FORT MYERS, Fla. — Two years ago, the Red Sox paid Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts $1.2 million – combined.

In return, they received nearly 13 wins above replacement, according to Fangraphs.

This year, the Sox will pay the pair just north of $17.5 million; it’s a reminder that even before free agency, players can start to get expensive.

Betts and Bogaerts are part of a core that, while still young, is decreasingly controllable – and it’s the latter part that matters more in the business of baseball. Bogaerts has two years left before free agency, Betts three.

If Boston wants to extend its window of competitive opportunity beyond those few seasons, locking in Betts and/or Bogaerts is critical. But it hasn’t happened yet, and there doesn’t appear to be significant momentum toward a long-term extension with either one.

In Betts’ case, there’s actually movement in the other direction. The star outfielder hasn’t agreed to a deal with the Red Sox either of the last two seasons, settling for a renewed contract for 2017 and defeating the Sox in an arbitration hearing to earn a $10.5 million salary for 2018. He said Thursday there are no hard feelings.


“Nothing that was said was personal. It was all just a debate that both sides stated facts,” he said of the hearing, which he attended. “There’s no hard feelings anywhere on both sides. I think we still have a great relationship.”

Betts does appear willing, though, to continue going year-to-year with his salary, and with a near-record base in his first year of arbitration, that strategy should pay handsomely in the years to come. Put another way, it’s a lot more expensive now to sign Betts long term than it was a few years back.

(Barring injury, Betts should make in the vicinity of $35 to $40 million in 2019-2020 through arbitration, then something north of at least $30 million per season as a free agent – although that’s being very conservative, with the market liable to be reset at a higher level next winter. Boston would have to make it worth his while to trade in that kind of earnings potential for cost certainty.)

Betts himself said he’s merely focusing on 2018. He likes Boston, and free agency is a long time away.

“I love it here, I love the guys here,” he said. “Right now I’m just worried about 2018.”

Even with Scott Boras as his agent, Bogaerts has always seemed likelier to sign an extension with the Red Sox. He’s spoken openly about his comfort in Boston, and he holds less leverage than Betts would in any negotiations. He’s not making as much through arbitration, and he wouldn’t net as much on the open market.


“I’ve always enjoyed my time here,” he said Thursday. “It’s a city I enjoy playing for. They expect winning, and I always enjoy winning. I think it’s a city that’s nice for me.”

Bogaerts, who is making just over $7 million this year, will probably make around $12 million in his final season of arbitration eligibility before hitting the open market. There’s a lot of variability when trying to project what Bogaerts could earn as a free agent, given his second-half fades in each of the last two seasons juxtaposed against stretches worthy of All-Star nods. That means the Sox would have some leverage in talks – while also making a long-term deal riskier.

There is value, even to a big-market club like the Red Sox, in achieving cost certainty before and within arbitration.

“There’s an uncertainty of arbitration cost that can sometimes inhibit you from doing certain things if you think this guy might get a massive pay raise if he has a good year,” Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer said in 2016. “When you can do it, it’s really valuable for stability and it’s valuable as far as not having those massive fluctuations based on year-to-year performance.”

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