Red Sox exec claims Mookie Betts loss changed management style, but actions say otherwise
The day after the 2022 Red Sox season ended, manager Alex Cora, Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, and CEO/president Sam Kennedy assembled at Fenway Park to field postmortem and pre-offseason questions.
The biggest questions were about Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. Would the Sox finally pay up? Would they let another homegrown champion (or two) leave? Would they finally make the right decision regarding an in-house superstar, or continue down a path of reputational ruin both with the fans and the rest of the league?
About a month later, Kennedy reiterated the club’s desire to bring Bogaerts back to Boston. This time, he made the brave decision to reference one of the most significant decisions in franchise history:
The Mookie Betts trade.
"“We have not always been able to sign our own homegrown players long-term, I fully acknowledge that, and when that doesn’t happen, it’s disappointing for the fans, and it’s disappointing for us on a personal level. But we get paid to make very, very difficult decisions, and we’ll see how those decisions work out.I think engaging with your players earlier — early and often — about arrangements that are mutually beneficial is something that really well-run teams do and are doing. We just did that with [pitcher] Garrett Whitlock. We’ve had extensions for younger players in the past, and that’s certainly a lesson learned.With Mookie, we could have engaged more effectively earlier on in his career.”via Boston Globe (subscription required)"
These “very, very difficult” decisions haven’t been working out.
In February 2020, looking to reset the luxury tax threshold and rebuild a depleted farm system, Bloom traded Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a David Price salary dump. In return, the Sox received a lackluster return: Alex Verdugo, Connor Wong, and Jeter Downs.
The trade was a disaster from the jump and will remain as such, especially since Betts immediately signed an enormous extension with the Dodgers and then led them to their first World Series championship since 1988. Meanwhile, the Sox finished in last place, two seasons after winning a franchise-record 108 regular-season games and their fourth championship in fifteen years. Compounding the failed trade, Downs was designated for assignment and claimed off waivers by the Washington Nationals before Christmas.
Trading Betts signaled to the rest of the league that the Sox were turning a page, and entering a new chapter of their franchise history in which they would prioritize payroll and prospects over proven winners. The decision turned an oft-tenuous relationship with the fanbase into one separated by an enormous chasm, and they’ve lost respect and good standing for their choices and tactics.
Sam Kennedy claims Red Sox have learned from Mookie Betts trade
At least outwardly, the Sox appear unfazed. Throughout the offseason, Kennedy has repeatedly stated that they need to make the “right decisions,” yet nothing changes. They certainly didn’t apply what they should’ve learned from the Betts debacle to how they handled Bogaerts over the last year. Their idea of ‘engaging’ with their unofficial captain amounted to being his third or fourth-best offer, at least $40M below several other teams who offered $200M or more. Forget the enormous contract Bogaerts signed with the Padres; had the Sox made the ‘right decision’ last winter, they’d still have a captain.
If the Sox really wanted to “engage more effectively” with young talents after losing Betts, they wouldn’t keep making such obscene lowball offers to their best stars. If they’d learned a lesson from their negotiations with their former superstar, they wouldn’t have made Devers a Matt Olson-esque bid last spring. They have to negotiate and haggle without starting from such a low number that they insult their stars from the get-go and sour the proceedings, and they’ve yet to do that. It cost them Bogaerts, and could very well cost them Devers, too.
Kennedy may have wanted to bring up Betts to convince the public of how different things were going to be this time around, but what his words, coupled with subsequent action or lack thereof, suggests is that what the Sox really learned is that they could give away a generational talent and the world wouldn’t stop turning. The sky wouldn’t fall down, the grass would still grow, they’d still make money, and some people would still love the Red Sox. Fewer people, though.
Coming up on three years since the Betts trade, the Sox don’t seem to have learned anything. They certainly haven’t learned that the public knows when they’re lying through their teeth.