If Mookie Betts and the Red Sox are really $100 million apart, then the Red Sox should stop pretending he has a future in Boston and trade him right now.
WEEI's Lou Merloni reported on Wednesday that last year the Red Sox made Betts an offer in the 10-year, $300 million range, and he countered with 12 years and $420 million. That gulf is so sizable that meeting in the middle at $360 million might be considered unacceptable by both sides.
When the Red Sox infamously lowballed ace Jon Lester before the 2014 season, after all, their four-year, $70 million offer was probably only one year and $30 million less than Lester would've considered a legitimate starting point. And he still shut down negotiations before being traded and then joined the Cubs in free agency.
At this point, the Red Sox have as much information as they need to discern Betts' intentions.
He wants to be paid closer to Mike Trout's $426.5 million than Manny Machado's $300 million, and he plans to do so in free agency. Keeping him in the hope that he suddenly agrees to an extension when he has never been closer to hitting the open market feels like a denial of reality.
That's why the chatter of Betts heading west to either San Diego or Los Angeles has suddenly intensified. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom should play the division rivals against each other to secure the best deal and move on.
Personally, I'd be focused on unloading both Betts and David Price to the Dodgers, paying enough of their combined $59 million in 2020 to land a package built around a promising young player like outfielder Alex Verdugo, and getting a jump on life in a post-Mookie world.
The alternative is keeping him until the trade deadline, letting this story hang over both player and organization through July, and then being unable to pull the trigger because the team clings to the periphery of the postseason race, at which point the Red Sox are left with basically nothing.
Trading Betts now doesn't even preclude the possibility of him signing long-term, because if the Red Sox decide they simply can't live without their former MVP, his desire to reach the market could actually cut back in their favor. Nothing would stop them from making a massive offer next winter and trying to bring him back, à la the Yankees after trading closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for three months in 2016.
That said, if the Red Sox trade Betts, I suspect it would be forever, and there's a case to be made for that, too. Ten- or 12-year deals are generally bad business, no matter how talented the player, because there are too many ways they can sour.
The Angels have been riding out Albert Pujols' decline almost from the day he signed a 10-year, $240 million contract in 2012 at age 32, and even if he had signed at 28 before winning back-to-back MVP awards, it would still be money poorly spent. The same goes for Robinson Cano (10 years, $228 million), Miguel Cabrera (effectively 10 years, $292 million), and unfortunately, Dustin Pedroia, who's not going to see the finish of his eight-year, $110 million extension in 2021, thanks to a degenerative knee injury.
Betts is younger than all of them (27), which works in his favor, but we have not made nearly a big enough issue of his size when calculating the risk of a lengthy deal. He stands only 5-foot-9, and that's not a stature that yields longevity.
Since 1980, only three players that height have delivered a .900 OPS in at least 100 games after age 30 — Matt Stairs (twice), Lonnie Smith, and Kirby Puckett. For $35 million a year, .900 feels like a reasonable floor, but for players Betts' size it's actually a pretty hard ceiling, with his most promising comps being Puckett — who saw an eye injury end his career at age 35 — and former Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, who made five All-Star teams between ages 30 and 35.
Otherwise, we're talking about players such as Chuck Knoblauch, Marcus Giles, Brian Roberts, Pedroia, and Jimmy Rollins — undersized stars who peaked in their 20s before experiencing precipitous declines in their 30s. Cleveland's Jose Ramirez could join that group, which might even include Hall of Famer Tim Raines, whose case became borderline based on his 30s.
In any event, there's now more than enough evidence for the Red Sox to experience clarity on their most pressing offseason issue: it's time to trade Mookie Betts.