Trading Mookie Betts would be a huge mistake

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The Red Sox are set to have a Major League logjam in their outfield next year. Between Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Yoenis Cespedes, Brock Holt, Daniel Nava, and Shane Victorino, the Red Sox have six start-able outfielders. They’ll obviously have to cut down on that this offseason and will likely trade at least one of those players; however, in trading Mookie Betts, a move which has been rumored by some, the Red Sox would be making an enormous mistake that could set the franchise back significantly in coming seasons.

Betts, a fifth-round draft pick in 2011, has flown through the Red Sox farm system since breaking out in a big way last year. His prospect status has risen meteorically over the last two years, going from a forgotten prospect to one of the best in baseball, and, unlike any other Red Sox prospects this season, he has lived up to the hype in the Major Leagues.

Through the first 50 games of his career, Betts is slashing a very impressive .287/.365/.436 with 5 home runs and 6 stolen bases. Even at 21 years old, Betts already looks the part of an elite player and could reach that level of play sooner rather than later.

Betts has electrifying speed and surprising power for a guy of his size– he stands just 5’9″ and weighs 155 pounds– but his most impressive tool is his remarkable contact rate. Despite his youth and inexperience, Betts has an 87.6% contact rate in his first taste of Major League Baseball, an extraordinary achievement for a 21 year old (for reference, Dustin Pedroia made contact of 88.8% of pitches he swung at this season).

That high contact rate and relatively low propensity for strikeouts will make Betts a more consistent player for the Red Sox. Without the high swing-and-miss rate of Jackie Bradley Jr. or Xander Bogaerts, Betts will be less subject to the ups and downs that have defined the early careers of both of those players.

Of course, it’s far too early to peg huge expectations on Betts. He’ll have his struggles next season just like any other 22 year old will. However, if the Red Sox seek to trade Betts this offseason, even for a great pitcher like Cole Hamels, they’ll be giving away a potentially elite player for years to come. In his first go-around at the big league level, he is looking like the leadoff man of the future for the Red Sox, taking over for recently-departed Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the lineup.

Players like Betts just don’t come around too often and it appears that he has both a higher floor and ceiling than just about anybody else on the team, except Xander Bogaerts. If acquiring a top-flight starter through trade means parting with Betts, then the Red Sox should plan to stick to the free agent market this offseason.