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Why the way MLB teams value prospects is limiting Mookie Betts' trade value for Red Sox

Why the way MLB teams value prospects is limiting Mookie Betts' trade value for Red Sox

The Bartolo Colon trade would never happen today. The Mark Teixeira trade would never happen today. Hell, the Ryan Ludwick trade would never happen today.

Ryan Ludwick? Surely you remember the deal that sent Colon from the Indians to the Expos in 2002 for a massive haul of future All-Stars: Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore. You might also recall that five years later, the Braves kickstarted a rebuild in Texas by swapping Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia for 363 days of Teixeira.

What you're less likely to remember is the three-way deal on July 31, 2010 that sent Ludwick, two years removed from 37 homers and his only All-Star appearance, to the Padres. San Diego was clinging to a small lead in the NL West and hoped Ludwick would power them to the postseason. He instead hit just .211 and San Diego finished two games behind the Giants in the division and one behind in the Braves in the wild card. No playoffs for you.

The price they paid ended up being far steeper. The Indians joined the trade by sending promising right-hander Jake Westbrook to the Cardinals. The Padres completed the swap by shipping a Double-A pitching prospect to Cleveland. Perhaps you've heard of him. His name is Corey Kluber.

A decade later, it's hard to imagine a team parting with any one of the prospects listed above, let alone the many-for-one swaps that characterized the first two deals. A player like Ludwick would never command a prospect like Kluber.

And that's a problem, because with the Red Sox debating whether to make Mookie Betts available this winter, they'll be constrained by the fact that teams value prospects more than ever.

"Teams understand the value of their young players and want to find a way to build around them, not necessarily always trade them away," said Twins GM Derek Falvey. "That's why you don't see as many of those players moving anymore."

There was a time when farm systems, especially in big markets, existed primarily to produce prospects to be fed into the trade chipper for established stars. Those days are gone for a variety of factors. For one, teams recognize the importance of building around young, cost-controlled players. For another, the diminished influence of performance-enhancing drugs has restored more traditional aging curves, meaning fewer players remain productive into their late 30s. And for another, teams have become risk-averse, recognizing that if they really want a top-level talent, they can sign him in free agency without surrendering more than a draft pick.

Where this leaves the Red Sox is murky, but it's worth considering the response of White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, who never mentioned Betts by name when discussing why his club is unlikely to dip into its considerable well of prospects for a rental, but also didn't make it hard to read between the lines.

Three years ago, the White Sox began discussions with the Red Sox on the deal that would send Chris Sale to Boston for mega-prospect Yoan Moncada and flamethrower Michael Kopech. The White Sox were a mess and effectively starting over. Sale, with three years affordable years remaining on his contract, represented one of the most desirable assets in the game, and the Red Sox weren't the only team to step up.

The Nationals also got involved, and were willing to part with some serious talent, including speedy outfielder Victor Robles and pitchers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez. At that point, the White Sox made a pact.

"We made a commitment, starting with Jerry Reinsdorf, Kenny Williams, and all of us in the baseball department, that once we got ourselves in the position to be on the opposite end of these trades, where you were giving up talent for short-term gain, that it was going to be important for us to still try and remain committed to the long-term," Hahn said. "We were excited to get this process started, where we got the Bostons and the Nationals and the teams talking about acquiring premium talent and using premium prospects to get it. But when we got there, we wanted to do the same thing, but not at the expense of multiple years."

How does this relate to Betts? Let Hahn continue.

"When there's a guy like Chris Sale available who had multiple years of control and you're ready to win, making that push makes all the sense in the world," he said. "If you're talking about a guy on a one-year basis, we're not to that point yet. And if we do get to that point, that's going to be a tough trigger to pull, because we're trying to build something sustainable for an extended period of time. Quick hits don't necessarily do that. After three years of rebuilding, we've gotten ourselves in a very good position, but not in one where we're going to do something just for an immediate bang in 2020 if we feel it compromises us in the long term. We've paid too big of a price to get to where we're at to compromise long-term."

The White Sox have built a consensus top-three farm system replete with both pitching and position prospects who will soon join young breakout stars like Moncada and AL batting champ Tim Anderson in Chicago. There once was a time when an MVP like Betts would've been too tough to ignore on the open market, even if he represented a risk to fly the coop after a year.

But now? The White Sox see little point in engaging, because acquiring him will just short-circuit the rebuild that is close to bearing fruit.

That kind of patience didn't necessarily exist when teams were willing to trade their best prospects for one shot at the postseason. Now they hoard their prospects because the alternative is trading a future Cy Young Award winner for an outfielder who fails to put you over the top.

Mookie Betts is no Ryan Ludwick, but teams have come to view them similarly for this reason: neither is worth mortgaging the future over anymore.

What type of package could Sox get in return for Betts?>>>>> 

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Travis Shaw says return to Boston Red Sox 'makes sense on paper'

Travis Shaw says return to Boston Red Sox 'makes sense on paper'

After being non-tendered by the Milwaukee Brewers, could a return to the Boston Red Sox be in order for Travis Shaw?

