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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MLB rumors: 'Mystery team' joins Yankees, others in Gerrit Cole pursuit

MLB rumors: 'Mystery team' joins Yankees, others in Gerrit Cole pursuit

The MLB offseason is in full swing, and free agent pitcher Gerrit Cole is the top player available and drawing interest from several teams.

MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported Tuesday that the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels and a mystery club are in on Cole.

How much will teams need to spend to acquire Cole? Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports the veteran starting pitcher's next contract is expected to be worth more than $300 million.

For some context, the Washington Nationals re-signed starter Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year, $245 million contract earlier this week, which is the most expensive deal ever given to a pitcher.

Cole is a fantastic pitcher, there's no doubting that. He posted a 20-5 record with a 2.50 ERA, 326 strikeouts and 0.86 WHIP in 2019. Cole also was a driving force in the Houston Astros reaching Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, where they lost to the Nationals.

The 29-year-old right-hander would be a tremendous upgrade to any rotation as a clear No. 1 ace. The Yankees are the most logical landing spot for Cole given their need for a No. 1 starter. New York might actually be the betting favorite to win the 2020 World Series if it lands Cole in free agency. The Dodgers also make sense as a potential destination. The National League West champs have deep pockets and a need for a proven playoff pitcher after Clayton Kershaw's latest October meltdown.

The Boston Red Sox would greatly benefit from Cole leaving the American League and signing with an NL contender such as the Dodgers. Cole going to the Yankees would be a huge blow to Boston's chances of reclaiming AL East supremacy next season.

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There's no defense for Red Sox fielding last season, and Alex Cora knows it

There's no defense for Red Sox fielding last season, and Alex Cora knows it

SAN DIEGO — In all of the ways the Red Sox collectively regressed last season, not enough attention is paid to the defense.

A year after ranking fifth in the American League in defensive efficiency and featuring three Gold Glovers and two other finalists, the Red Sox sank to 11th in an across-the-board slump.

"Inconsistent. Yeah, we were inconsistent not only in the infield, but I think in the outfield," said manager Alex Cora. "We saw that early in the season. For how great they are, I do believe that there's more there, and we'll address it. We'll address it. I think Benny (Andrew Benintendi) can become a complete player. I know he's been in the final vote of the Gold Glove the last two years, but I think he can make some strides.

"I think early in the season we were a step slower than the other teams, and we paid the price because of that, as far as like communication and the way we were moving in the outfield. We can do better."

How can they improve? Cora basically went around the diamond. He believes third baseman Rafael Devers will benefit from more experience, as well as conversations with five-time Gold Glover Adrian Beltre.

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts ranked dead last among regular shortstops in defensive runs saved last year (minus-21), a function of decreased range. A revolving door at second base didn't help in the double play department, either, where the Red Sox ranked last in the American League.

"I think the next step for Xander is to become a better defensive player," Cora said. "For how sure-handed he is, I think his first step can be better. He's that good of an athlete, so that's the next challenge. If we do that, we'll be better. Turning the double play, we have to do that. It's funny because I mentioned that in Orlando a few years ago. Double plays are game changers. You don't turn over the play, you pay the price. You turn over the play, you go and hit and score runs. So we have to do better than that."

Cora also noted that Gold Glove finalist catcher Christian Vazquez experienced his own struggles, particularly when it came to passed balls.

"Defensively behind the plate, for how great he was, blocking wasn't great for Christian. He's working on that. There's a few things that I have learned over the last two months that we didn't do right, and we can do better. If we do that, we're going to have a good season."

Cora suggested that defense is a renewed emphasis under new boss Chaim Bloom.

"One thing we're going to talk about with Chaim coming from an organization that's very aggressive as far as defense, is why they do it, how they do it, and if that aggressiveness is going to — he can help us out," Cora said. "And that's something that I'm looking forward to sitting with Chaim and see where it takes us. If that aggressiveness can help Xander and Raffy defensively, so be it. So we'll talk about it."

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