Mookie Betts has been a really, really good player for some time.
Now he is entering unchartered waters.
The Dodgers outfielder (yes, for now, he is a Dodgers outfielder) will be perhaps the most-watched and scrutinized player in all of Major League Baseball from now until whenever his 2021 destination is determined.
The mild-mannered, well-meaning kid from Tennessee has found himself identified as all that can go right or wrong with baseball in the coming months. He is the superstar who can remind us how exciting watching the grand game of baseball. Or perhaps he's the guy who offers the reminder that a slow start will alter the fortunes of his new team and a highly-anticipated foray into free agency.
For starters, the uncertainty when it comes to Betts is more than just about weeks or months from now. That much he made clear during his Zoom meeting with the media Monday.
"I still have my doubts, just based off what's going on," Betts said of MLB being able to pull off this season. "I'm definitely preparing the same way; I'm fully expecting to play. But that doesn't mean there aren't doubts that kinda go on when the facts aren't in front of you."
If there is no season the Los Angeles era for Betts may never have happened. Images of spring training workouts don't count. And if that is the case the uncertainty regarding Betts' market will only grow, leading to more and more questions to the outfielder regarding what might have been if he accepted the Red Sox' extension offer of more than $300 million.
"Once I make a decision, I make a decision," Betts added. "I'm not going back to question myself. I don't worry about that. The market will be what the market is. We'll just kind of cross that bridge when we get there. But for right now, it's just the [health and safety> things that I'm worried about. That whole thing [free agency> is on the back burner."
Nobody is going to argue Betts' place in the game. He is one of a handful of players in the conversation for best of the best. But the uneasiness regarding this crossroads coming at the wrong place at the wrong time is impossible to ignore.
Through the first 60 games last season Betts was OK, but not unworldly. He was hitting a modest .270 with an OPS of .834 and nine home runs. That was 31 points below his career batting average and nearly 100 points off his career OPS. By the end of the season he had figured things out, landing with the kind of numbers (.295, .915, 29 homers) that kept him in the $400 million-man discussion. But this time around 60 games (we think) will be all he has.
It's precarious times for the player and his sport. The one thing we know for sure? Betts will be the one everyone will be watching.