With Mitch Moreland hitting free agency, the Red Sox should be in the market for a left-handed-hitting first baseman. That makes Shaw an obvious fit, and the 29-year-old agrees a reunion with Boston would make sense.

Shaw discussed the situation with Rob Bradford on WEEI's Bradfo Sho podcast

"I got non-tendered this week. It was kind of a hard decision. The Brewers did offer me but I decided I kind of wanted a fresh start and was willing to risk to see what was out there free agent-wise," Shaw told Bradford. "Just wanted a fresh start after everything that happened last year. Like you said, [signing with the Red Sox] makes sense on paper now we’ll see with who else call or what other teams call. That’s kind of what we’re sorting through now. We’ve had quite a bit of interest so far over this week which is an encouraging sign for me. We’ll just go from there."

Before the 2017 season, the Red Sox traded Shaw to the Brewers in the deal that brought reliever Tyler Thornburg to Boston. In his first two years with Milwaukee, Shaw was an integral part of the offense with 30+ home runs and an OPS well above .800. Last season, however, Shaw missed some time with a wrist injury and saw his production dip significantly.

Assuming Shaw can return to the type of player we saw in '17 and '18, he makes for an intriguing option for Boston in free agency. Along with his potential at the plate, Shaw brings versatility to the table as he can adequately play multiple positions.

Right-handed sluggers Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec currently are the Red Sox' options at first base. Chavis was solid in his 2019 rookie campaign, and Dalbec enters 2020 as one of the organization's top prospects.

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MLB rumors: Winter meetings preview - Five Red Sox moves to watch as offseason begins in earnest

MLB rumors: Winter meetings preview - Five Red Sox moves to watch as offseason begins in earnest

The start of baseball's offseason has included some thank-the-lord movement, with a second-tier starter (Zack Wheeler) landing a $118 million deal from the Phillies and the hyperactive Rays dealing away a stalwart outfielder (Tommy Pham), much to the chagrin of ace Blake Snell.

With baseball's annual winter meetings beginning on Sunday at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, all eyes will be on Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox, who have yet to make a major move, but will soon be on the clock.

So, what can we expect? Here are five areas of focus.

1. IS THERE A MOOKIE BETTS TRADE?

The Red Sox would be crazy not to consider deals for Betts if they believe he intends on reaching free agency, which he has made clear both publicly and privately over the last two years. They'd be crazier to give him away for nothing, however, and thus begins the dance of the offseason. The question they must answer is, "How much is too little?" and then draw a line in the warning-track sand. Potential trade partners like the White Sox and Braves have already spent aggressively, which means a Betts deal likely needs to happen sooner than later, since whomever acquires him must fit $28 million into their 2019 payroll and pretty soon that money will start disappearing. One team to watch: the Dodgers, who have money to spend, prospects to trade, and a World Series hill to climb after three straight near-misses.

2. DEALING DAVID PRICE

Chris Sale just started throwing, per WEEI.com, and his five-year, $145 million extension kicks in on Opening Day. Selling low on the potentially dominant left-hander is a recipe for regret, especially since his contract could end up being pretty reasonable if he returns to health. The better trade candidate is Price, who turns 35 in August and has three years and $96 million remaining on a contract that's more likely to provide diminishing returns, but paradoxically includes fewer short-term questions. We laid out the case for Price being an actual trade asset on Thursday; as free agent pitchers leave the market, someone will be left short, and maybe Price becomes a target.

3. FINDING A STARTER (OR TWO)

Trading Price may ease the financial crunch on a team hoping to drop below the $208 million luxury tax threshold, but it will blow another hole in a rotation that's already down one starter with the presumed departure of free agent Rick Porcello. The Red Sox obviously won't be in on Astros ace Gerrit Cole or Nationals World Series hero Stephen Strasburg. They also can't afford Madison Bumgarner or maybe even old friend Wade Miley. Will they go the opener route? Take a flier on a reclamation project like Felix Hernandez or Michael Wacha? Try to turn center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. into a starter? Here's where Bloom's creativity will be put to the test.

4. SURPRISE US

Until he starts dealing, Bloom remains an enigma. He's beholden to no one on the roster, a position which allowed predecessor Dave Dombrowski to cut ties with Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez while they were still owed money. Could Bloom decide a roster overhaul is in order and use a supposed foundational piece like All-Star shortstop Xander Bogaerts or outfielder Andrew Benintendi to swing a larger deal? We may start to get some clarity on his thoughts next week.

5. RIGHT SIDE OF THE INFIELD

At this time last year, the Red Sox were foolishly counting on 125 games out of second baseman Dustin Pedroia (he played six) and 162 out of a first base platoon of Mitch Moreland (91) and Steve Pearce (29). While some portion of either job could go to second-year slugger Michael Chavis, the Red Sox will be in the market for help at first and second, and this is a spot where Bloom helped unearth some legit finds in Tampa, from Carlos Pena to Logan Morrison to Ji-Man Choi. There should be no shortage of affordable options at first, in particular, from Justin Smoak to Travis Shaw to C.J. Cron.

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