Red Sox could trade Mookie Betts, then sign him in free agency
By Rick McNair
The general consensus is if the Boston Red Sox trade Mookie Betts, his Boston career is a memory. Not if they target Betts as a free agent in 2021.
Is Mookie Betts gone from Boston? Apparently, the oddsmakers, pundits, social media aficionados and baseball glitterati have made the Betts era with the Red Sox a pleasant memory with a disappointing loss of a once in a generation player being vanquished to the Mets, Phillies, or elsewhere.
The Red Sox have a mandate real or a smokescreen to reduce payroll and get under the limbo line of a $208 payroll to avoid the complications of a punitive luxury tax. A fiscal diet is now the prescribed medicine for the Red Sox and the biggest lump of change is Betts and his possible $30 million salary via arbitration for 2020.
In the good news and bad news department is the fact that the extraordinarily talented Betts will give the Red Sox a possible combination of ready for prime time players and the proverbial blue-chip prospects in a trade. That will do little to ease the pain of losing the affable and five-tool talent of Betts. But is it temporary? A legal separation and then a reconciliation?
The Yankees made a similar move with Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs in a mid-July deal that brought Gleyber Torres and others into pinstripe heaven. The Yankees simply signed Chapman in free agency to a contract of all contracts for a relief pitcher. Could Boston do the same with Betts?
The money is the issue and that means finding a few dollars here and a few more dollars there to have the flexibility to re-sign Betts. That also means looking at another big-ticket to jettison from the payroll ledger. The most likely candidate is David Price and his $32 million that will be part of the 2021 payroll scrum. Price will also get another $32 million in 2022 and then the Red Sox reach freedom as Price’s contract is done.
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To trade Price now with $96 million owed is unlikely unless Boston is willing to absorb a very healthy portion of that contract. Performance and health limits moving Price this offseason in addition to a staggering contract, but a reasonably successful 2020 could change dramatically the value of Price. Each month that salary diminishes and pitching has a premium value.
Even if Price is just mediocre in 2020, that payroll tab is sliced by one-third. Paying part of $64 million is more attractive than paying part of $96 million. Zack Greinke became more valuable for trade as his contract shrank, but his performance didn’t. You could even apply the same contract conditions to Chris Sale and then there is J.D. Martinez.
Martinez has an opt-out now and the next season and for repetition the next. If Martinez walks there are your savings and if he stays the Red Sox have a possible trade chip, especially if the National League adopts the designated hitter. But the key is not relying on multiple and sketchy chips falling into place it is the viability of signing a potential free agent Betts.
Trading with the Red Sox would be risky to get one year or part of a year of service from Betts. Would a team have in place an Adrian Gonzalez type situation where the Red Sox moved several players for Gonzalez with the idea of a fresh contract in the planning stages? Gonzalez signed a seven-year and $154 million extension a few weeks into the season.
Does Betts want to play in Boston? Is there a degree of loyalty to your drafting team and growing up in the organization? Maybe Betts just wants out? That is an unknown, but more may surface if Betts is elsewhere.
The end of days will not happen if Betts is gone. Nomar Garciaparra left and Boston won a title. The same happened with Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz. If the organization rebuilds via freeing up money, judicious trades, and restocking the farm system, the ship will be on smooth waters with Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts part of the mix.