Quaglia: Trading Mookie Betts is a Move Worth Making for the Red Sox

Mookie Betts and the Red Sox might be parting ways. And it makes sense for the ballclub looking to shed salary.

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The conversation regarding potential Mookie Betts deals appeared to have simmered for a good chunk of time as we approached the heart of winter. At the top of the offseason, a trade sending Betts elsewhere almost seemed certain as the Red Sox made their initial goal clear. They want to dip below that $208 million luxury tax threshold and reset their penalties. Who can blame them for not wanting to pay an additional $13.4 million–which is what they had to pay in 2019–after already having the league’s highest payroll?

But as January came to an end, two teams out in the National League West turned up the heat and are making real, final pushes to acquire the 2018 MVP. The San Diego Padres, and the Los Angeles Dodgers both are now vying for Betts’ services.

And while most Red Sox fans refuse to believe it, or just don’t want to, for several reasons, if you’re Chaim Bloom, trading Mookie Betts makes sense.

Bringing it back to the luxury tax discussion. Bloom and the Red Sox have sent mixed signals when laying out their priorities. The $208 million mark was initially brought to the table by team President, Sam Kennedy, as the failure of the regular season wrapped up. Kennedy noted that this goal would make it difficult to retain both J.D. Martinez and Betts. And as it stands right now, February 2nd, both still sit on the roster, with their salaries eating away at their 2020 payroll projections. However, Kennedy did emphasize that this was a goal and not a mandate.

With the Betts discussion heating back up though, the Red Sox preference is truly starting to reveal itself. No matter how many times that Bloom says that the team wants to hold onto Betts–one of the greatest farm system products this club’s ever seen–if they get the right offer, in the name of their astronomical payroll, they’d be more than willing to send Betts elsewhere.

The Red Sox have all of the money in the world. That’s something we all understand and it’s an argument that’s been consistently used against Boston’s front office. Truthfully, it seems to be the key reason why most fans are angered by the notion of a potential trade. But every few years, from a strictly business standpoint, resetting the harsh penalties that are handed down by the league are somewhat necessary. If the team is able to get themselves below that number, then in 2021, the team can and most likely will spend all they want in order to build a powerhouse that can compete with the New York Yankees. It’s difficult to get angry at a group looking to save approximately $13.4 million just in penalties alone.

Money isn’t even the main focal point of the reasoning here though.

In Dave Dombrowski’s four year reign in Boston, he did exactly as we anticipated he would. He tore apart the farm system in order to build a dominant team that could win a championship. Nobody can fault him for it. That’s what he’s done during his career. Look at the Detroit Tigers for example. They’re still sitting in the barren wasteland left by “Dealing Dave”.

The Red Sox got out in time though to at least salvage what they could. During these four seasons, in order to get guys through the Fenway Park doors so they could bring another championship to the city–Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel just to name a couple–high-end prospects were dealt. Marquee names were packaged, such as Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, and another parade ran through the city of Boston.

But with the shredding of prospects, Boston’s farm system went from one of the most highly regarded in Major League Baseball to a basement dweller.

Watching Mookie Betts play another year in Boston would be great. Trading Betts doesn’t necessarily signal my thoughts about him as a player. He’s the second-best player in the game today and that’s tough to argue. But you have to ask yourself–Will he re-sign a long-term deal back in Boston? And even if he would, is it a smart decision by the Red Sox to give him the reported counter offer that he had of 12-years, $420 million? Giving anybody that kind of contract is asinine, frankly. Betts is a phenomenal player and whichever team he goes to, he’ll electrify the fanbase immediately. But 12 years?

If the Red Sox aren’t going to offer him a contract of that magnitude–and they just shouldn’t–dealing him is the smart decision here. At this point, you essentially have two choices. You trade him now and get back what will be a pretty decent haul of Major League-ready talent mixed with prospects plus the alleviation of his $27 million owed in 2020. And if not choice “A”, then you watch him walk in free agency. Leaving your farm system/lack of highly sought after prospects the exact same.

My gut feeling is that whether it’s this season or next, Betts isn’t here for the longterm. The player is one of the best and most electrifying in baseball today, but that kind of a contract is absurd. However, if you can manage to get the years to dip to perhaps eight or nine, that’s a different discussion. But 12 years? Yikes.

The money doesn’t even matter. Whether it’s $35 million AAV or $36 million AAV, go ahead. The life of that deal though is a deterrent that should make Bloom and Red Sox ownership say, “thanks for your time here in Boston”.

The Dodgers reported offers are much more intriguing than the Padres. In no world should the Red Sox inherit any of Wil Myers’ remaining deal. His lack of productivity just isn’t worth the time and from a PR standpoint, when he struggles at the plate in 2020 at Fenway Park–which he probably would–try explaining that to Red Sox fans while Mookie Betts is putting on a show in San Diego.

If they make a deal at this point, it’ll be with the Dodgers. They have so much more to offer in regards to prospects and Major League-ready talent that fits the bill payroll wise and that has promise on the field.

Latest reports indicate that the Dodgers offer focuses on outfielder Alex Verdugo. Verdugo, currently 23-years-old, put together a solid season in 2019 hitting for a .294 BA, .342 OBP, and an .817 OPS in 106 games. He also showed some pop with 12 home runs.

The most attractive part from a Red Sox viewpoint? The left-handed bat is only estimated to make just below $600,000 in 2020. Something that would truly aid them in their payroll mission.

Package a productive, young, cheap talent with some high-end prospects that LA would be willing to part with–not named Gavin Lux or Dustin May–the Dodgers can throw together a deal that should make Boston pull the trigger relatively confidently. The Padres would really have to enhance their offer in a big way, but with what the Dodgers are showing, they’ll be tough to beat in the Mookie Betts sweepstakes.

The alleviation of salary, and getting at least something to help benefit your club’s future instead of watching Betts just walk out of Fenway next season in search of a new home should be reason enough to trade him. He’s been incredible to watch here in Boston over these few years, but if you’re thinking about the longterm future of the product on the field, this is a move the team should, and probably will make.

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