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Mookie Betts and the $35 million question -- is anyone worth that much?

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Mookie Betts and the $35 million question -- is anyone worth that much?

The question shouldn't be if Mookie Betts is worth $30 million a year, but this:

Is anyone?

Look across baseball, and the game's longest, largest contracts consistently crap out. Presumed AL MVP Mike Trout, who signed a historic 12-year, $430 million deal, is an exception, because of course he is. Until a foot injury ended his season, he was rampaging towards his first 50-homer campaign, though a lot of good it did the Angels, who are already guaranteed their fourth straight losing season.

And that's part of the problem. In a sport where few teams have the resources or will to spend beyond $200 million, a $30 million contract can tie up 15 percent of the payroll.

In the same winter that Trout signed the biggest contract in sports history, two other young stars in their primes also cashed in, and it's hard to argue either team got its money's worth in Year 1. They should be viewed as cautionary tales before the Red Sox make a similarly monster expenditure on Betts.

Former NL MVP Bryce Harper, 26, received $330 million from the Phillies over 13 years, while Manny Machado, 27, scored a 10-year, $300 million contract from the Padres.

The returns thus far are decidedly meh. Harper is hitting .253 with 31 home runs, 102 RBIs, and an .864 OPS. Machado's at .256-30-82-.797 and leads the NL in double plays with 24.

In a season with more homers than ever, 30 ain't what it used to be. Daniel Vogelbach, Mitch Garver, and Kole Calhoun are just three of the game's 48 sluggers with at least 30 bombs. Among position players, Harper (3.4) and Machado (3.0) rank 62nd and 70th, respectively in WAR, right behind Angels utilityman David Fletcher (?!?) and Yankees fire hydrant Mike Tauchman.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. The players who swim in the deepest end of the salary pool almost always end up needing a life preserver, and sooner than you'd think.

Consider the rest of baseball's 10 richest contracts. Giancarlo Stanton ($325 million) has been limited to nine games by injuries and like Harper has basically delivered one outlier MVP season amidst a sea of pretty good. He signed his 13-year deal with the Marlins at age 25.

Alex Rodriguez makes the list twice, first for his landmark $252 million contract with the Rangers in 2001, and then for the $275 million deal he renegotiated with the Yankees in 2008. You'll get no argument with contract No. 1, which included three MVP awards and more than 350 homers. Contract No. 2 is one of the worst in sports history, highlighted by scandal and injury and eventually ending with the Yankees paying A-Rod not to play at all in 2017.

More encouraging is what the Rockies have received from third baseman Nolan Arenado, who is completing a fifth straight All-Star season in the first year of his eight-year, $260 million extension. So far, so good.

The same cannot be said of former Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, whose eight-year, $240 million extension runs through 2023. He has 10 home runs after hitting three last year, and eventually he may receive the A-Rod treatment from Detroit, which owes him a staggering $124 million over the next four years.

Cabrera's might not even be the worst deal running through 2023. Remember Robinson Cano? The Mariners signed him for 10 years and $228 million at age 31 in 2014. He delivered three All-Star appearances in his first four seasons before falling off the face of the earth. The Mets subsequently chose to eat his salary to acquire All-Star closer Edwin Diaz, and he has delivered 13 homers and 37 RBIs this year.

Then there's Albert Pujols, whom the Angels swiped from the Cardinals at age 32 in 2012 with a 10-year, $240 million deal. He has made one All-Star team since.

Cabrera, Cano, Pujols, and A-Rod (the 2nd time) were all players on the wrong side of 30 signed in a different era, one could reasonably counter. Today's owners recognize that the biggest contracts should be reserved for stars like Betts in their 20s, who are more likely to deliver, especially in the first half of their deals.

Ask the Twins how that worked out when they signed 27-year-old MVP Joe Mauer to an eight-year, $184 million contract in 2011. He limped to the finish line as a broken-down first baseman/DH.

Or the Cubs, who jumped on Gold Glove outfielder at Jason Heyward when he was 26, figuring they'd lock in his prime for eight years and $184 million in 2016. He has instead delivered below-average production for four straight seasons.

Or the Rockies, who watched All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki break down shortly after signing a 10-year contract in 2011 at age 26. Or the Tigers, who gave Prince Fielder $214 million at age 28. Or the Yankees, who must be wondering what kind of player Stanton will be moving forward.

A case can be made that Betts is a better all-around player than all of them, with a diverse enough skillset to maintain value even if one or two of the component parts regress. But the Red Sox already know what it's like to pay someone $30 million and wonder if it was wise. Left-handers David Price and Chris Sale represent worse long-term investments than Betts, and both are already breaking down. Their bad money may render any discussion of extending Betts pointless, with owner John Henry deciding that he will not, in fact, tie up nearly half of his payroll in three players.

If that's the case, and the Red Sox trade Betts this winter, they will lose a tremendous talent. They may also be doing right by the long-term interests of the franchise, because the lengthier and richer the deal, the more likely history suggests it will be to miss.

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Why the way MLB teams value prospects is limiting Mookie Betts' trade value for Red Sox

Why the way MLB teams value prospects is limiting Mookie Betts' trade value for Red Sox

The Bartolo Colon trade would never happen today. The Mark Teixeira trade would never happen today. Hell, the Ryan Ludwick trade would never happen today.

Ryan Ludwick? Surely you remember the deal that sent Colon from the Indians to the Expos in 2002 for a massive haul of future All-Stars: Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore. You might also recall that five years later, the Braves kickstarted a rebuild in Texas by swapping Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia for 363 days of Teixeira.

