself. If that’s what he feels is best for him and his family, I’m fully on board with it. He’s one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” Betts said. “He’s doing this for himself, and sometimes you have to some things for yourself.”
Price won’t get paid in 2020, but he still has two more years on his contract at $32 million per year. He’s already made over $176 million in his career, per Cot’s Contracts.
Betts, seven years younger, hasn’t signed that big contract yet. Before this year, Betts made about $32.5 million, and his $27 million salary this year was reduced to $10 million over the 60-game schedule. Nothing to sneeze at, certainly, but not in the neighborhood of a veteran like Price.
“I’m not in the same predicament as someone who could opt out,” Betts said. “I’m in a different spot. My decision is obviously going to be different.”
Black Lives Matter
After George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, it sparked a series of protests throughout the world calling for the end of systemic racism. Major League Baseball was the last major U.S. sport to issue a statement on the matter.
“I think baseball did not do a good job of that,” Betts said. “But I think voices were heard and that’s the main thing, that we get our voices heard, so changes can be made. It’s not all going to be in one day. A little change here and a little change there, and eventually it gets you where you need to be.”
Several players in the last month or so have spoken out about racism they’ve experienced. In his essay announcing he was opting out of the 2020 season, Ian Desmond of the Rockies wrote, “In clubhouses, we’ve got racist, sexist, homophobic jokes or flat-out problems. We’ve got cheating. We’ve got a minority issue from the top down. One African-American GM. Two African-American managers. Less than 8% Black players. No Black majority team owners.”
Opening day MLB rosters in 2019 included 7.7 percent Black players, per USA Today, where it’s been most of the last decade. The league-wide percentage of Black players peaked at 19 percent in 1986, per the Associated Press.
“It’s more of a personal thing, that I have to bring baseball into Black communities,” Betts said. “Obviously MLB can help but I think it’s on us as Black players to bring it to Black communities and kind of make baseball cool, because that’s where the disconnect has been.”