In the three seasons since the Boston Red Sox traded Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers, his absence has colored every move the Sox make and every loss they take.
In other words, it still stings.
One of the key reasons this trade is constantly revisited is that much like a bad breakup, there’s no closure. Approaching the three-year anniversary of a Harry Frazee-esque decision, it’s still unclear exactly who pulled the trigger on sending away the generational talent, and for such an underwhelming return, at that.
When the Betts trade went down, the educated guess was that ownership directed their brand-new Chief Baseball Officer, Chaim Bloom, to make it happen. Everyone knew why he’d gotten the gig: the Sox had fired Dave Dombrowski and replaced him with the longtime Rays executive, a man who’d made his bones building low payrolls and bountiful farm systems. Betts repeatedly stated that he planned to test free agency, so if they kept him until the end of the season, they’d be left empty-handed. If they traded him, they could add pieces to one of the lowest-ranked farm systems in the league.
In a recent ESPN article about Xander Bogaerts’ departure and Rafael Devers’ uncertain future, Joon Lee had to revisit the Betts trade; the trio, three of the brightest and most important stars the Sox have ever developed, are inextricably linked. How the Sox messed things up with Betts and Bogaerts could very well inform how they proceed with Devers. But according to Lee’s sources, the new Chief Baseball Officer wasn’t exactly following strict instructions when he made the deal with the Dodgers:
"“According to multiple sources, Boston’s ownership group did not mandate that Bloom trade Betts to get under the luxury tax. But that is what Bloom ultimately decided to do, with an eye toward increasing the Red Sox’s options in the future. The team traded Betts and Price to Los Angeles for Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong. And Betts eventually signed a 12-year, $365 million contract with the Dodgers — a deal he told ESPN in August that he would have accepted in Boston.”"
It doesn’t sound good for Bloom, who more than a few have suggested, is totally out of his depth. However, to take these sources at face value ignores one glaring fact: ownership may not have mandated a trade, but they also weren’t going to meet Betts’ asking price. In refusing to up their bid, they backed Bloom into a corner, giving him no choice without having to explicitly tell him what needed to be done.
The club’s negotiation and spending tactics long predated Bloom’s arrival, and add validity to this supposition. Bloom wasn’t here for the nickel-and-diming of David Ortiz every time his contracts expired while handing out fat deals to Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Pablo Sandoval, nor did he partake in the lowballing and trading of Jon Lester, only to overcorrect by overspending on David Price. The Sox also lowballed Betts several times before hiring Bloom in November 2019.
Consider too, that sources provide information on the condition of anonymity, which doesn’t mean Lee’s intel is bad, it just might come from someone trying to push a narrative or agenda. Sox ownership could be scapegoating Bloom, though he’s essentially been one all along; trading one of the top-three players in the league two months into one’s tenure leaves the kind of mark that never really fades. Now, he has a matching one from his mishandling of Bogaerts and might get a third for Devers.
Bloom wouldn’t be the first top executive made to fall on his sword for the organization; while Brian Cashman nears 30 years at the helm of the Yankees, the Sox have Ben Cherington and Dave Dombrowski both constructed championship teams and departed within two seasons. Sox ownership publicly maintained that they wanted Cherington to stay, but the Boston Globe – owned by Sox principal owner John Henry – called it a “baseball operations bloodless coup.”
Ownership’s absence from press conferences over the last three years belies the brass’ insistence that they’re still immersed in the roster construction, and care about winning. The public perception is that Bloom is working within the limitations they set while they busy themselves with other pursuits; they haven’t deigned to show up and prove otherwise. Instead, they’re reportedly gearing up to buy an NBA expansion team for $4 billion.
Bloom has made plenty of mistakes and bad decisions in his first four offseasons in Boston, and ownership has made its share over the last two decades. In the owner-executive relationship, each side brings something to the table. Ownership has the money, the executive is supposed to know how best to spend it. But at the end of the day, Bloom can push and beg all he wants, but it’s still ownership’s money to splurge, scrimp, or save. Henry & Co. may not have explicitly dictated a trade, but they weren’t going to give him a blank check to keep Betts, either.
For this, and many things since, there’s more than enough blame to go around.