Mookie Betts, Jacob deGrom get record-breaking raises for 2019 season

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9552/" data-ylk="slk:Mookie Betts">Mookie Betts</a> got a huge raise after winning the MVP award in 2018. (AP Photo)
Mookie Betts got a huge raise after winning the MVP award in 2018. (AP Photo)

Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts was in for a raise after winning the American League MVP award in 2018. New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom was in the same spot after taking home the Cy Young award. Both players got those raises Friday, and managed to set records in the process.

Betts’ agreement came first. The 26-year-old agreed to a $20 million salary with the Red Sox in arbitration.

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That figure represents a $9.5 million raise for Betts. He made $10.5 million in 2018. That briefly set the record for largest arbitration raise given to a player his second time through the arbitration process. Betts has one more year of arbitration to go before he becomes a free agent following the 2020 season.

We say briefly because deGrom topped Betts’ record salary a few hours later.


After making $7.4 million in 2018, deGrom will make $17 million in 2019. That’s a $9.6 million salary increase. It was deGrom’s third time going through arbitration. Like Betts, deGrom also has one more year to go through arbitration before he becomes a free agent following the 2020 season.

Why is this important? Good question.

Those raises now set the bar for what other arbitration-eligible players will receive moving forward. If, for example, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is called up and lights the world on fire, there’s a chance he’ll see a salary increase of $9.6 million or more early in the arbitration process.

Players have to put in three seasons of major-league service time before they are eligible for arbitration. It’s possible to reach arbitration after just two seasons based on whether a player is considered a “Super Two.” That’s why deGrom is eligible for a fourth year of arbitration and Betts is not.

As ESPN’s Jeff Passan notes, Betts could make even more if he goes through the arbitration process again following the 2019 season. Unless the Red Sox figure out a way to extend Betts, he’ll likely make more than $20 million in 2020. He may not set a new record, but he’ll almost certainly receive a raise.

Those salary increases are also important because agents saw arbitration as a way to strike back at teams for not spending money in free agency the past two winters.

Passan and Buster Olney of ESPN received a document highlighting that strategy. In the memo, Jeff Berry, the director of the baseball division at CAA, said the arb system was a battleground for the MLB Players Association.

 “[A]ttacking the arb system,” Berry wrote in the memo, which was obtained by ESPN’s Buster Olney, “is an ideal battleground for MLBPA/players/agents to take a unified stand and to feel empowered and proactive rather than victimized.”

It’s important to note that arbitration raises and the free-agent market are not the same thing. Betts and deGrom receiving record raises does not fix the issues free agents have faced on the market the past two winters.

The free agency issues might be solved until the collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of 2021. For now, players like Betts and deGrom can help their colleagues by trying to make the most money possible.

Turns out, winning an MVP or a Cy Young helps quite a bit in that regard.

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