The Red Sox must determine how to proceed with Mookie Betts this winter, and fast.
If they're going to keep the former MVP, the sooner they know it the better, because fitting his $30 million into a $208 payroll will not only take some serious creativity, it will leave them rifling through clearance racks to fill the rest of the roster.
We are all aware of their four possible paths: trade Betts now, trade him by July 31, let him play out the season and become a free agent, or sign him to an extension.
Some of those possibilities feel more likely than others, which is why we're here to apply some odds.
1. Trade him now: 55 percent
This still feels like the most probable course of action, given Betts' off-stated desire to reach free agency and the franchise's equivalent determination to get something for him before he leaves. Better to rip off that Band-Aid now, even if it means losing a little leg hair in the process.
Any team acquiring Betts needs to be able to fit his salary into its payroll, and that's more easily accomplished earlier in the offseason, especially since there's little chance the Red Sox contribute anything towards his salary. The optics of trading Betts are bad enough — paying someone else to take him would be inexcusable.
2. Trade him in July: 15 percent
There's some appeal to this approach, which gives the Red Sox a chance to make one final run with their Gold Glove- and Silver Slugger-winning right fielder, especially if the offers this winter prove underwhelming.
But there's one obvious flaw — what if July 31 arrives and the Red Sox find themselves in contention? At last year's trade deadline, for instance, a staggering 11 National League teams owned between 50 and 57 wins. Six of them could make legitimate cases for the wild card.
Good luck justifying a trade of your best player in that scenario, even if it's the right long-term move. Better to deal him now before putting new boss Chaim Bloom in that no-win situation.
3. Let him play out season: 20 percent
Former GM Theo Epstein used to bristle at the concept of trading a player before he could "walk away for nothing" by noting that a final season of All-Star production carries considerable value.
If the Red Sox can figure out how to absorb Betts' 2020 salary — perhaps by finding a taker for David Price and the $96 million remaining on his deal — there are worse problems to have than a lineup built around Betts, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez.
If Chris Sale is healthy, that's a team that could win it all and then let whatever happens happen with Betts.
4. Extend him: 10 percent
It's sad that this feels like the least likely outcome, but we're just keeping it real.
There are two impediments to a long-term extension. One is Betts's aforementioned desire to hit the market and see what he's worth. The other is the very legitimate queasiness ownership might feel about extending anyone for more than 10 years.
That said, if Betts came to them with a reasonable number — say, 12 years and $340 million, slotting him between Bryce Harper and Mike Trout — there'd definitely be some in ownership pushing to get his signature to lock in the franchise cornerstone.
It doesn't feel like it's going to come to that, though, unless Betts experiences a change of heart about reaching free agency.
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