Red Sox

Five potential landing spots (and one wild card) for Mookie Betts

Five potential landing spots (and one wild card) for Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts would improve any team in baseball, but only a handful of clubs check the boxes that justify acquiring the defending MVP, should the Red Sox make him available.

The first is money. He's going to earn a little under $30 million in arbitration and anyone who can't afford that need not apply.

The second is a deep farm system. The Red Sox must replace him with young talent that's close to major league ready, with at least one potential impact player as the centerpiece of any deal.

The third is a legitimate chance to contend in 2020 (or at least that belief, even if it's misguided), because acquiring Betts means you're going for it. Otherwise, what's the point?

Punch all of that data into the ol' Tandy and the list that emerges is manageable. For the purposes of this exercise, we're going to focus on five teams (plus one wild card), with each team's committed contracts in 2020 (per Baseball-Reference), arbitration estimates (per MLB Trade Rumors), farm system rank (per Baseball America), and contention status (per me).

1. Atlanta Braves

2020 commitments: $83 million
Arbitration estimates: $28.4 million
Farm system rank: 4th
Contention status: World Series

Of all the short- and long-term landing spots for Betts, the Braves have to be considered high on the list. Blessed with one of baseball's best young nucleuses that features 21-year-old MVP candidate Ronald Acuña Jr. and 22-year-old NL hits leader Ozzie Albies, they're a team on the rise trying to sell out a new ballpark.

Betts fits their mix of veterans (Freddie Freeman, Josh Donaldson) and aforementioned youth to a T, and he could be just the piece to put them over the top. Atlanta has seen its win total increase in each of the last five seasons, from 67 in 2015 to 97 in 2019, but it has lost its last 10 playoff series since 2001 and is desperate to break through.

Making a match even more feasible, Atlanta's farm system remains stacked, even after graduating contributors like right-hander Mike Soroka and outfielder Austin Riley to the big leagues. With six top-100 prospects, including right-handers Ian Anderson, Drew Waters, and Kyle Wright, the Braves have the pieces to deal.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

2020 commitments: $125 million
Arbitration estimates: $53 million
Farm system rank: 5th
Contention status: World Series

Speaking of needing to be put over the top . . .

After two straight World Series losses, the Dodgers were shocked in the NLDS by Howie Kendrick and the Nationals. They've since faced criticism that their patient build through youth and shorter-term contracts has cost them potential superstars, even though they possess some of the most robust resources in the game.

One year of Betts would actually fit their model perfectly, since the bulk of their roster is only signed through 2020 or 2021. They'd need to move center fielder A.J. Pollock to open a spot for Betts, who'd add a dynamic table-setting component to the NL's best offense, which is homer-heavy.

As for what L.A. has to offer, the Dodgers have boasted a top-five farm system in four of the last five years, and they keep churning out star-caliber players, whether it's NL MVP favorite Cody Bellinger, All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, or potential ace Walker Buehler. One name to watch is right-hander Dustin May, who could be next in the pipeline.

3. Chicago Cubs

2020 commitments: $161 million
Arbitration estimates: $48.3 million
Farm system rank: 29th
Contention status: Playoffs

Oh, man, are the Cubs at a crossroads. After winning it all in 2016, they have systematically dismantled their farm system while recklessly chasing one more title with the Kris Bryant-Anthony Rizzo-Javier Baez core.

That bill is about to come due in a big way, with the core trio expiring after the 2021 season. The Cubs are locked in to some terrible contracts, whether it's $184 million for underachieving right fielder Jason Heyward or $126 million for fragile right-hander Yu Darvish.

They'd have to get creative to fit Betts for even one year since the top 15 players on their roster will count for more than $200 million next year. Their farm system is also pretty wiped out, but don't discount Theo Epstein, who drafted Betts in 2011 and has watched him blossom into a superstar from afar.

