RED SOX

RED SOX: Making Sense of Trading Away Mookie Betts and David Price

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Rambling, incoherent bullet-point thoughts on the Red Sox’s not-shocking-but-still-shocking decision to trade franchise cornerstone Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers:

    • The rumblings about a Betts trade picked up over the last few weeks, with Chaim Bloom creating a market for such a trade by playing NL West rivals the Dodgers and Padres off each other. The last few days made the trade seem like a fait accompli, with the Dodgers emerging as the frontrunner only real question being if Price’s salary was going to be included in the trade. I was afraid including Price would dilute the return for the Red Sox, and while we don’t know yet exactly how much salary they’re eating, it did reduce the overall number of players the Red Sox got back but didn’t necessarily lower the quality of talent. I’ll get to the two newest members of the Red Sox shortly.

 

    • I was across the street from Fenway when the deal went down, at a Rex Orange County show at the House of Blues. The show was excellent, but it was a bit hard to be torn away from my phone while it was happening. Sorry, Rex.

 

    • So, needless to say, this sucks. Mookie is one of the Red Sox best position players in the last 50 years. I loved watching him play. I remember first hearing his name early in his minors career, and following the Alex Speier-inspired hashtag #featsofmookie as this smallish kid started putting up completely absurd, out-of-nowhere numbers. It was a joy to follow him all these years, and he brought every kind of tool to the table as a player. He played RF better at Fenway than anyone in my lifetime. His 2018 season is probably my favorite for any Red Sox player in recent history, with his grand slam against JA Happ representing a turning point for the year one of the greatest regular season moments in franchise history. It really pisses me off he won’t be here this year.

 

    • As for Price, I genuinely hope he finds in LA whatever will make happy, because he was pretty miserable the entire time he was in Boston. He gladly took the Red Sox $217 million and opted into the rest of the deal after shedding the October bugaboo after a glorious 2018 postseason run, one where he should have been World Series MVP. But, Price was never comfortable here and his on-again, off-again feuds with Dennis Eckersley and some other media members were bewildering, pointless and mostly infuriating. I don’t think Price is a bad guy, he had his moments here and by all accounts he’s beloved as a teammate. But Boston was never a fit, and with three straight years of arm injuries this was the right time to get off his money, even if it means paying down half the $96 million he’s owed the next three years.

 

    • Perhaps the biggest thing I don’t like about the trade is the fact that the Red Sox decided to effectively punt the 2020 season in the name of being successful beyond that. Had Bloom and others decided to keep this team together there’s no reason they couldn’t compete with the Yankees and Rays for the division title, especially if the pitching returns to its 2018 level. When you have this much talent, it is really tough to punt on being competitive. But in the aftermath of Alex Cora’s firing, I do wonder if the Red Sox decided this would be a good time to move on and transition to the future. The Red Sox still don’t have a manager, by the way.

 

    • None of us know if the two players the Red Sox got back will pan out. But, they are the types of guys this current farm system has failed to pump out in recent years, and I have hopes they’ll produce for the big league club this year. Alex Verdugo is in the unenviable position of filling Mookie Betts’ shoes, but going into last year he was a consensus top-30 prospect in the game and acquitted himself very well as an everyday contributor on a 106-win team before getting hurt and missing the final two months. He has tools galore and a fabulous lefty stroke that should play well at Fenway. In Brusdar Graterol, the Sox have a top-60 prospect going into the year and the precise kind of pitcher that seemingly every team except Boston has been producing: a flamethrower with the ability to be either a long-term starter or closer. He has a 100 mph two-seamer and I have every expectation the Red Sox will find a way for him to contribute, fast. In total, the Red Sox used their position to acquire 11 years of big-league control for two guys who are locks to be MLB regulars right away. In a vacuum, that is an objectively great move for one year of an elite OF and three years of a distressed asset pitcher. But, this is not a vacuum.

