The Boston Red Sox should be ashamed of themselves for using the face of the franchise to shed a bloated contract without getting enough in return.
A pit began to form in my stomach that grew with each report that spread across social media like wildfire, rapidly providing updates on an outcome that had become inevitable. My fingers trembled as I frantically scrolled in search of every nugget of information. The more we learned, the worse I felt about what was about to transpire. Was this real or merely an illusion spawned from our worst nightmares? Then it happened – the Boston Red Sox traded Mookie Betts.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan dropped the hammer last night that the Los Angeles Dodgers had agreed to a deal for Betts and David Price.
We would soon learn that outfielder Alex Verdugo was the centerpiece of the package heading to Boston along with Brusdar Graterol, a hard-throwing pitching prospect acquired from the Minnesota Twins in what evolved into a three-team trade. The Red Sox are also expected to cover about half of the $96 million remaining on Price’s contract.
Betts is one of the best position players in baseball. He’s a four-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner. The 2018 MVP has been top-8 on the ballot in each of the last four years, including one runner-up finish. FanGraphs values Betts at 37.2 WAR for his career, placing him 20th among outfielders in MLB history by the age of 26. This is a once in a generation five-tool talent in the prime of his career. Large market teams with the financial advantages of the Red Sox aren’t supposed to lose homegrown players of this caliber.
To say that the return the Red Sox received for the face of their franchise is underwhelming would be a massive understatement. This isn’t even close to the haul we expected when rumors surfaced of a bidding war for Betts between the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres.
The Dodgers had the best potential offer on the table based on what we could piece together from various reports regarding these trade discussions. Verdugo was the main major league-ready piece headlining the package. He’s a fine player who MLB Pipeline ranked as the best prospect in the Dodgers’ deep farm system prior to his impressive rookie campaign last year. The 23-year old has five years of control compared to only one year for Betts, which is no small difference when comparing their trade value.
However, Verdugo is no Mookie Betts on the field and his ceiling isn’t within reach of what the former MVP has already become. Even if we set aside concerns of a back injury that ended his 2019 season or the whispers of character and work-ethic issues, Verdugo wasn’t nearly enough to pry Betts out of Boston.
The Red Sox were supposed to receive another major-league ready piece plus at least one of the enticing prospects the Dodgers have been hoarding. Right-hander Tony Gonsolin was one option who was mentioned. He was the sixth ranked prospect in the Dodgers organization at this time last year and proved he belonged in the big leagues with a strong rookie season. Josiah Gray (No. 67) and Keibert Ruiz (No. 73) were a pair of prospects from MLB Pipeline’s updated top 100 rankings who were reportedly included in these discussions.
Losing Betts was always going to be a tough pill to swallow but this type of haul would make it easier. A young, cost controlled outfield replacement and a pitcher who could slide into the rotation, both of whom have appealing upside. Plus a pair of prospects who immediately would have become the highest rated assets in their farm system. I could get behind that trade.
The Red Sox didn’t get that offer. Not even close. Why not? Their insistence on washing their hands of Price drastically reduced what the Dodgers were willing to surrender. Los Angeles knew that other teams weren’t interested in Price and they used that to swing leverage to their advantage.
This deal is an absolute steal for the Dodgers as they acquire two impact players for essentially nothing. Verdugo might have a bright future but the addition of Betts would have squeezed him out of a starting role. The Dodgers didn’t end up surrendering any of their coveted prospects, flipping Kenta Maeda to Minnesota for one of their prospects to use instead. Price is overpaid and has his fair share of injury red flags but when healthy, the lefty is a clear upgrade to the rotation over Maeda. Los Angeles upgrades two spots and all they had to do was trade two expendable pieces and add about $40 million to their 2020 payroll.
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Meanwhile, the Red Sox used their best player as a sweetener to a salary dump deal. They intentionally took less for Betts in order to shed the remainder of Price’s contract despite that the southpaw’s inclusion was unnecessary to achieve the goal of dipping below the luxury tax line. Boston’s payroll was projected to be around $233 million before this trade so removing the $27 million that Betts is owed would get them comfortably under the $208 million threshold.
Spare me the argument that the Red Sox had to trade Betts because he refused to sign an extension. That’s complete garbage. Betts has earned the right to test free agency in order to maximize his value. His intentions were never meant to signal he wanted to escape Boston. He wanted to stay! He also wants to be paid what he feels he’s worth. Don’t we all?
His ridiculous counter offer to Boston’s last attempt to negotiate an extension also needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Betts was daring the Red Sox to pay him beyond what his ceiling on the open market would be since it was the only way to convince him not to enter free agency. He also asked for that staggering total at the age of 26. He’s obviously not getting a 12-year deal when he hits free agency at the age of 28 and therefore won’t come anywhere near $400 million.
The Red Sox weren’t scared away because they honestly believed it would take that much to sign him next winter. They could have afforded to keep Betts if they really wanted to. Ridding themselves of Price’s albatross contract was apparently more important.
This seems like an appropriate time to remind ourselves that Red Sox owner John Henry is worth an estimated $6.6 billion. It’s laughable to hear him cry poverty. It’s baffling when we are only weeks removed from Henry claiming the mandate to reset the luxury tax penalties was media-driven noise and assured us that his intention was to keep the Red Sox competitive. This trade proves neither statement is true. Henry lied and then spit in the face of Red Sox Nation.
A series of poor signings inflated the payroll to the point where the Red Sox felt compelled to sell their best player for pennies on the dollar. We can blame the previous front office regimes for those mistakes but this ownership group still signed off on those deals. If paying those lucrative salaries was going to ultimately cost them the opportunity to retain Betts, this is an unforgivable level of incompetency.
The good news is that trading away a franchise player for financial relief has never backfired on the Red Sox before. We should feel confident that this club will win another World Series at some point in the next 86 years.