Should the Red Sox trade Mookie Betts?
Ladies and gentlemen,
I give you Mookie Betts‘ 2014 statline:
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There are a few numbers in that table worth discussing, starting with the 38 games. This is just a hair under a quarter of a season, and while I’m usually leading the lynch mob against small sample sizes, lets take a second to project that over a season if only to develop a reasonable range of what we can expect from a full year of Mookie playing at the level that he is right now. What I’m trying to say is, I don’t think people appreciate just how good Mookie has been. Look at this table now,
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Every value in that table was rounded down. 6.8 WAR(?!?!?!?) would place him behind only Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson (full disclosure: projecting WAR is difficult because of the nature of the stat; these projections don’t take into account negative WAR). Relying on Mookie to replicate these numbers across a whole season would be a fool’s errand, but it does say something about just how good Mookie has been in his month long audition.
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Now, clearly this team will need to address the rotation this winter. With something that hopefully resembles the 2013 Clay Buchholz and the solid, but unspectacular Joe Kelly comprising 2/5 of the rotation next year, the team will have to rebuild the rotation after dealing away their 1 and 2 starters this deadline. Last week, I offered my thoughts on the six pitchers currently trying to prove they deserve a rotation spot next year. The abbreviated version: no one is jumping to the front of the race. Buchholz and Kelly are locks if they are on the roster, the other 4 are another story. Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo have looked the least impressive, and should probably be considered for bullpen roles going forward. Before you point out that Ranaudo was the International League Pitcher of the Year, and scoff at the notion of a future in the pen, do check out a scouting report. Workman never saw as much success in the minors so his new role should be easier to stomach.
Sep 13, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Mookie Betts (50) is congratulated after scoring on a sacrifice fly against the Kansas City Royals in the third inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
That leaves two pitchers, Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, and three rotation spots. But really, given the results, its hard to justify devoting two rotation spots to two players who have floundered their way to a 6.02 and 4.31 ERA, respectively. I have seen glimpses of excellence in watching each of these two pitchers, but the life of a starter demands sustainability. De La Rosa, like Ranaudo is likely best used out of the bullpen, where he could be an elite weapon for a bullpen that will need as much reworking as the rotation. By adding Ranaudo, Workman and De La Rosa, the Red Sox can turn a point of weakness back into a strength. I am going to continue to trust my gut and assert that Webster still has the best shot at becoming a good starter. With the others, I think it comes down to being solid in one role (starting) versus being potentially elite in another (relief) and that is a simple decision in my mind.
That leaves 2 rotation spots to be filled. Surely one will be filled in free agency, my personal choice being James Shields (I’m sure many are pining for a Jon Lester reunion) but what can be done about the other? For a while, it seemed as though trade would be the best option. Cole Hamels was the name everyone was whispering, and fortunately the Red Sox had a top prospect who was blocked by a franchise cornerstone; the definition of ideal trade bait. But then we saw Jackie Bradley step into a major league batters box. We moved that top prospect to the outfield, where he wasn’t blocked and while JBJ was striking out everywhere he went. Mookie was dominating. Then we saw him in Boston. And since then, we have had a month of offensive magic; finally we see the dynamic young offense Ben Cherington dreamed of in building this team. He has been a spark plug in the lead-off spot and even his outfield defense, for all it’s awkwardness, is getting the job done. Is it time to move on from Cole Hamels, or that other big fish swimming in deeper water, for the time being?
Sep 6, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox center fielder Mookie Betts (50) touches second base after hitting a triple during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s take a closer look at Mookie. By taking a look at the always excellent resource SoxProspects.com, I was able to learn a bit more about Mookie’s potential (full report here). Mookie’s best tool is his speed, a tool that grades out as plus-to-better which is the best grade a player can receive. His next best tool is his hit tool which grades out as plus, or in generic terms, well-above-average. He would grade out as a plus fielder too, if he were to play second base. In the outfield he is borderline plus, with the potential to get there if he can learn on the fly. His two weakest tools are his power and his arm. It should be noted that he has already exceeded expectations on power in this scout’s eyes, who had him graded as fringe-average, (or just below the median) and the other scouts view his strong wrists as something that could lead to above-average power. Mookie’s current pace is 34 doubles and 17 homers, which would back up the claim that he has more power than expected. His arm is decent, but would be much better suited for second base than center or right field.
That is a lot of potential, but it also sounds a lot like newly acquired Rusney Castillo. He and Betts could conceivably play in the same outfield, but do the Red Sox need two players who offer such a similar skill set? For a team that is largely comprised of contact hitters right now, Mookie represents a surplus. With the team so light on pitching and power hitters, it might make more sense for them to look at Hamels or Giancarlo Stanton in the offseason. Taking a peek to next winter is another player who I know the Red Sox are already interested in, Jason Heyward. Heyward represents a player very much like Mookie, but with a little more power potential from the left side of the plate (he hit 27 homers in his age 22 season in 2012). With David Ortiz sadly nearing the twilight of his career, the team would do well to address the left-handed power outage they are heading for. Heyward also represents a better defensive outfielder than Mookie, and has the same speed and hitting ability – a better all-around player.
As exciting as Mookie has been, and as much as he is fast becoming a personal favorite and doing everything humanly possible to convince me otherwise, it still makes a lot of sense to trade Mookie. He alone would get the Cole Hamels conversation started or in a package with Yoenis Cespedes and others, may be finally enough to pry Stanton from Miami. Another player to watch is Chris Sale. Early indication out of Chicago is he’s not available, but with Mookie on the table, he just might be. If there is a pitcher to be had, I want Sale. If we do make a trade, I think we can wait one year for Heyward. Shane Victorino is due for a bounce back year anyway.
Chowder and Champions
My sad conclusion is that Mookie holds more value to other teams than the Red Sox; his highest performance will come if he plays second base not in the outfield. It will be sad if Mookie does get traded, and the team could certainly still see good results by keeping him, but in my opinion, they will see the best result by trading him. And I think Ben Cherington agrees, having finally moved him to second base, where he will never see time in a Red Sox uniform (barring something altogether astounding). So whether for pitching or power, don’t be surprised if Mookie moves this winter. But also, don’t be surprised when the return is a superstar: the Red Sox are impressed with his performance, and that will only translate to great expectations in a trade return.