Red Sox

If Atlanta Braves go all-in on Mookie Betts, these are the prospects they could use to get him

If Atlanta Braves go all-in on Mookie Betts, these are the prospects they could use to get him

If there's one team that can make a compelling case for Mookie Betts as its missing piece, it's the Braves.

Atlanta boasts one of the brightest young stars in the game in five-tool center fielder Ronald Acuña Jr., and after a four-year playoff drought, the Braves have won at least 90 games for two straight seasons, losing in the division series both times.

The roster presents a nice mix of cheap youngsters like Acuña and Ozzie Albies and productive veterans like Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman. Ace Mike Soroka is only 22. The farm system is loaded.

The Braves, who in 2017 moved into their new park in suburban Cobb County, could very well be one player away from challenging the Dodgers and Nationals for National League supremacy, and it's hard to imagine there's a better fit than Betts.

Whether they have the will to spend $30 million annually on him is an open question, especially after they got a jump on the relief market by signing former Giants closer Will Smith to a three-year, $40 million deal. They still sit roughly $40 million shy of last year's $144 million payroll, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which gives them room to maneuver.

What's not in question is whether Atlanta has the pieces to get a deal done. The Braves may not be quite as awash in prospects as they were three years ago, but they still boast one of the most envied farm systems in the game. So what prospects might be in play for Betts?

Top prospect Christian Pache, a potential Gold Glove center fielder and one of the 10 best prospects in baseball, is probably off the table. But No. 2 prospect Drew Waters, another outfielder, could be the centerpiece of a hypothetical trade.

The youngest Southern League MVP in nearly 15 years, Waters was a force in 119 games at Double-A Mississippi before being promoted. The 20-year-old switch hitter led the league in doubles, triples, and hits while batting .319, and he also profiles as a plus defensive center fielder.

On the pitching side, if the Red Sox want a starter with big-league experience, then Kyle Wright would be their man. The former Vanderbilt ace needed barely a year in the minors before reaching the big leagues in 2018. He throws 99 mph with a solid slider, but has surrendered six homers in just 25.2 innings with the Braves. He spent most of 2019 at Triple A, where he went 11-4 while striking out more than a batter an inning.

The most intriguing arm in the system is right-hander Ian Anderson, a 2016 first-rounder (3rd overall) with excellent control and three potential big-league offerings in a low-90s fastball, 12-6 curveball, and firm changeup, per Baseball America. A consensus top-30 prospect, he went 7-5 with a 2.68 ERA at Double A before struggling in his first brief exposure to Triple A.

In the very next round of that same draft, the Braves took left-hander Kyle Muller, a solid 6-foot-6, 225-pounder with a 98-mph fastball. He went 7-6 with a 3.14 ERA at Double A, though he led the Southern League with 68 walks and will need to refine both his secondary offerings and his command. Still, for pure stuff from the left side, he oozes potential.

The last Braves player on BA's top 100 list is right-hander Bryse Wilson, who was also selected in the pitching-rich 2016 draft. The fourth-rounder jumped from high school to the big leagues in only two years, making spot starts with the Braves in both 2018 and 2019. He relies on a consistent 95-mph fastball and spotty secondary offerings, but he's still only 21.

If we move to an area of some overlap, the Braves boast a pair of promising catching prospects. Shea Langeliers and William Contreras check in at Nos. 7 and 8 on Baseball America's Braves Top 10 list. The former is already considered a big-league caliber defender with a cannon arm, while the latter — the younger brother of Cubs backstop Willson Contreras — has higher offensive upside.

Should the Braves decide to go for broke in the pursuit of a World Series, they have the pieces to make a serious run at Betts. It remains to be seen if they have the will to make it happen.

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Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

The lawsuit against Major League Baseball filed by daily fantasy game players, who claimed to be defrauded by the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, has been dismissed, but not without harsh criticism of the teams by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in his ruling blasted the Red Sox and Astros for "shamelessly" breaking both baseball's rules and "the hearts of all true baseball fans."

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In throwing out the suit brought by five daily fantasy players, Rakoff invoked the New England Patriots "Spygate" scandal from 2007, agreeing with MLB lawyers' contention that rulings in similar suits brought by fans against the NFL after the Patriots were caught illegally taping opponents' defensive signals had set a legal precedent for this suit to be dismissed. 

