RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: Sorry, Sox fans: Trading Betts remains the right move

RED SOX INSIDER

On one level, the decision by the Red Sox to trade homegrown MVP Mookie Betts will always be gross. They're baseball royalty, and yet his departure felt inevitable.

"I think everyone knows we don't think they're going to be able to afford Mookie," DH J.D. Martinez correctly noted the day the 2019 season ended.

Equally unsurprising is that Betts has thrived in Los Angeles while leading the Dodgers to a World Series in his debut in blue. Each of his considerable tools has been on display this October, from breathtaking home run robbery, to daring feats on the bases, to relentless at-bats. He has even thrown in an opposite field homer for good measure.

Betts' success has led to predictable caterwauling that the Red Sox blew it, say hello to the 21st century Babe Ruth, and John Henry should just sell the team and be exiled to Liverpool.

David Ortiz has classic take on Betts trade after World Series Game 1

That's partly true. The Red Sox didn't necessarily trade Betts because they believed it was the right move. They otherwise wouldn't have offered him over $300 million. They did it because they knew he didn't want to be here, which he proved by signing the first offer the Dodgers put in front of him rather than reaching free agency, which had always been his stated goal. The 12-year, $365 million contract means he will retire a Dodger in much the same way that Alex Rodriguez is remembered primarily as a Yankee, despite rising to prominence over seven years with the Mariners.

 

The Red Sox will just have to live with that, but here's the thing -- they made the right move, and not even Betts hoisting a World Series trophy next week will change that.

Thanks to roster mismanagement well beyond Betts' control, the Red Sox found themselves precariously positioned as he entered his prime. An aging, injury-prone pitching staff had effectively closed the team's immediate championship window. A barren farm system precluded the arrival of internal reinforcements. And a top-heavy payroll had skewed the roster in ways with no obvious solutions beyond a massive cash infusion that was, as a practical matter, completely unfeasible.

Were the Red Sox really supposed to give Gerrit Cole $300 million after committing over $400 million to David Price, Chris Sale, and Nathan Eovaldi? They decided to ride or die with their rotation, and it turns out they could leave their saddles at home.

Betts, for all his greatness, did not fit their window. He just turned 28 and will be in his 30s before the Red Sox vie for titles again. Were the team a contender, the calculus might've been different. But for a club that might not spend until 2022 or contend until 2024, paying Betts $35 million a year in the hopes that his decline wouldn't be too steep simply qualified as bad business.

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It bears repeating that players Betts' size (5-9, 180) simply aren't built to last. Joe Morgan delivered his last great season at age 32. Tim Raines made his final All-Star team at 27. Andrew McCutchen's last great season came five years ago at age 28. We all know Dustin Pedroia's story.

The one exception is Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, but he was built more like Charles Barkley than Betts' Isiah Thomas.

So why pay Betts to excel during non-contending years, only to begin his decline just as the club begins its ascent? Building some regression into the back of a contract is one thing, but swallowing it for six or seven years is just foolish.

Nobody wants to hear this because we're supposed to pretend the Red Sox boast a limitless payroll, but taking $48 million of Price's money off the books is not insignificant, either, even if it feels distasteful to use a former MVP to facilitate a salary dump.

And the arrival of exciting young outfielder Alex Verdugo at least partly mitigated Betts' absence. Had Betts still been here, how many more games do the Red Sox win? Maybe 26 or 27 instead of 24? The only place that gets them is lower in the draft.

Did Sox offer Betts what he wanted & he still passed?

The Dodgers and Yankees have proven that there's a time and place to spend aggressively, and it's not at the start of a rebuild.

The Dodgers did not boast a single nine-figure contract until signing Betts to his extension. They instead built a monster farm system and made shrewd signings like Justin Turner and Max Muncy, striking for Betts when it became clear he was the missing link.

 

The same goes for the Yankees, who largely sat out the high end of free agency until inking Cole to a record deal last winter to address a thin pitching staff. They instead focused their attention on under-the-radar standouts like DJ LeMahieu and Luke Voit, signing one to a reasonable deal in free agency and acquiring the other from the Cardinals for Chasen Shreve.

So don't despair if Betts adds a second World Series ring to his collection. Had he remained in Boston, his season would've ended three weeks ago, and even if the Red Sox had managed to re-sign him, they'd still be miles from contention, with no obvious path forward.