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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