Time for Boston Red Sox to trade superstar Mookie Betts . . . NOW
By Mike Towle
It’s now January with the start of Red Sox spring training just a month away, yet the plight of Mookie Betts remains in limbo. It’s time to let him go.
After two months of writing about the Boston Red Sox for BoSox Injection, it’s time for me to take off my self-applied shackles and ditch the filters. This is where I crawl out of former MLB beat writer mode, the one in which I agonize over statistical research and sweat out the details in carefully offering dispassionate analyses.
Time to put my BoSox fan cap on.
Red Sox Baseball Chief Chaim Bloom needs to trade Mookie Betts now. Today. By the end of the week at the latest. Waiting until the July 31 trade deadline does no good. By then, the season will be two-thirds over, and about $19 million of Betts’s estimated $28 million arbitrated salary will be inked into the Red Sox books. A $9 million savings. Big whoop.
As Peter Abraham just wrote in the Boston Globe, the Sox’s taxable payroll currently stands at about $228 million. That puts them $20 million over the $208 million threshold that Sox brass has supposedly committed to digging a tunnel under so they can reset their tax rate at zero. This year, presumably.
As Abraham succinctly put it, this offseason has become a luxury-tax watch without fun for Red Sox fans. Bloom has added five players from outside the organization to the Red Sox fold, but it’s been all nickel-and-dime stuff. No big trades, no inflated free-agent deals blown up to Macy’s parade proportions. Instead, we drag through January, scraping our gums for entertainment.
This painstakingly careful roster/payroll makeover was expected when the Sox hired Bloom. The idea was that he would work his Billy Beane-esque sleight of hand to find hidden gems in inexpensively plugging gaps. Keep in mind, though, that when “Moneyball” came out, there was only one Billy Beane in Major League Baseball – someone who could put together a playoff-caliber team via keenly innovative analytics, void of whopper contracts.
Now, some 15 or so years later, there are arguably at least a half-dozen or more Billy Beanes in baseball – Bloom among them – all doing the same thing, peering under the same rocks and squinting through the same microscopes, seeking that discarded piece, bargain-basement free agent, or Island of Misfit Toys alum that, given the right coaching and tailormade role, will turn him into another DJ LeMahieu or, ahem, Rich Hill.
The most exciting ‘development’ this offseason has been the Betts-to-Los Angeles-Dodgers storyline with nine lives that has yielded . . . zip. One day the talks are reportedly serious, the next day not so much. All to be expected on slow media days. Other than the parties involved (Bloom and Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman, and their respective front offices), no one is really sure what the hang-up is.
Could it be how much of Betts’s presumed $28 million salary the Red Sox are supposed to eat? Or how many, and which, Dodgers prospects (if any) the Red Sox get back? Or must the Red Sox throw in either Michael Chavis or Bobby Dalbec to get the Dodgers to budge?
Whatever the issue(s), the Red Sox need to get this done asap – as do the Dodgers, so they, too, can have time on their end to make a Betts landing in Dodgertown a smooth transition for everyone. The Red Sox need this done – now – to turn this payroll tax narrative into a side note instead of a 24/7 fountain of angst at 4 Jersey Street and across Red Sox Nation.
There will be blowback from media and fans when Betts finally gets traded, but that will blow over by the end of the month. Just another brief (dust) storm. If trading Betts means there is a lesser chance of re-signing him when he becomes a free agent next fall, so be it. Whether he plays for the Red Sox in 2020 or not, beyond that we’re looking at 10 years, $350 million (or more), or maybe eight years and $300 million. Yuck.
The Pollyanna view is that that is the price you pay to get, maybe, four or five more All Star-worthy seasons out of someone like Betts. If the rest of that tenure is so-so, or zilch, well, welcome to 2020 Moneyball. At worst, it’s a fat contract that becomes a huge albatross if Betts gets hurt and/or reverts to hitting in the .260s like he did for all of 2017 and was at the halfway point of 2019. Yeah, I’m one of the holdovers who thinks that while WAR is a worthy comp, I still prefer old school BA, slugging, and ERA.
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The good news for the Red Sox and Betts’s trade value is that, magically, it has crept skyward despite no Betts at-bats, no hits, no runners thrown out at third since Sept. 29. Just like Elvis’s celebrity and record sales shot up after he left the planet, Betts’s greatness – now compared in Red Sox annals to Ted Williams (really?) – has kept climbing since he left the 2019 season behind. His stock is through the roof. Clearly the time to trade him is now. If not the Dodgers, maybe the Atlanta Braves or Texas Rangers? The Mets? Don’t laugh.
One last thought: Betts is valuable to the Red Sox, no question, but he’s not indispensable. They can finish 19 games out in the AL East with him in the lineup just as easily as they can win a World Series title. The true Red Sox difference-maker is the starting pitching. If Sale and David Price can stay healthy, for real, in 2020, and if Eduardo Rodriguez picks up where he left off in 2019, the Red Sox should win more than 84 games, with or without Betts.
Trade Mookie, and then move Andrew Benintendi back to leadoff. He should be beyond the growing pains he experienced briefly batting No. 1 in 2019. If Benintendi produces as he did in 2017 and 2018, the Red Sox will still average more than five runs a game. He is presumably as fast as Betts, capable of stealing more than the 16 swipes Betts had in 2019 (c’mon, Mookie, that’s it?), and score well over 100 runs (Mookie had 135), with the same trio of Rafael Devers, Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez hitting behind him.
Trade Mookie now. Get it done. Let’s get out of first gear and start living life with a new normal for the Red Sox.