While the suit charged that the Red Sox and Astros had engaged in consumer fraud that created "corrupt" and "dishonest" fantasy contest for companies such as Draft Kings, Rakoff agreed with previous decisions in the NFL cases that ruled fans should know teams will look for any advantage - even "foul deeds" - to try and win.

From Rakoff's ruling: 

[D]id the initial efforts of those teams, and supposedly of Major League Baseball itself, to conceal these foul deeds from the simple sports bettors who wagered on fantasy baseball create a cognizable legal claim? On the allegations here made, the answer is no.

The Astros' sign-stealing scheme led MLB to fine the team $5 million and the one-year suspensions and subsequent firings of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. The Red Sox then parted ways with manager Alex Cora, who, according to MLB's findings, was the mastermind of the scheme as Houston's bench coach in 2017. 

That team won the World Series, as did the 2018 Red Sox, who are accused of using a similar system to steal signs under Cora.

MLB has yet to release a report on the Red Sox allegations. Commissioner Rob Manfred said it has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic but will be released before MLB begins its 2020 season. In comments last month in court an MLB lawyer seem to imply the Red Sox are aware of Manfred's findings and that they disagree with them.



Say hello to Arizona Red Sox? How MLB's Cactus League could save 2020 season

Say hello to Arizona Red Sox? How MLB's Cactus League could save 2020 season

Nothing says Red Sox home game like iguanas, scorpions, and cacti, but these are desperate times.

Barring millions of instant tests or a miracle cure, COVID-19 will just be a fact of our pent-up, penned-in lives for the foreseeable future.

This makes embarking on the baseball season problematic, since one infection would theoretically sideline an entire team for two weeks, and good luck staying virus-free while flying all over the country. Visiting hot spots would not only increase a player's risk of illness, it would also up the odds of one becoming a vector himself, which is bad for the brand, not to mention public health.

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But what if baseball could maintain some control over its players' whereabouts while limiting travel to a fleet of buses? Could a season happen under these tightly managed circumstances? And if so, where?

It may be a long shot, but the more one considers the alternatives, the more it sounds like the best hope we've got is for MLB to hold its entire season in Arizona.

The logistics are nightmarish regardless, but in a situation this unprecedented, the fewer variables the better. And MLB won't find a higher concentration of acceptable facilities than in the 48th state.

The Cactus League features 10 ballparks that host 15 teams in two months of spring training. Unlike the far-flung Grapefruit League, with teams scattered across Florida's east and west coasts, the Arizona sites are compact.

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Parks stretch from Mesa in the southeast to Surprise in the northwest, a drive of only 45 minutes. Everything else lies in between, a constellation of moons tightly orbiting Phoenix.

Decamping to the desert for the duration would eliminate air travel and give the league a chance to closely monitor its players. The challenge is Herculean: hosting roughly 800 players, plus at least that many coaches, staff, families, umpires, and broadcasters without anyone contracting the world's most contagious virus, against which we possess zero natural immunity.

Players would need to be quarantined in league-controlled hotels, tested constantly, and shuttled to and from the park. For such a plan to work, they'd have to sacrifice their most basic freedoms of movement, because a single failed test would grind the season to a halt while at least one team spends two weeks in isolation, potentially triggering a cascade of shutdowns, too (the mere possibility of which prompted the NBA to suspend its season, after all).

Convincing the union to sign off on such draconian restrictions won't be easy, but the alternative may very well be no baseball.

The games would be made-for-TV events without fans. If each ballpark hosted one or two games a day, a regular schedule could be played.

The challenges would be enormous. Do three teams share one clubhouse? Could ballpark and hotel staff be expected to live in isolation as well to avoid infection? How long could players live like prisoners? Will testing capacity ramp up enough to accommodate an entire league? Are the results even reliable? And how would teams keep their facilities germ-free if they're in use all day?

Politics matter, too. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey only belatedly ordered a stay-at-home order on Monday, and it has drawn criticism from the state's mayors as one of America's weakest, with exceptions for "essential" services like golf courses, nail salons, and hotels. If Arizona experiences an outbreak, then this little thought experiment dies on the vine. The same goes for extending the order past its current April 30 expiration and into the summer.

But we're here to ponder best-case scenarios, not fill your heads with more unrelenting negativity. And though the task would be monumental, if there's to be a baseball season, our best bet might be to play it in the desert.