What you're less likely to remember is the three-way deal on July 31, 2010 that sent Ludwick, two years removed from 37 homers and his only All-Star appearance, to the Padres. San Diego was clinging to a small lead in the NL West and hoped Ludwick would power them to the postseason. He instead hit just .211 and San Diego finished two games behind the Giants in the division and one behind in the Braves in the wild card. No playoffs for you.

The price they paid ended up being far steeper. The Indians joined the trade by sending promising right-hander Jake Westbrook to the Cardinals. The Padres completed the swap by shipping a Double-A pitching prospect to Cleveland. Perhaps you've heard of him. His name is Corey Kluber.

A decade later, it's hard to imagine a team parting with any one of the prospects listed above, let alone the many-for-one swaps that characterized the first two deals. A player like Ludwick would never command a prospect like Kluber.

And that's a problem, because with the Red Sox debating whether to make Mookie Betts available this winter, they'll be constrained by the fact that teams value prospects more than ever.

"Teams understand the value of their young players and want to find a way to build around them, not necessarily always trade them away," said Twins GM Derek Falvey. "That's why you don't see as many of those players moving anymore."

There was a time when farm systems, especially in big markets, existed primarily to produce prospects to be fed into the trade chipper for established stars. Those days are gone for a variety of factors. For one, teams recognize the importance of building around young, cost-controlled players. For another, the diminished influence of performance-enhancing drugs has restored more traditional aging curves, meaning fewer players remain productive into their late 30s. And for another, teams have become risk-averse, recognizing that if they really want a top-level talent, they can sign him in free agency without surrendering more than a draft pick.

Where this leaves the Red Sox is murky, but it's worth considering the response of White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, who never mentioned Betts by name when discussing why his club is unlikely to dip into its considerable well of prospects for a rental, but also didn't make it hard to read between the lines.

Three years ago, the White Sox began discussions with the Red Sox on the deal that would send Chris Sale to Boston for mega-prospect Yoan Moncada and flamethrower Michael Kopech. The White Sox were a mess and effectively starting over. Sale, with three years affordable years remaining on his contract, represented one of the most desirable assets in the game, and the Red Sox weren't the only team to step up.

The Nationals also got involved, and were willing to part with some serious talent, including speedy outfielder Victor Robles and pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. At that point, the White Sox made a pact.

"We made a commitment, starting with Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams, and all of us in the baseball department, that once we got ourselves in the position to be on the opposite end of these trades, where you were giving up talent for short-term gain, that it was going to be important for us to still try and remain committed to the long-term," Hahn said. "We were excited to get this process started, where we got the Bostons and the Nationals and the teams talking about acquiring premium talent and using premium prospects to get it. But when we got there, we wanted to do the same thing, but not at the expense of multiple years."

How does this relate to Betts? Let Hahn continue.

"When there's a guy like Chris Sale available who had multiple years of control and you're ready to win, making that push makes all the sense in the world," he said. "If you're talking about a guy on a one-year basis, we're not to that point yet. And if we do get to that point, that's going to be a tough trigger to pull, because we're trying to build something sustainable for an extended period of time. Quick hits don't necessarily do that. After three years of rebuilding, we've gotten ourselves in a very good position, but not in one where we're going to do something just for an immediate bang in 2020 if we feel it compromises us in the long term. We've paid too big of a price to get to where we're at to compromise long-term."

The White Sox have built a consensus top-three farm system replete with both pitching and position prospects who will soon join young breakout stars like Moncada and AL batting champ Tim Anderson in Chicago. There once was a time when an MVP like Betts would've been too tough to ignore on the open market, even if he represented a risk to fly the coop after a year.

But now? The White Sox see little point in engaging, because acquiring him will just short-circuit the rebuild that is close to bearing fruit.

That kind of patience didn't necessarily exist when teams were willing to trade their best prospects for one shot at the postseason. Now they hoard their prospects because the alternative is trading a future Cy Young Award winner for an outfielder who fails to put you over the top.

Mookie Betts is no Ryan Ludwick, but teams have come to view them similarly for this reason: neither is worth mortgaging the future over anymore.

What type of package could Sox get in return for Betts?>>>>> 

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Pedro Martinez tweets his thanks for the trade that brought him to the Red Sox - 22 years ago today

Pedro Martinez tweets his thanks for the trade that brought him to the Red Sox - 22 years ago today

Twenty-two years ago, the Red Sox were coming off a disappointing season where they were an AL East also-ran and big offseason moves were being contemplated for the franchise.

Sound familiar?

Only general manager Dan Duquette, whose team had finished 78-84 and in fourth place in the division, wasn't looking to shed payroll, but add to either the bullpen or starting rotation.

They chose to target the rotation and specifically, to go after the Montreal Expos' Cy Young Award-winning, 26-year-old ace in a trade - rather than Marlins closer Robb Nen, who had just helped that franchise win its first World Series. 

The result was a franchise-altering trade for Pedro Martinez, who tweeted his thanks for the move Monday, the 22nd anniversary of the deal - some would say "steal" - that brought him to Boston.

The Sox traded pitching prospect Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. to the Expos for Martinez, then signed him to a six-year, $75 million contract. Duquette had traded for Martinez once before, four years earlier, when, as GM of the Expos, he acquired Martinez from the Dodgers.

Martinez, of course, would go on to go 117-37 with a 2.52 ERA in seven seasons in Boston, some of which were the most dominant ever for a pitcher. His final season culminated with the first Red Sox World Series title since 1918.

So, all new Red Sox baseball boss Chaim Bloom has to do is pull off a deal like that. Simple, right?

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