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.

Ranking the Top 10 outfielders in free agency>>>>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Want to know what it's like to be on both sides of a Mookie Betts-style trade? These 2 GMs are your guys

Want to know what it's like to be on both sides of a Mookie Betts-style trade? These 2 GMs are your guys

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It's hard to determine which side has more to lose in a Mookie Betts trade -- the Red Sox or the team that acquires him.

From the Boston perspective, receiving fair value for the defending MVP will be a struggle, since he's likely to play out his contract and reach free agency next fall, thus limiting any potential return. On the other end, his new team runs the risk of surrendering assets for a rental.

While there aren't any perfect analogies to provide a roadmap, the Diamondbacks and Cardinals can offer some insight into how the process might unfold, based on their blockbuster Paul Goldschmidt trade last winter.

The six-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glover went from Arizona to St. Louis on Dec. 5 for a trio of prospects. He had one year and $14.5 million remaining on his contract, and the Diamondbacks suspected they wouldn't be able to keep him long-term.

General manager Mike Hazen agonized over how to proceed before pulling the trigger.

"We treaded very, very lightly, knowing it was a tricky situation for us," Hazen said on Wednesday at the GM Meetings. "Paul is a franchise player and he meant everything to our clubhouse, our leadership. But we felt like the position we were in, not necessarily being one player away, if we weren't able to come to a contractual extension with him, what was it going to mean to us down the road?"

On the other end, the Cardinals jumped at the chance to acquire an impact right-handed bat despite having no guarantees he'd wear red for more than a year. Based on their experience with prior rentals like Matt Holliday and Mark McGwire, who ended up committing long-term, the Cards believed they had a chance of retaining Goldschmidt beyond 2019, and indeed they struck a five-year, $130 million extension in spring training.

Still, they couldn't acquire him on the assumption that he'd sign, a lesson worth remembering for anyone considering Betts.

"When you do a trade like that, you make the trade assuming he's going to be a one-year rental, because otherwise, you're setting yourself up to make a bad decision trying to justify the trade that only works if he stays around five or six years," said Cardinals GM Mike Girsch. "We were hopeful. We've had good success with one-year rentals who have come to St. Louis, enjoyed the environment we have, the fan base, the full stadium and everything else, and signed here. We've had success doing that over the last 20 years and were hopeful that would happen again. But you've got to make the trade assuming it's a standalone, and if you're not comfortable with it as a standalone, then we wouldn't have done it."

THE FOUR OPTIONS ON THIS KIND OF DEAL

The deliberations in Arizona centered on four options that should sound familiar to Red Sox fans: trade Goldschmidt in the offseason, move him at the deadline if the team isn't contending, let him play out his deal and walk for a compensatory draft pick, or hope the season unfolds in a way that produces a long-term extension.

"All of those scenarios were in play," Hazen said. "The offseason, the in-season, the end-of-season scenarios that you know would be associated with trading now, trading then, holding all the way through, successful year leads to something else [contractually]. There was no real answer sheet to it. We had to make a decision and we did."

One major difference between Goldschmidt and Betts is salary. The $14.5 million remaining on the former's deal fit St. Louis's 2019 salary structure, whereas the $27-$30 million Betts will earn in arbitration could end up pricing him out of all but a handful of markets. Goldschmidt's relative affordability allowed the Cardinals to offer a better package of prospects, while his age (31) kept that package reasonable. Betts just turned 27 and is in his prime. His extension should end up being more than double Goldschmidt's.

"Budgets are real and payrolls are real," Girsch said. "The higher the salary, the less I can give up, because I don't have money left to go do something else, and the lower the salary, the more I can give up, right? So it's just how you'd expect. You're not just trading for the player. You're trading for the player with his salary commitment, so you have to figure that in."

Meanwhile, Hazen knew the team would lose the trade in the court of public opinion, at least initially.

"We were very cognizant," he said. "Had to turn that off pretty quickly. We knew that was coming, and understood why it came. That's part of what we do. I think separating that out and still feeling like the decision was the right decision, I felt OK about it because of that."

THE RETURN ON THE BLOCKBUSTER

The package he received -- catcher Carson Kelly, right-hander Luke Weaver, minor-league infielder Andy Young -- appeared underwhelming, but all three ended up showing promise.

Kelly hit 18 homers with an .826 OPS as Arizona's starting catcher, Weaver went 4-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 12 starts before being shut down with a sore elbow that did not require surgery, and Young slammed 29 homers between Double- and Triple-A. It's a virtual certainty none will become a star on Goldschmidt's level, but that doesn't mean they can't provide value, which is a calculus the Red Sox front office is currently considering.

In St. Louis, Goldschmidt hit 34 homers, but posted his lowest OPS (.821) since 2011. He still helped lead the Cardinals to the playoffs, where he hit .429 with two homers in an NLDS victory over the Braves before St. Louis fell to the Nationals in the NLCS. 

"Our sense was he was a guy who'd be comfortable in a midwestern city in a baseball-crazed market in a place that was competitive in the type of clubhouse environment we have," Girsch said. "It felt like we had a good shot at making this work, but until you meet him, you're never 100 percent sure."

While Hazen is happy with both the return and the fact that Goldschmidt received a long-term extension, he's not going to pretend he enjoyed trading a franchise icon.

"I don't know how you value that stuff," he said. "I still don't know if we did it appropriately. History will tell us, I think. It still doesn't feel great, but look, at some point, we're charged with making the best decisions we can moving forward."

The Red Sox know the feeling. Making a palatable deal for Betts feels like an even greater challenge than what the Diamondbacks and Cardinals managed to swing for Goldschmidt.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez places 6th in AL Cy Young Award voting

Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez places 6th in AL Cy Young Award voting

MLB's 2019 Cy Young Awards were handed out on Wednesday with Houston Astros right-hander Justin Verlander and New York Mets righty Jacob deGrom taking home the hardware. It was Verlander's second Cy Young of his illustrious career and deGrom's second consecutive season winning the award.

One Boston Red Sox pitcher managed to work his way into the Cy Young conversation as well. That would be left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing 2019 Boston rotation.

Rodriguez placed sixth in American League Cy Young voting, earning three fourth-place votes and two fifth-place votes for a total of eight points. The 26-year-old finished behind Verlander, Gerrit Cole (Astros), Charlie Morton (Rays), Shane Bieber (Indians), and Lance Lynn (Rangers).

E-Rod, who has had issues going deep into games throughout his career, took a huge step forward in that department last season. His 203 1/3 innings pitched in 2019 demolished his previous career-high of 137 1/3.

Rodriguez nearly joined the 20-win club in 2019, finishing 19-6 with a career-best 3.81 ERA.

The starting rotation is one of the Red Sox' biggest question marks heading into 2020, but Boston can at least take solace in the fact their hard-throwing former top prospect is making strides in the right direction.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.