 

    • So, why did this happen? For several years now, Mookie has given every indication he would test the free agency waters after the 2020 season. We don’t know the specific details of extension talks between the club and the player, but at least three times Mookie has declined such overtures. A local radio host recently said that last winter the Sox offered 10 years and $300 million and were countered with a 12-year, $420 million proposal that would put Mookie in league with Mike Trout and basically no one else. That report hasn’t been corroborated by any other reporting, but it’s in league with how far apart the sides were in previous discussions (we don’t know any details on how those discussions went this winter either). Mookie also knows how important he is to the players union and likely wants to get the biggest free agent contract ever handed out. You can only do so much as a team to get a player to sign. His agent may have told the Red Sox that no number from the Red Sox would be high enough, and that he wanted to go to the market regardless. If that’s the case, you cannot blame Bloom and the Red Sox for making this move. While their AL East rivals are pleased for what this trade will mean for their chances in 2020, I am positive Brian Cashman and Erik Neander and Ross Atkins are not pleased the Red Sox picked up those aforementioned 11 years of big league control for quality young talent they would not have otherwise gotten had they let Mookie walk and held onto Price.

 

    • The takes, they are hot. One of the most incorrect hot takes I’ve seen so far is this deal is a straight-up salary dump. Had the Red Sox not included Price’s deal in this transaction, I don’t know if people would feel that way. I think it’s basically a half-salary dump, with Price as the part getting dumped. CBT concerns were not why Mookie was traded. If the Red Sox goal in 2020 was to get under the $208 million CBT threshold, they could have done that anytime between now and the end of the regular season, and they did not need to trade Mookie to do it. They could have seen if Price was going to be healthy and traded him midseason, or moved on from expiring deals such as Jackie Bradley Jr. and others. They traded Mookie because they didn’t want to see him go elsewhere for nothing after 2020, with the moving of his and Price’s salaries a bonus to get under the CBT.  But the idea the Red Sox traded away Mookie Betts for the sole purpose of getting under the CBT is absurd and anyone who tells you different doesn’t know what they are talking about. I do worry that the longer this goes on before an official announcement takes place, the Red Sox risk losing control of the narrative for why this happened. They owe the fans an explanation for why their best player was just dealt with a year left on his deal, the kind of thing a team like the Royals or Pirates might do but seldom ever the Red Sox.

 

    • I also saw the take that the Red Sox should have just given Mookie a deal with a $37M AAV and that would have taken care of everything. Well, we don’t know if that was offered or not, or if Mookie would have taken it. But that $37M AAV number is exactly what Mike Trout is going to make until he turns 38. Just for the sake of comparison, over roughly the same number of games in their first six seasons (which is well before Trout signed his current deal), Mookie’s quadruple slash was .301/.374/.519/.893 with a 134 OPS+, while Trout was .306/.405/.557/.963 with a 170 OPS+. Also, why would the Red Sox give out that size of a contract to someone who hasn’t proven themselves at that level when they’d only be bidding against themselves? I don’t think that is how most smart teams operate. If you don’t believe me, look at the Dodgers’ contracts on Spotrac for 2021.

 

  • Interestingly enough, the Red Sox will find themselves next offseason much better prepared to acquire someone like Mookie in the free agent market, and I would be surprised if the two sides have shut the door completely on that possibility. As long as the sides operated in good faith, and there were no hard feelings involved in the negotiations, I don’t see why a deal couldn’t be revisited. The timing, right before spring training, isn’t great for anyone involved, but I can’t imagine getting to live in LA and be on probably baseball’s best team is going to make Mookie terribly upset the same way Jon Lester wasn’t thrilled to go to Oakland in the middle of the 2014 season. The Red Sox tried, and failed, to bring Lester back. But other teams have been successful in similar circumstances, including the Phillies bringing back Cliff Lee and the Yankees doing the same for Aroldis Chapman.

All the best to Mookie and David in LA. What comes next for the Red Sox is a mystery. This is a sad day. That’s all I got.

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