Going all in on one last title run is how the Cubs have gotten themselves into long-term trouble, but their window is slamming shut, and Betts could be a one-year difference maker before the reckoning.

4. San Diego Padres

2020 commitments: $101 million
Arbitration estimates: $25.6 million
Farm system rank: 2nd
Contention status: 2-3 years away

The Padres proved their willingness to spend last winter when they landed Manny Machado for 10 years and $300 million. Machado delivered a disappointing season, but there's reason for optimism, particularly at shortstop, where rookie Fernando Tatis Jr. slugged 22 homers in only 84 games.

The Padres feel they're on the cusp, thanks to an absolutely loaded farm system that delivered both Tatis and 23-year-old right-hander Chris Paddack (9-7, 3.33) last year, and is stacked with big-league ready prospects, including left-hander MacKenzie Gore.

Coming off a 70-win season, it's hard to envision the Padres suddenly making a playoff run. But they weren't afraid to spend last year, and Betts would transform their offense. Most importantly, they have the pieces to entice the Red Sox, whether it's right-hander Luis Patino or outfielder Taylor Trammell.

5. Chicago White Sox

2020 commitments: $15.3 million
Arbitration estimates: $32.2 million
Farm system rank: 3rd
Contention status: 2-3 years away

Imagine a White Sox offense that features both J.D. Martinez and Betts? Chicago has the resources to make that admittedly remote scenario happen, with basically no money committed to next season. The other Sox are ready to take the next step behind a sneaky-dangerous core of AL batting champ Tim Anderson, former Red Sox farmhand Yoan Moncada, and slugging youngster Eloy Jimenez.

Their well-regarded farm system has already delivered hard-throwing right-hander Dylan Cease, and there's more where that came from, whether it's outfielder Luis Robert, rehabbing right-hander Michael Kopech, or second baseman and Dustin Pedroia clone Nick Madrigal.

The White Sox were in on Manny Machado last winter and could turbocharge their rebuild with Betts after hanging on the periphery of the AL wild card race for half of 2019.

6. New York Mets

2020 commitments: $127.5 million
Arbitration estimates: $48 million
Farm system rank: 28th
Contention status: Pretenders

And here's our wild card. The Mets made a splash under agent-turned-GM Brody Van Wagenen with last winter's Edwin Diaz trade and then the deadline acquisition of Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman, but they seem unlikely to add enough payroll to accommodate Betts.

And yet … an offense built around Rookie of the Year lock Pete Alonso alongside a deep pitching staff (Jacob DeGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Stroman, Steven Matz) has the Mets thinking playoffs, especially after their blistering 46-26 second half.

We'll find out in 2020 how real that performance was, but in the meantime, imagine replacing center fielder Juan Lagares with Betts? The temptation should be very real for Van Wagenen, although the issue will be finding the talent to send back, since New York's farm system is thin.

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Jeter Downs comes out on top in latest Red Sox prospect rankings

Jeter Downs comes out on top in latest Red Sox prospect rankings

When it comes to Red Sox prospects, there's a new No. 1 in town, and considering how he was acquired, that's probably a good thing.

Middle infielder Jeter Downs is now Boston's No. 1 prospect, according to rankings released by MLB.com on Tuesday. He displaces former No. 1 pick Triston Casas, a power-hitting first baseman who dropped to second.

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Downs and Casas are the only two Red Sox prospects who cracked MLB Pipeline's overall top 100, checking in at 48th and 83rd, respectively.

Downs wasn't even a member of the organization until February, when he arrived from the Dodgers in the reworked Mookie Betts trade. While outfielder Alex Verdugo was considered the centerpiece of that deal from a big league readiness perspective, Downs is exactly the kind of player the Red Sox hope to stock their farm system with in the coming years.

He broke out during his age-20 season in 2019, smashing 24 homers, stealing 24 bases, and ending the year in Double A. He just turned 22 and is considered a future big league second baseman, though he has played nearly 200 games in the minors at short.

