-- How much should Boston Red Sox star Mookie Betts get paid this year?
Three judges will decide.
The Red Sox reached one-year contract agreements Friday with nine of their 10 arbitration-eligible players, beating the deadline to exchange figures for a potential hearing. Betts was the lone holdout, and according to Sox assistant general manager Brian O'Halloran, the sides have agreed to let a panel of three arbitrators determine the All-Star right fielder's 2018 salary in a hearing next month.
A date for the hearing has not yet been set. The Red Sox submitted a $7.5 million salary figure for Betts, who is seeking $10.5 million. The panel will choose one figure or the other. If the Sox and Betts' representatives had agreed to continue to negotiate, the sides could have settled on a midpoint at any time before the hearing.
While it's largely atypical for a player to request a hearing if a settlement isn't reached before the exchange of salary figures, the "file and trial" approach has become more common over the past few years. The advantage, according to one source, is that the idea of a hearing forces both sides to make more reasonable requests early in the process rather than wasting time and resources trying to bridge an unnecessarily large gap in the weeks before a hearing date.
Arbitration hearings are commonly considered to be unpleasant, with players listening as team officials present reasons to pay them less. But former Houston Astros president Tal Smith, who has prepared more than 1,000 cases as an arbitration consultant for several teams, has long maintained that hearings aren't nearly as contentious as outsiders would think.
Betts' salary request appears to be in line with the $10.85 million salary agreed to Friday by Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, who set a record for a first-year arbitration-eligible player.
Unlike Bryant, Betts doesn't have Rookie of the Year and MVP awards or a World Series ring. But he has two Gold Gloves and the same number of top-10 MVP finishes (two) and All-Star Game appearances (two) as Bryant.
The Red Sox and Betts quibbled over Betts' salary last year, too, when the club renewed him for $950,000 rather than reaching an agreement.
"It's a business side, and there's no animosity, there's nothing going on," Betts said at the time. "They didn't let my hopes down or anything. Now we're just focused on baseball, and we'll go from there."
The Red Sox reached agreements with the following players: shortstop Xander Bogaerts ($7.05 million), center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. ($6.1 million), infielder Brock Holt ($2.225 million), catchers Sandy Leon ($1.95 million) and Christian Vazquez ($1.45 million), left-handed pitchers Drew Pomeranz ($8.5 million) and Eduardo Rodriguez ($2.375 million) and right-handers Joe Kelly ($3.825 million) and Brandon Workman ($850,000).