Mookie Betts is seemingly reluctant to sign a contract extension to stay in Boston. Due to Betts’s mindset, there is a strong case to trade him elsewhere.
Mookie Betts was approached by the Boston Red Sox at the end of the 2017 season with an 8-year, $200 million dollar contract. He was coming off one of his worst seasons, slashing .264/22/104. He was only 8 percent better than a league-average hitter – a 108 OPS+.
Betts was willing to bet (no pun intended) on himself to put up a strong season and he did, winning the MVP, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, and World Series all in one season. He was a huge help to the historic 108-win season by the Red Sox, improving to the tune of a .346 batting average, .640 slugging percentage, and a 186 OPS+. All of this led to one of the greatest seasons in MLB history with a 10.9 WAR.
Now, Betts is coming off a good season with the Red Sox and he is approaching free agency. Similar to 2019 Nolan Arenado, he is a homegrown superstar who is one year of free agency. However, unlike Arenado, Betts hasn’t displayed an interest to sign any sort of an extension, instead looking to test free agency.
There have been many rumors since the beginning of the offseason about the Red Sox having a desire to trade Betts. He is set to make $27 million in arbitration per MLB Trade Rumors. Now, with J.D. Martinez set to be in a Boston uniform on Opening Day, in order to reset the luxury tax threshold, Chaim Bloom will have to creatively navigate through this offseason.
One way to cut payroll would be to trade Betts. The 2018 MVP would not carry much value considering there is only one year left on his expiring contract. However, one top prospect could be expected to come back to Boston if Betts were dealt.
Betts has made it very clear that he will not take a discount and is looking for the best offer he can get pen to paper. By that logic, if Boston were to ship him to another club, number 50 could be patrolling right field again in 2021 as long as the Red Sox make the best offer.
However, there are three downfalls to this proposal. First of all, this would most likely eliminate the Red Sox from World Series contention in 2020. If Boston could go back to that magical 2018-team but subtract Betts, that is still a 98-win team. He meant a lot to that team and that would be quite an accomplishment to achieve a 98-win season after losing your best player.
Second, there is a possibility that Betts could sign an extension with his new team if traded. While that seems unlikely, you can never discount it as a possibility.
Lastly, trading Betts could weaken his relationship with the Red Sox organization. This could come into effect if Betts is offended by getting traded, but if he is consistent, he should be hunting the best offer in free agency.
Despite those negatives, there are many positives. If packaged with another player and bad contract, money can be saved in 2021 and beyond. If payroll is shrunk for those seasons, that money can go towards a Betts contract.
Also, packaging Betts with another player can cut wasted payroll space and ultimately help dip under the luxury tax threshold. Resetting the payroll in 2020 can allow for a payroll increase in the following years. A possible trade with the New York Mets could look like this:
Red Sox acquire: Jeff McNeil
Mets acquire: Mookie Betts, Nathan Eovaldi
This trade would allow Boston to cut Betts for 2020 and Nathan Eovaldi for the next three seasons. The Red Sox would acquire a second baseman for the future in Jeff McNeil, with Michael Chavis shifting to first base.
This trade would be similar to the 2012 trade in which the Red Sox unloaded Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Nick Punto, and Josh Beckett on the Dodgers – over $250 million dollars. Similar to that trade, the Red Sox would be giving the Mets a lot of talent. However, Betts and Eovaldi only have one and three years of control remaining.
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The Red Sox acquire a long-term piece in McNeil and he can man second base for the foreseeable future. Trading Betts isn’t optimal, but if the Red Sox are that desperate to duck under the luxury tax, this trade could make sense. Cutting salary now in order to add it later could be a viable strategy.
The trade makes sense for the Mets, as they acquire a fifth starter or possible dominant arm in the bullpen in Eovaldi. The Mets lack a true center fielder and Betts can definitely play center. McNeil will be blocked at second by Robinson Cano for the next four years so dealing him to Boston makes sense.
Overall, this trade would allow for the Mets to win in the last year of Marcus Stroman’s contract. It would give them a powerful fourth starter if he departs in Eovaldi. Betts would allow the Mets to be a World Series contender in 2020. The Mets seem to be in a position to win and possibly join the postseason mix in 2020. The World Series-winning Washington Nationals actually had a losing record to the Mets in 2019. That shows that a few pieces are missing from a possible return to the World Series.
This trade makes sense for the Red Sox as they unload the awful Eovaldi contract and cut payroll for 2020. With this trade, over $44 million is saved in 2020, and $17 million is trimmed from the 2021 and 2022 payroll.
If this trade goes through, the Red Sox will save enough money to re-sign Betts next offseason. If everything goes according to plan, Betts may not be on the Red Sox roster in 2020, but will be manning right field from 2021 and the foreseeable future afterwards.