Mookie Betts: "No hard feelings" over arbitration hearing

FORT MYERS, Fla. - If Mookie Betts doesn't eventually sign a long-term contract extension with the Boston Red Sox, he insists it won't be because of anything that was said about him during an arbitration hearing last month.

Betts sat in the room Jan. 31 when a panel of three independent judges heard arguments over the star right fielder's value. Betts was seeking a $10.5 million salary. The Red Sox wanted to pay him $7.5 million.

Ultimately, the arbitrators ruled in Betts' favor, but not before the Red Sox presented reasons why they believed he wasn't worth as much as he thought.

"Just seeing that side of it is pretty interesting," Betts said Thursday. "I like those type of things, kind of see how people debate. There were no hard feelings, nothing wrong. I love these guys. Nothing changed."

But there's a reason why the Red Sox avoided taking a player to a hearing for 13 years before going to the table with reliever Fernando Abad last year. It's inherently uncomfortable for a team to have to point out the flaws of a player it will employ during the season.

Betts, 24, is naturally inquisitive, often asking questions of older teammates and seeking feedback from coaches and even club executives. And most agents, including Betts' representatives at the Legacy Agency, usually prepare players for what to expect in a hearing by advising them not to take anything to heart.

"You can't argue with the facts," Betts said. "You just have to kind of listen. It was one of those things where I didn't know this, that or the other, but I didn't take anything personal. Nothing that was said was personal. It was all just a debate that both sides stated fact."

Betts batted .264 with 24 homers, 102 RBI, 26 stolen bases and an .803 OPS last season. Two years ago, he was runner-up in the American League MVP race. He's a two-time All-Star and has won a pair of Gold Glove awards.

This marks the second consecutive year that Betts has disagreed with the Red Sox over his annual compensation. Last year, before Betts was eligible for salary arbitration, the Sox renewed his salary at $950,000 after failing to reach an agreement with him.

"That's just two sides, two people [that] can not agree. That's just a part of life," Betts said. "It just so happened twice. That's OK. I love it here. I love the guys here."

But Betts isn't ready to agree on a long-term extension. He isn't eligible for free agency until after the 2020 season, by which time he will be 27. And for now, he's willing to continue going year to year through the arbitration process, even if it means future hearings with the Red Sox.

"I think I'm just going to focus on 2018 right now," Betts said. "Just kind of focused on that and bringing back a World Series."

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