The 2018-19 offseason has been illustrative because it has been a rare opportunity to see players as young and talented as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado hit the open market. Both Harper and Machado are 26 years old, have had great success in the Major Leagues, and it’s possible they have not hit their primes yet. Harper has won an MVP and Machado has finished in the top 10 for the award three times. So, as expected, they got paid exorbitant amounts of money. Machado set the record for the largest free agent contract inMLB history at 10 years/$300 million. Less than a week later, Bryce Harper reset the record at 13 years/$330 million.
Ironically, there’s a right fielder on the Red Sox who is also 26 years old and set to be a free agent after 2020. He also happens to have a higher career wins above replacement than both of them, despite playing 282 less games than Machado and 283 less than Harper. Obviously, his name is Mookie Betts, and he could get the game’s first $500 million contract.
Where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are best, Mookie Betts is better. Bryce Harper is a middle-of-the-order power hitter, who is placed in the middle of the lineup to drive in runners. Mookie Betts, meanwhile, has a higher career slugging percentage (.518 to .512), and also led Major League Baseball in slugging percentage. In terms of driving in runners, Betts was more efficient with runners in scoring position, beating Harper in AVG, OBP, SLG, and OPS with RISP last year (Betts: .325/.496/.714/1.210 Harper: .290/.458/.524/.982).
What Machado specializes in is his defense at third base. In 6474.0 career innings at third base, he has 85 defensive runs saved. Meanwhile, Mookie Betts, in just 5463.2 career innings in the outfield, has 98 defensive runs saved. Betts has also won three Gold Glove awards, beating Machado’s two.
Next, one has to ask, what is the best way to put a value on Mookie Betts? The stat that us baseball nerds usually use to see the measure the total package is wins above replacement (WAR). And to balance it out, one has to average the WAR per 650 plate appearances. Or, at least that is the tool that Baseball Reference provides us with. Anyway, Bryce Harper has a 4.6 WAR per 650 PAs, Manny Machado has a 5.4 WAR per 650 plate appearances, and Mookie Betts has a 7.9 WAR per 650 plate appearances. I would say that Betts is most comparative to Harper because they play the same position and they both have been consistent power hitters. Teams value those types of players differently than a defensive specialist. Harper obviously got $330 million, so you have to divide Betts’ WAR/650 PAs (7.9) by Harper’s WAR/650 PAs (4.6), then multiply it by $330 million. This gets you $566.7 million.
Obviously, time and context changes anything, and a player’s contract is clearly not determined by WAR per 650 plate appearances. Also, Betts is not a free agent for another two seasons, meaning he will be two years older than Machado and Harper when they were on the open market. But the numbers are eye-opening. The reason these signings were so important was because everyone knows that Machado and Harper are not at Betts’ and Mike Trout‘s level, yet they still got paid $300+ million.
The point is: we have not seen anything yet when it comes to big baseball contracts. Remember this little chart?
Mookie Betts is probably going to get close to that A-Rod level of contract. Buckle up, folks.