Casas, meanwhile, possesses impressive power of his own, with 20 homers in the minors as a teenager. Still only 20, the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder may not even be done growing, which makes him a potential power-hitting behemoth.

The rest of the top 10 shows a farm system in transition, and one that MLB ranked 26th in baseball. First baseman Bobby Dalbec is the No. 3 prospect, followed by right-hander Bryan Mata, outfielder Gilberto Jimenez, right-hander and Navy airman Noah Song, returning left-hander Jay Groome, outfielder Jarren Duran, and righthanders Thad Ward and Tanner Houck.

Before he blows it up, Chaim Bloom should give Red Sox a chance

chaim_bloom_2020.jpg
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Before he blows it up, Chaim Bloom should give Red Sox a chance

Here at NBC Sports Boston, we like to run a segment on "Early Edition" and "Boston Sports Tonight" called "Buy or Sell," and from Chaim Bloom's perspective, the answer seems obvious — sell anything that isn't nailed down.

Except it's not that simple. Bloom's last-place Red Sox happen to reside in a flawed American League. If the season ended today, the Baltimore Orioles would claim the eighth and final playoff spot. The Orioles, in case you've forgotten, are terrible.

That's the sign of a garbage playoff system, but this is a garbage season. And before the Red Sox start filling any dumpsters, perhaps they should explore one.

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Huh? Hear me out.

The obvious course of action would be to strip the roster, and by the Aug. 31 deadline, that may be the only path available. But even after Monday night's 8-7 loss to the Rays, the 6-10 Red Sox are belatedly showing signs of life, and here's what I'd like to see before depressing the plunger: just one more stinking starter.

Maybe it's a prospect like Bryan Mata, even though the Red Sox have shown no inclination to promote one of their unproven minor leaguers. Maybe it's fireballing left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez, who's being stretched out to open as he returns from a bout with COVID-19. Maybe it's another organization's castoff, though the Red Sox recently passed on former Braves All-Star Mike Foltynewicz.

With three weeks until the Aug. 31 trade deadline, the Red Sox trail the second-place Rays by 2.5 games. They're not going to pass anybody in the standings if they keep trotting out two openers every five days, three if you count right-hander Ryan Weber. Their bullpen simply can't handle it. They've used at least five pitchers 10 times in 16 games, and they've burned through 24 arms in their last four games alone.

That's how someone like Jeffrey Springs ends up pitching an inning that matters despite an ERA north of 13.00, as was the case on Monday, when he allowed the go-ahead runs in the seventh inning of a game he had no business being near, except manager Ron Roenicke couldn't risk running Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes into the ground.

If Bloom could find just one arm, we'd have a couple of weeks to see if the Red Sox can escape the basement. Thanks to an expanded playoff field, the top two teams in each division will advance, and when you're chasing the Orioles, let's just say you should like your chances.

As it is, it's not like a fire sale would net much in return. While the market for prospective free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. or struggling outfielder Andrew Benintendi is negligible, the Red Sox should be able at least to drum up interest in DH J.D. Martinez and closer Brandon Workman.

Martinez is a legitimate opt-out candidate this fall, provided he builds on Monday's three-hit performance, which included his first home run of 2020. Workman is a pending free agent, and a rebuilding club like the Red Sox has more pressing needs than a 32-year-old closer.

The problem is reading the market. While this season will technically end with someone hoisting a trophy, teams may not be willing to part with pieces of their future when contenders like the Cardinals have only played five games in three weeks because of outbreaks. There also may be hesitation to take on future salary when the economic landscape of 2021 remains so uncertain.

And so if you're Bloom and the return is going to be depressed, why not give this team a chance? Maybe Martinez finds his swing. Maybe Rafael Devers overcomes a foot injury and does the same. Maybe another pitcher eliminates an opener from the weekly probables.

There's value in fighting to make the playoffs, and as long as it doesn't harm the future, why not try?