In late 1996, the Red Sox called up their number one prospect, a shortstop out of Georgia Tech University. He had been drafted by the team with their first round (12) pick of the ’94 draft, and just three years later was a staple in the Boston lineup.
Nomar Garciaparra quickly proved the hype surrounding him was warranted in his first season in 1997. The California native won the AL Rookie of the Year, batting .306 with 209 hits, including 11 triples, 30 home runs, 98 RBI and stealing 22 bases. He followed that up by winning back to back batting titles in 1999 and 2000, before faltering to an injury in 2001 (broken wrist, and relative lingering pain issues regarding his recovery that led to problems between himself and the Red Sox ownership).
However, after putting up a great 2002, which saw him again earn All-Star honors after hitting .310 with 56 doubles, 24 long ones, and 120 runs driven in, the rumors of potential PED use began to tarnish what may have been a Hall of Fame career into one that quickly began to deteriorate.
Then, the bleep hit the fan. A disastrous pursuit of Alex Rodriguez during the winter of 2003 leaked it’s way into spring training of 2004. This led to a faltering relationship between Nomar and the front office, which could have been mended if the Red Sox had worked to patch up the issues they had, rather than allow for their grievances between them to be aired to the public.
The Red Sox must be aware of this past situation with their current young corp of players including, Mookie Betts. Hopefully, the Red Sox brass has learned their lesson and are willing to work with the player in order to reach an agreement to keep him in a Red Sox uniform for years to come.
Like Nomar did when he arrived in Boston, Mookie has quickly became not just a fan favorite, but also has emerged as one of the top players in the American League. In just four seasons he has been a 2x All-Star selection, and finished runner-up to Mike Trout in the 2016 MVP race after hitting .318 and coming up four steals shy of a 30/30 campaign.
Mookie dropped off a bit last year, much like the rest of the Sox lineup. Prior to the start of the season the Sox brass approached him to gauge his interest in signing a long-term extension with the team. Dombrowski put a 5 year, $100 million extension on the table which after some deliberating, Betts turned down. Instead, the front office settled on a renewal of his contract for a cool $950K.
Now, with Betts entering his first time as an arbitration-eligible player, MLBTradeRumors.com had this to say about Betts:
“No one in the past five years with 70 career home runs going into arbitration has had more than 32 stolen bases, and no one in the past five years with 70 career stolen bases going into arbitration has had more than 59 home runs.
They then went on to compare him to another young slugger, who when he entered the arbitration process was able to get $5 million in his first year. That player? Manny Machado.
Both of these young players are franchise-type players, as well as part of the new generation of ballplayers in MLB. It’ll behoove the Red Sox to not let history repeat itself the way it did with Nomar so many years ago.
Now is the time to at least broach the subject of what it would take to sign Betts to a long-term extension. Dombrowski and the Red Sox need to maintain a healthy and honest relationship with one of their homegrown stars, as the fans have all too often bore witness to guys like Mo Vaughn, Roger Clemens, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jon Lester rise through the system, only to walk away with plenty of gas still in the tank.