The Red Sox and the Mookie Betts salary conundrum
By Rick McNair
The Boston Red Sox will continue to do a dance regarding a luxury tax. One possible way is to examine the viability of Mookie Betts as an option. Is there another option?
A baseball discussion without having emotion filtered is like attempting to solve an unsolvable math problem. I will simply get it out-of-the-way and that is Mookie Betts needs to go. Not now, of course, but possibly in the offseason or next spring.
The contract for Mike Trout has set the fiscal bar and expect Betts to reap $36 million AAV (Average Annual Value) on his contract here or elsewhere. Right now a decided edge goes to elsewhere for me. But there is also another possibility besides jettisoning the face of the franchise.
The Red Sox did a Jon Lester last year and made a low-ball offer to Betts that was rejected. Betts has supreme talent and supreme confidence in his ability and would risk either a market collapse or a physical collapse rendering his rejection faulty. Expect Betts to churn out his “numbers” this season and further give credence to folks like myself who feel Betts is the best in the game.
The Red Sox strategy is being clear on avoidance of the luxury tax or as it is formally known: “Competitive Balance Tax.” This adventure upwards into the penalty stratosphere is already garnering attention among the eyeshade and rolled up sleeves bean counters at Fenway Park. They are looking at small and large regarding payroll allocation.
The small is a hitting deficient catcher Sandy Leon whose salary of $2.5MM is often placed conveniently next to his possible departure. Big is easy in the cutting of the cord with closer Craig Kimbrel. Boston made the perfunctory qualifying offer that was rejected so Kimbrel could test the market. Kimbrel is still testing as I bang on the keys.
The Red Sox have had remarkable success on developing position players and they are starting to line up at the salary trough. Xander Bogaerts may be in line for an exorbitant payday. How much? I would certainly expect a very lengthy contract with an AAV that could be $25MM. Jackie Bradley Jr. will join Betts in the free agent class after the 2020 season. There are more.
Rick Porcello will be in line for a new deal after 2019. Mitch Moreland and Steve Pearce are dependable professionals who will be available along with versatile Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt. Waiting in the arbitration wings is Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers. And speaking of arbitration, expect Betts to approach $30MM. That is just a sampling.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already publicly stated that the Red Sox will not be able to sign all their free agents. Just who? The comment is cryptic since it leaves it up to the imagination of the reader, but I see eventually a Sophie’s Choice of free agents and potential free agents with the key being Betts. Do you let two or three walk for the sake of one?
Betts is a generational player and the very best player I have ever seen play for the Red Sox. I am talking a very long time span (1953) and this is Larry Bird, Tom Brady, Bobby Orr, and Bill Russell territory as far as talent is concerned. You don’t let talent like that escape. Or do you? Bryce Harper is gone and many others have been shuffled off to get something instead of nothing – Manny Machado for one.
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I have to extinguish the emotion and examine it as a cold fiscal decision. Based on all those elaborate fiscal projections this will continue to be an issue into the next decade. So let Betts walk or trade Betts after the 2019 season? I cannot even begin to comprehend the PR nightmare that will ensue. I would even contemplate starting a Go Fund Me Page. But that other option?
Lastly, an approach that the Red Sox seem to dismiss falls into the category of “What would Yawkey do?” Tom Yawkey had no issue with spending money on his team. Some of it squandered and some of it not. With the beginning stages of free agency looming Yawkey dived right in and if Yawkey lived today there is absolutely zero doubt he would consider the luxury tax a business inconvenience.
The Red Sox ownership is willing to spend and spend lavishly and foolishly. Dead money (Pablo Sandoval), bonus money penalties ( Yoan Moncada), and high-profile contracts (David Price), but they also have a modicum of restraint and are astute businessmen. The ownership leaves emotion behind so a Yawkey approach seems a relative long shot. Too bad.
Now just let’s put all this pedantic nonsense on hold like one would a nightmare and enjoy the upcoming season. Maybe a nice run by Mookie for back-to-back MVP Awards? At least I got my Betts nightmare out-of-the-way for now.