Red Sox

Bryce Harper rooting for Mookie Betts 'to make more money than I do' in free agency

Bryce Harper rooting for Mookie Betts 'to make more money than I do' in free agency

BOSTON -- Bryce Harper was one of the earliest passengers on the Mookie Betts bandwagon, even as its namesake made him a victim of highway robbery.

The 2015 Fenway home opener featured the Nationals and their superstar 22-year-old, but Betts stole the show. He not only went 2-for-4 with a homer and two steals, he also made a leaping catch in right-center to rob Harper of a homer and then gushed about what an honor it was to share a field with him.

The two future MVPs were born only nine days apart in October of 1992, but by 2015 Harper had already established himself as a superstar, while Betts was still finding his way. "He'd be in the lineup every day if he was mine," Harper said at the time.

Fast forward just four short years, and there's no missing either of them. Harper is in the first year of a record 13-year, $330 million contract with Philadelphia, while Betts is a year away from hitting the market himself and discovering what riches it holds.

With the Phillies in town for a two-game series, that made Harper the perfect man to discuss Betts' future, because he has lived it.

"Just seeing him play through the minors and then when he got up here, he was such an electric player," Harper told NBC Sports Boston. "He's one of those guys who can change the game in an instant on both sides of the ball. He's a really good person as well off the field. Just a guy you'd want on your franchise for a long time."

The Red Sox agree, but they won't be the only team vying for his services if Betts reaches free agency. Harper faced a similar predicament with the Nationals last year, at one point reportedly declining a $300 million extension.

Whatever connection Harper felt with Washington, the team that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, it didn't supersede his collectively bargained right to test the market.

"For myself and other players, you earn that opportunity to go there," Harper said. "You're locked in for a long period of time with one team once you get drafted, and then you have an opportunity to go and listen to other teams and see what they have to offer. It's a fun time, it's a good time to feel wanted, and Mookie is going to be wanted by a lot of teams and I think Boston is going to be one of them."

Harper rattled off a list of former teammates and executives in Washington he expects will remain lifelong friends. He has nothing but good things to say about his seven seasons there. But he also recognized that perhaps his time had run its course in ways that should make sense to Red Sox fans wondering how the team will find the money to pay Betts, MVP candidate Rafael Devers, and young outfielder Andrew Benintendi, among others.

"It was time for both sides," Harper said. "[The Nationals] have Juan Soto and Victor Robles, [Anthony] Rendon, a lot of players coming up. It was time to go somewhere else and I'm just happy I'm here and very happy I'm in Philly."

Harper's free agency experience lasted months, which is perhaps baseball's new normal. He didn't sign with the Phillies until the end of February, but he didn't sweat it, and he doesn't think Betts should either.

"I didn't mind it," he said. "Only having a couple of weeks in spring training was nice, some extra time with family and friends. But it's part of the process. It's part of what teams and players are doing now. It's going to be a long process for him, but I think he'll be able to handle that. He has a great head on his shoulders and a great family."

While Harper's contract remains the biggest ever signed by a free agent, it was in short order eclipsed as baseball's richest by Mike Trout's 12-year, $430 million extension with the Angels. Harper would love to see Betts achieve even greater financial heights.

"Just like Trout did," Harper said. "Mookie's an incredible player. If he has an opportunity to make more money than I do, then I hope he does."

Whatever Betts ultimately lands on the market, Harper still has one bone to pick. He ended up winning the MVP in 2015 after hitting .330 with 42 homers and 99 RBI. All of those numbers would've been higher, except Betts had other ideas.

"It should've been 43," Harper said with a wry smile. "So, appreciate it, Mookie."

 

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Is there time for Red Sox to trade Mookie Betts before spring training?

Is there time for Red Sox to trade Mookie Betts before spring training?

February arrives this weekend, spring training begins in two weeks, and Mookie Betts remains on the Red Sox roster.

This leads to an obvious question: with rumors swirling about interest from the Padres and Dodgers, is there still time for the Red Sox to swing a trade?

According to chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, the answer is yes.

"Sometimes the action happens early, some years it happens late," Bloom said recently. "Obviously, closer to spring training there are practical hurdles. You want to feel like you have time for the impact of anything to settle. But I've been around deals that happened very late and there's certainly still time. But I don't say that to indicate anything one way or the other, just to answer your question."

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It turns out that history is with him, though blockbuster trades this late in the offseason certainly aren't common.

Examine 20 years' worth of transactions and you'll find a handful of impact deals that occurred between Jan. 27 and Opening Day. Most don't involve the kind of money — $27 million — the Red Sox are trying to move with Betts, but it's worth noting how tricky they are to consummate this close to the start of the season.

Since 2000, five deals generally fit Boston's current parameters: trading an All-Star caliber player this close to the season, when most clubs have settled their budgets and rosters. (For the sake of this exercise, we're not including the monster free agent deals Manny Machado and Bryce Harper signed last February/March with the Padres and Phillies, respectively).

Two of the five deals don't realistically compare to Betts, though. On this date in 2006, the Red Sox acquired center fielder Coco Crisp from the Indians for a package that included top prospect Andy Marte and catcher Kelly Shoppach. Crisp was good, but not great, and the Red Sox acquired him while he still had arbitration eligibility remaining.

