Red Sox

Mookie Betts trade first step in remaking Red Sox into not the Rays, but the Dodgers

Red Sox

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- They're really, officially gone.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mookie Betts and David Price were introduced in Dodger Stadium, where old friend Janet Marie Smith is overseeing renovations beyond center field, a fitting metaphor for a club using its vast resources -- financial, prospect, talent -- to build a champion.

Meanwhile, 3,000 miles away in Fort Myers, interim manager Ron Roenicke addressed a fair number of reporters himself on far more mundane topics. Will Darwinzon Hernandez start or relieve? Might the team acquire outfielder Kevin Pillar to balance a left-handed heavy outfield? Could Triple-A reliever Tanner Houck be in the mix for a bullpen spot?

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"Remember, I just got the job yesterday, so I'm not on board with everything that's happening so far," Roenicke acknowledged.

Two years ago, the Red Sox and Dodgers met in the World Series. Now, one of them is building, while the other is tearing it down. Boston ultimately expects to position itself like L.A., with the young core to open a multi-season window of contention, the prospects to provide depth and/or trade capital, and the financial resources to target any free agent in the game.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox are just beginning this process, which is how Betts and Price ended up donning Dodger Blue to polite applause, wearing Nos. 50 and 33, respectively, on Wednesday afternoon. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has already acknowledged the trade will make the team worse in 2020, an obvious admission that's nonetheless refreshing to hear. What he said next, though, points to his long-term goals.

 

"The big picture in how this fits into our chances to win as much as we can over the course of the next number of years, that had to take precedence," he said on Monday. "You can't be afraid to do something you think is right in the big picture."

And so the Red Sox cleared about $75 million in salary while acquiring three highly regarded prospects: outfielder Alex Verdugo, infielder Jeter Downs, and catcher Connor Wong. They'll provide a much-needed infusion of youth and potential to a system stripped almost clean by Dave Dombrowski, whose aggressiveness netted Boston a title in 2018, but left the organization teetering over a cliff. Bloom's first order of business, we now know, was to provide the final push.

How he picks up the pieces will be the challenge of the next two, three, five years. The Red Sox boast enough talent to remain in contention if circumstances break their way, but the odds probably aren't in their favor, thanks to some questionable investments in the starting rotation. What the Betts deal accomplishes is it frees Bloom to be the wheeler-dealer he was in Tampa, where the Rays cycled through talent like a wood chipper.

Financial restrictions tied his hands for most of this offseason, but now that the Red Sox have regained some flexibility, it will be fascinating to see how he uses it. The Rays made a habit of hitting on players overlooked by other organizations, be it All-Star right-hander Charlie Morton, who signed for two years and $30 million, or reliever Emilio Pagan, who was acquired in a complicated three-way team last winter, saved 20 games, and then got shipped to the Padres this past weekend.

Bloom will be able to target those kind of players here in the short term as a means to keep the Red Sox competitive while they retool, but make no mistake about the organization's long-term plans. John Henry has consistently spent among the top five payrolls in the game since acquiring the team in 2002, and he'll do so again. What he won't do is chase bad money with worse money, which is how we've ended up here today.

Boston isn't in danger of becoming Tampa North. The Red Sox intend to remake themselves into Dodgers East, a financial and player development behemoth that routinely competes for elite talent when they're not developing it themselves.

And one day, perhaps sooner than we think, they'll host the kind of press conference that had Dodgers fans clinking champagne flutes and dreaming of their first championship since 1988.

They just needed to take this painful step back before making what they expect will be a significant leap forward.