Red Sox News: Owner compares Mookie Betts deal to trading Nomar Garciaparra
By Sean Penney
Boston Red Sox owner John Henry’s failed attempt to rationalize the Mookie Betts deal included a misguided comparison to the Nomar Garciaparra trade.
The pain of losing one of the greatest homegrown players in franchise history hasn’t faded. It’s hard to believe that Mookie Betts won’t be strolling into camp any day now. It still stings to see him wearing Dodger blue. The owner of the Boston Red Sox tried to ease the pain by rationalizing this difficult decision but all he accomplished was rubbing salt in the wounds.
Principal owner John Henry released a statement to address fan outrage over the blockbuster deal that shipped Betts and left-hander David Price to Los Angeles for an underwhelming package headlined by a blossoming young star called “payroll relief.”
Henry had plenty of time to carefully craft this message yet still botched it by failing to recognize the magnitude of this franchise-altering mistake. The most glaring example of where Henry misses the point is when he compares this trade to the 2004 deal that sent shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs.
"“I know many of you – particularly our youngest fans – are disbelieving or angry or sad about it. I know it’s difficult and disappointing,” Henry said in his statement.“Some of you no doubt felt the same way in 2004 when we traded Nomar, who like Mookie was a hugely popular, homegrown player.”"
The point Henry was trying to make was that we’ve been down this road before and everything worked out fine. Garciaparra was the most popular player of his generation, one of the best pure hitters we had seen in decades who we believed had a chance to become the best position player to emerge from the Red Sox farm system since Yaz. Nomar was beloved in Boston yet his shocking departure lit the spark that led to a historic postseason run and the franchise’s first World Series title in 86 years.
It was hard to see Nomar go but trading Betts is entirely different. Henry tries to frame these trades a mirror images of each other based on both superstars being popular, homegrown players who were approaching free agency. The similarities end there.
Garciaparra would hit the open market after the 2004 season and was expecting to land a contract in the territory of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, the other pieces of baseball’s Holy Trinity of shortstops at the time. Nomar also harbored some resentment over a failed attempt to replace him with A-Rod, a trade that fell apart over finances and led to Rodriguez going to the Yankees instead.
The damaged relationship combined with Garciaparra’s unrealistic expectations led the Red Sox to believe they wouldn’t be able to re-sign him, which was as significant factor in trading him. Betts was also asking for the moon but only because he’s intent on testing free agency. He genuinely wanted to stay in Boston and would have gladly re-signed if the Red Sox offered him the most money. This was about business without the hard feelings attached.
The Red Sox were hesitant to open their checkbooks for Nomar because he was 30 years old with a troubling injury history. A wrist injury cost him nearly the entire 2001 season and continued to bother him beyond that. He missed the first 57 games in 2004 with an Achilles injury that threatened to sporadically keep him out of the lineup throughout the season.
Those concerns proved valid as Nomar battled a variety of injuries for the rest of his career. He played in only 81 games in 2004, a total he would top only twice in the final five seasons of his career. Giving him a massive extension would have been a mistake.
Betts hasn’t had any major injuries, appearing in 150+ games in three of the last four seasons and never fewer than 136 since his first full season in the big leagues. He’ll be 28 when he hits free agency next winter, still in the prime of his career. Handing a massive contract to a player still at his peak compared to one on the wrong side of 30 is huge difference that can’t go overlooked.
Another factor that led to Boston’s decision to trade Nomar was a desperate need to upgrade their flawed infield defense. Perhaps in part due to his lingering Achilles injury, Garciaparra was struggling through his worst season in the field. Trading him for a pair of former Gold Glove winners in Orlando Cabrera and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz helped shore up a Red Sox defense that led the majors in unearned runs allowed at the time of the trade.
Nomar had also become a bit of a malcontent in his final days in Boston. The image of him pouting in the dugout during an extra-innings battle with the Yankees while Jeter dove into the stands to make a play highlighted how far Garciaparra had fallen from his perch as a local sports icon. While his teammates hated to see him go, trading Nomar removed some negative energy from the clubhouse and replaced it with the infectious Cabrera, who served as a spark plug to re-energize the team.
More from Red Sox News
- Red Sox Nation deserves far more from Fenway Sports Group
- Bizarre trade deadline comes back to haunt Red Sox after Nathan Eovaldi departure
- Red Sox’ Moneyball-style offseason continues with Corey Kluber contract
- Rich Hill’s Red Sox departure puts him within striking distance of unique MLB record
- Red Sox offseason takes another nasty hit with Nathan Eovaldi departure
None of those factors line up with how Mookie was viewed during his final days in Boston. He’s still among the top handful of players in baseball. The Red Sox aren’t improving their roster by trading him for a young outfielder who falls short of what Betts provides in every facet of the game plus a couple of prospects that could be years away from contributing. Trading Nomar added pieces that solved a weakness, turning the Red Sox into champions. Trading Betts was about saving money.
The Garciaparra trade worked out. Manny Ramirez had to go when the team finally got fed up with him. Jacoby Ellsbury turned out to be a disaster signing for the Yankees. Henry cherry-picked some examples of when he let talented players leave and looked like a genius in retrospect.
He might have been better off leaving out the Jon Lester reference though. The botched contract negotiations that led to the lefty’s exit remains one of the biggest stains on this ownership’s legacy. Trading Lester paved the way for the Red Sox to overspend on Price, creating the financial mess that ultimately cost them Betts.
Even the Lester fiasco pales in comparison to losing Betts. As great as Lester was and rightfully celebrated for his postseason heroics, he was never in the same elite class as Mookie. The Red Sox traded Lester at the deadline when they were on their way to a last-place finish. We can blame ownership for screwing up the contract negotiations before that season but trading Lester was the smart choice once they were out of the race and certain to lose him to free agency.
Maybe the Red Sox would have lost Betts for nothing if he walked in free agency but this roster is significantly better than the 2014 squad. Boston would have a legitimate chance to challenge for a World Series title if they kept Betts and had better luck in the health department from their starting rotation. Instead, they decided to punt on the 2020 season before it started. So no, this is nowhere close to when they traded Lester in the middle of a lost season. At least they entered 2014 expecting to try.
It’s never an easy decision to trade a popular player. Henry is pretending he can sympathize with us when really all he’s doing is deflecting blame. The Red Sox did not need to trade Betts. They made the trade in order to slash payroll so a billionaire could save a few million bucks in luxury tax penalties. Are those payroll savings being used to reduce the price of tickets for fans? Of course not. So, why should we sympathize with the owner?