Red Sox

Teammates prepare for life without Betts: 'We don't think they're going to be able to afford Mookie'

Teammates prepare for life without Betts: 'We don't think they're going to be able to afford Mookie'

BOSTON -- Mookie Betts gave the Red Sox every last ounce of his considerable talents right to the bitter end, and Sunday afternoon sure felt like the end.

Let the record show that if this is it, Betts' final act in a Red Sox uniform was quintessentially, electrifyingly Mookie. He scored from first on a single to walk off the Orioles, exploiting a lazy relay and diving in safely before popping to his feet and letting out a scream while pounding his chest.

You can count on one hand the number of players who possess the instincts, athleticism, and explosiveness to make that kind of daring read and then actually engage the afterburners. It's the kind of play you'd expect to see out of a five-tool MVP, and Betts is one of those.

He also happens to be worthy of a monster contract at exactly the moment the Red Sox hope to slash payroll. With just one year of arbitration eligibility remaining, Betts has reached a crossroads. The Red Sox speak gamely of negotiating an extension, but with David Price and Chris Sale already on the books for more than $30 million apiece next season, let's just say Betts' teammates know which way the wind is blowing.

"I think everyone knows we don't think they're going to be able to afford Mookie," DH and potential free agent J.D. Martinez told NBC Sports Boston. "It's one of those things. It's kind of hard to have three guys making $30 million on your team. He deserves it. He's earned it."

A Red Sox team without Mookie Betts? After they drafted and developed him and watched him blossom into a superstar? How can that happen?

Martinez shrugged.

"I've been on too many teams where people come and go," he said. "For you guys (it's hard), because you've seen him grow. I came into this situation. To me, everyone is expendable. That's the business of it. I've seen it in Houston. I saw in Detroit. I saw it in Arizona. It's the business of it. That's why people want to blame the players, that they just want money. You've got to look at the big picture."

When owner John Henry spoke on Friday about his philosophical differences with deposed president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, it's clear he was talking about money. Dombrowski assumed the Red Sox would spend their way to continued contention. Henry would like to see some restraint in order to reset the team's luxury tax penalties by dropping the payroll from $240 million to $208 million.

That leaves Betts in no-man's land. He's worth a $300 million extension and more than $30 million annually. The Red Sox aren't in a position to offer it without either blowing up their roster or blasting their payroll into the stratosphere and paying luxury tax penalties that could easily top $20 million, effectively turning Betts into a $50 million player.

A case can be made that they can afford it, but Henry is entitled to decide his payroll isn't limitless.

"It goes back to the whole CBA and the whole agreement," Martinez said. "The competitive balance tax or whatever the hell they call it. That's something the Players Association is trying to get rid of. Some owners are trying to keep it. The way I look at it now, Tampa's got $60 mil. There are other ways to win. (Commissioner Rob) Manfred went on record by saying he doesn't think salary affects teams trying to win or not. It's kind of how (Justin) Verlander tweeted -- Perfect, then get rid of the luxury tax. Then everyone is happy. You've got teams that want to pay $300 million salaries, they'll pay it."

For his part, Betts accepted as many well-wishes from teammates as anyone as he packed his bags for the winter, signing bats with a silver Sharpie and leaving the clubhouse with what felt like his first smile of a trying season.

He saluted the fans and deflected questions about his future.

"It's been amazing," he said. "I can't thank the fans and teammates and front office enough for everything. I'm still here. It's not like I'm gone until whatever. I'm not going to focus on that now."

Unfortunately for those who treasure their No. 50 jerseys, Sunday felt like more than just a season finale. It felt like a sendoff for the defending MVP, and his teammates know it.

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How Chris Sale was able to have Tommy John surgery amid coronavirus shutdown

How Chris Sale was able to have Tommy John surgery amid coronavirus shutdown

In a vacuum, it was a standard announcement from the Boston Red Sox on Monday.

"Left-handed pitcher Chris Sale today underwent successful left UCL reconstruction ('Tommy John surgery,')" the team's statement read. "The procedure was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache at the Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, CA."

But when you consider the circumstances -- that California is under a state-wide shelter-in-place order amid the global coronavirus pandemic -- it's pretty remarkable that Sale walked into a medical facility to undergo a non-essential operation.

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So, how did Sale and the Red Sox pull this off?

According to Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, the team had plenty of internal debate before Sale flew to California on Monday.

"It was important to all of us to do this in a way that would not place any undue burden on anyone suffering due to coronavirus,” Bloom said Monday night in a conference call, via's Chris Cotillo.

"I spoke to Dr. ElAttrache personally to make sure that was the case here and he is just as mindful of the considerations that go along with surgery at a time like this. ... We know this is not life and death and that there are people who are suffering in situations that are life and death."

Los Angeles County (where Sale had his surgery) recently issued a memo recommending all elective surgeries be "limited" until further notice. But the memo didn't explicitly ban such operations, and ElAttrache is of the belief that they're borderline essential for top pitchers like Sale.

"I know that I’m going to get criticized for taking care of these kinds of guys, but it’s essential to their livelihoods," ElAttrache told the San Francisco Chronicle last week. "If you have somebody’s career at stake and they lose two seasons instead of one, I would say that is not a nonessential or unimportant elective procedure."

While ElAttrache's shop is still open, others are already shut down: Orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews recently announced he's suspending all Tommy John surgeries at his Florida clinic amid the pandemic.

The Red Sox revealed Sale would need surgery back on March 19 and didn't provide any updates until after Sale's operation Monday. So, why the delay?

Bloom told the reporters the team was working out logistics and making sure it was safe for Sale to go under the knife.

"I think under normal circumstances, we might have been able to have it happen a little bit sooner,” Bloom said. "Obviously, we’re still talking about a relatively short timetable. There’s usually a lag of a few days at a minimum to get something like this done, even in normal times. It was a little longer in this case just because of all the considerations that I discussed."

Sale faces a 14- to 15-month recovery that should sideline him until at least June 2021. But the 31-year-old likely is grateful he was able to have the operation at all before the pandemic worsens in the United States, which already has the most confirmed coronavirus cases than any country in the world.

Chaim Bloom estimates when Chris Sale could return from Tommy John surgery

File Photo

Chaim Bloom estimates when Chris Sale could return from Tommy John surgery

Chris Sale turned 31 on Monday. He also had Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow on that same day. The procedure will sideline him for at least the rest of the 2020 season and beyond. 

But when exactly can we expect Sale back? Boston Red Sox chief of baseball operations, Chaim Bloom, wouldn't confirm to an exact date, but he did provide some insight into how long Sale might be sidelined.

"We don't know exactly," Bloom said, per Christopher Smith of "Typically you see around that 14-15 month range."

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Okay, so maybe that's not the most specific answer, but it at least gives us a ballpark idea of when Sale could return.

A 14-15 month recovery period would have Sale return sometime between early June and early July in 2021, if his recovery goes well. Of course, there are so many variables to take into account about how Sale may be progressing but also about how the Sox may be faring. If they aren't doing well, the team could take an extremely cautious approach with Sale in hopes of having him fully healthy for the 2022 season.

But Bloom's estimate at least gives Sox fans an initial target for Sale's potential return. The target date will certainly be fluid especially considering that some pitchers take 18 months to return from the surgery.

But no matter what, Sale won't be suiting up for the Red Sox until mid-2021 at the earliest. And that's bad news for the squad considering their lack of starting pitching depth.