When Red Sox ownership finally addressed Dave Dombrowski's dismissal in late September, chairman Tom Werner made what remains the most honest and revealing assessment of the team's approach to superstar Mookie Betts.
"We've stated publicly that we would hope he would stay with us the rest of his career," Werner said. "We have made proposals to him in the past and he did want to test free agency, which is his right. And we'll have some conversations with him going forward. But obviously there'll be a point where hopefully we can make a deal or we'll decide at that point what is plan B or plan C, but we haven't gotten to that point and we're very open to continuing discussions with him."
Based on the recent reports out of San Diego, in particular, it sure feels momentum is building towards a plan B or C that end with Betts's departure.
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Multiple factors have led to this point.
The first is ownership's stated goal (NOT A MANDATE, STOP CALLING IT THAT!) to drop below the $208 million luxury tax threshold. The team's offseason of inactivity may have lulled us into thinking that John Henry and Co. had changed their minds, but all the reasons that desire made sense in September still apply now. Resetting their tax penalties will put the team in the best long-term position to build a winner, with or without Betts.
Then there's the shape of this offseason itself.
December hit us with a flurry of high-end activity, but virtually all of it was of the free agent variety, from Stephen Strasburg to Gerrit Cole to Anthony Rendon. Outside of former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber being dealt to the Rangers, most of December's 13 trades were relatively minor.
Monday's move of All-Star Starling Marte from Pittsburgh to Arizona suggests the start of a late trade season, since the recent signings of Nick Castellanos (Reds) and Josh Donaldson (Twins) means the free-agent market is pretty much dry. "The pace of this offseason has been unusual around the industry, in terms of when things evolved," allowed Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom recently.
Then there's the sign-stealing elephant in the room, which is the loss of manager Alex Cora and MLB's investigation into the 2018 champions, a dual catastrophe that leaves the Red Sox in danger of losing draft picks at precisely the moment when their thin farm system most needs them.
If Betts is their best avenue to acquiring young talent, and if the talks to extend him (Plan A) have convinced management that he's definitely hitting free agency, which means he's almost definitely gone, then it would be a dereliction of duty not to explore every possible avenue for maximizing his value.
After a quiet winter in that regard, rumors are suddenly percolating like steam-forced espresso. The Red Sox and Padres have reportedly progressed far enough to haggle over how much of Wil Myers' remaining $61 million the Red Sox will assume, with at least one young outfielder and pitcher joining him in return.
Meanwhile, San Diego's division rivals in Los Angeles loom with a potential second Boston bailout, especially if they're willing to take on both Betts ($27 million) and David Price ($32 million) and really clear the books for 2020, just as they did with Adrian Gonzalez and Co. in 2012.
That's two motivated buyers and one motivated seller potentially transitioning to Plan B. That sounds like a recipe for a deal, which means Red Sox fans should prepare to kiss their MVP right fielder goodbye.
Sometimes your primary plan just doesn't play out, so you move on to the next one.