Likewise, the everything-must-go Marlins shipped All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies last Feb. 7 for a pair of prospects, a fringe big leaguer, and international bonus money. Realmuto had two years of team control remaining when the Phillies acquired him.

That leaves three deals involving players the caliber of Betts — trades of former MVPs Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, as well as Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.

Let's break down each to try gain some insight into what the Red Sox face.

Feb. 10, 2000: Mariners trade Ken Griffey Jr. to Reds

When owner John Henry told reporters in September that the team wanted to drop below the $208 million luxury tax threshold, he effectively put his next GM in a box, but it's nothing compared to the one Seattle's Pat Gillick found himself in during the winter of 1999-2000.

He entered that offseason knowing he needed to trade  the former MVP and all-around best player in baseball before his contract expired in a year, but Griffey's 10-5 rights meant he could dictate his destination, and he provided the M's with only four options: the Reds, Mets, Astros, and Braves.

Gillick negotiated all winter before finally striking the February deal that sent Griffey to his hometown Reds for a package that included future Gold Glover Mike Cameron and right-hander Brett Tomko.

Cameron ended up making as many All-Star games (1) as Griffey over the next four years, winning two Gold Gloves to Junior's zero. He also played an integral role in the 116-win behemoth of 2001, while Griffey never made the postseason over his nine years in Cincinnati.

Here's where the Betts comparison falters, though. Griffey arrived in Cincinnati at age 30, while Betts only just turned 27. Betts should be that much further from his decline, buying his next team some more leeway if it signs him to a long-term deal.

Feb. 16, 2004: Rangers trade Alex Rodriguez to Yankees

Red Sox fans need no reminder of how this deal went down.

Boston spent half of that offseason trying to acquire the defending MVP, striking a complicated deal involving Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Magglio Ordonez, and others. It would've pulled it off, too, except the MLBPA balked at Rodriguez reducing his salary.

So in swooped the Yankees at the 11th hour by dangling slugging infielder Alfonso Soriano, completing the trade that put Rodriguez in pinstripes and made him villain No. 1 in Boston for the next decade.

While Rodriguez imported more than his share of controversy to the Yankees clubhouse before retiring in disgrace, he also delivered, winning a pair of MVP awards and the only World Series title of his career in 2009.

If there's a tie to Betts, it's the idea that the Red Sox could move down the road with one club — let's say the Padres — before a division rival with massive resources springs into action, in this case the Dodgers.

Feb. 2, 2008: Twins trade Johan Santana to Mets

Sometimes, there are no right answers.

Take the 2008 trade that sent the two-time Cy Young Award winner to New York before he played out the final year and $13.25 million on his contract.

Minnesota's rookie GM, Bill Smith, knew he couldn't afford Santana long-term (sound familiar?), so he jettisoned him for a pile of prospects, virtually all of whom missed. The best player in the deal was outfielder Carlos Gomez, not that the Twins benefited; he didn't blossom into an All-Star and Gold Glover until 2013 with the Brewers.

Meanwhile, the Mets didn't receive an adequate return on their six-year, $137.5 million investment, either. Santana delivered three good-to-great seasons before injuries effectively ended his career in 2010.

The real what-if in this scenario is how different the deal would look if the Twins had traded Santana to a Red Sox team that boasted Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, and Jed Lowrie in a loaded farm system.

It's a cautionary tale for Bloom as he evaluates competing prospect packages from the Padres and Dodgers, because making the right deal for the wrong players accomplishes nothing.

MLB Rumors: Red Sox' Mookie Betts trade talks with Padres at this sticking point

MLB Rumors: Red Sox' Mookie Betts trade talks with Padres at this sticking point

The Boston Red Sox are at a franchise-altering fork in the road.

The Red Sox reportedly are in negotiations with the San Diego Padres regarding a trade for star outfielder Mookie Betts, who becomes a free agent in 2021.

According to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, though, those negotiations have hit a snag.

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The Padres are willing to send outfielder Wil Myers, "two young major leaguers and at least one prospect" to the Red Sox in exchange for Betts, Acee reported Monday.

Betts is set to earn $27 million on the final year of his contract, however, so in return for taking on his contract, San Diego wants Boston to take on more of Myers' hefty deal, per Acee:

Myers is owed $61 million over the next three seasons, and the Red Sox are offering to assume about half that. Sources said the Padres would prefer to eat only about a quarter of the money owed Myers in order to take on Betts’ salary.

Acee also listed several major league-level players the Padres are willing to send to Boston, per his sources: outfielders Manuel Margot (a former Red Sox prospect) and Josh Naylor as well as starting pitchers Cal Quantrill and Joey Lucchesi.

A haul of Myers, Margot or Naylor, Quantrill or Lucchessi and a prospect would be a solid return for Betts. If the Red Sox are serious about getting under the $208 luxury tax threshold, though, they may need to keep negotiating.

As The Boston Globe's Alex Speier points out, Chaim Bloom and Co. would be able to get under the luxury tax if they assume about $30 million (half) of Myers' salary but would need to make additional moves if they take on any more of his remaining deal.

Boston reportedly is also discussing a Betts deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, so it has some leverage. But whether Betts is on the roster this spring may come down to the money.