John Henry

There can be only one: Why it makes more sense for Red Sox to keep J.D. Martinez than Mookie Betts

There can be only one: Why it makes more sense for Red Sox to keep J.D. Martinez than Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez complement each other as well as any two players in baseball. Since the start of 2018, no one has scored more runs than Betts (264) or driven in more than Martinez (235). That's no coincidence.

But now the Red Sox face a stomach-churning dilemma: choosing between them.

Martinez's decision not to opt out of the remaining three years on his contract means that not only will he return in 2020, but the Red Sox will have $23.75 million less to spend on Betts, were they feeling inclined to keep him.

With ownership declaring it hopes to see the payroll drop below $208 million for luxury-tax purposes, it's hard to envision a scenario where both Martinez and Betts open the season on the roster. And so the next three months will be spent trying to find a new home for one of them.

It's a choice that feels like a loss no matter what the Red Sox choose, but if they can only keep one, it should be Martinez.

It sounds crazy, because Betts is clearly the better all-around player and he's in his prime. What big-market team trades a 27-year-old barely a year removed from winning the MVP?

But the Red Sox need to start thinking long-term after three years of loading for bear. Bad contracts to David Price, Chris Sale, and Nathan Eovaldi will almost certainly hamstring the franchise for the next three years at $79 million per. That's no way to sustain success, and I don't begrudge John Henry for setting limits.

While it's tempting to say that Betts is paying the price for those horrible decisions, it also ignores the truth: 10-year, $300 million contracts aren't good business. I wouldn't pay that to anyone. Even Betts.

Angels superstar Mike Trout will probably claim his third MVP next week after another absurd season that saw him blast a career-high 45 homers. That makes his 12-year, $428 million extension money well spent, right? Well, foot surgery ended his season in September. Maybe it's nothing, but he has missed at least 20 games each of the past three seasons. The Angels need no reminder of what his 30s might look like, because all they've gotten out of Albert Pujols's 10-year deal (signed at age 32, to be fair) since 2012 is one All-Star berth. Trout's on another level athletically, but that's part of the problem -- he plays like a freight train. If he wears down, it won't be reflected in his paycheck.

The same goes for Bryce Harper, who delivered solid overall numbers in the first year of his 13-year, $330 million megadeal with the Phillies, but was sitting at home when his former team, the Nationals, won it all. Last winter's other $300 million man, Manny Machado, hit .256 with a .796 OPS in San Diego, which is a big bag of meh.

Betts is better than everyone on this list except Trout, but he's also smaller than them at 5-9, 180. As great as he is now, signing him into his late 30s for more than $30 million annually is the definition of risky. What if he loses a step in the outfield, or the lightning in his wrists suffers a voltage drop? When the Red Sox signed Dustin Pedroia to an eight-year deal in July of 2013, they couldn't have imagined that he had just made his final All-Star team, or that he'd appear in more than 135 games just once before a degenerative knee condition effectively ended his career.

Maybe Betts is Manny Ramirez or Alex Rodriguez, two stars who delivered on massive deals. Then again, both of them were busted multiple times for using performance-enhancing drugs, and baseball's crackdown on those has led to a reevaluation of aging curves, which are steeper in their 30s than they used to be.

Martinez, meanwhile, represents cost certainty. He's signed for three more years, but can opt out of either of the next two. He plays a far less demanding position and style than Betts, and it's much easier to envision him delivering value commensurate with the $62.5 million remaining on his deal. He has averaged .317-40-118 in his first two seasons with the Red Sox, and he continues a trend that has existed since the heyday of David Ortiz, giving Boston far and away the best DH production in baseball. Paying him $23 million a year to mash while other teams split their DH slot among aging one-dimensional sluggers or glorified bench rotations feels like exploiting a market inefficiency.

I would argue that Martinez's presence is more important to the lineup than Betts', and I suspect Betts would agree. It's easier to be a table-setter than a table, to steal an old line from Pedroia, and Martinez is the latter, taking the heat off everyone else. Even in an era defined by analytics, the mental strain that Martinez eases by being The Guy means more than numbers can convey.

There's an obvious counterargument to all of this: keep them both. The Red Sox aren't poor, and Henry's desire to cut payroll is based on the artificial barriers created by the luxury tax. Outside of some minor draft order penalties, all that going over costs anyone is money, and Henry can afford it -- another $240 million payroll in 2020 might cost the Red Sox $20 million in tax payments, for instance. That's easy to dismiss when it's someone else's money and that someone else is a billionaire.

My counterargument to that counterargument would be that Henry has never been shy about spending, and if he looks at this past season's underachieving roster and sees more problems on the horizon because of bad investments, I can't blame him. After all, it's not like he hired Chaim Bloom from small-market Tampa to make it rain.

The next great Red Sox team won't be bloated like this one. Betts isn't part of that problem, but give him $350 million and he could be. Better to pay Martinez a more reasonable sum and trust that the team's considerable resources can be spread around to make up the difference.


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In Chaim Bloom hire, Red Sox ownership returns to its original vision

In Chaim Bloom hire, Red Sox ownership returns to its original vision

Dave Dombrowski helped build one of the greatest teams in major league history, period.

He also represented an aberration of sorts for a Boston Red Sox ownership group that returned to course Monday while announcing the hire of Chaim Bloom as its chief baseball officer.

"I think (Bloom) is closer to the executive they were trying to develop in Ben Cherington, and what they had with Theo (Epstein)," former New York Mets general manager Jim Duquette told NBC Sports Boston.

"This is what I believe the Red Sox had in mind basically when this new ownership took over."

To Duquette's point: Principal owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner have hired four heads of baseball operations since purchasing the team in 2001. Three were Ivy-educated (Epstein and Bloom attended Yale; Cherington attended Amherst College before going on to Harvard Business School) and well shy of 40.

The other was Dombrowski.

Again: The results paid off with Dombrowski. The combined disaster of the 2014 and 2015 campaigns led Henry and Co. to cut bait with Cherington and enter "win now" mode by hiring Dombrowski, who lived up to his billing by gutting the farm system Cherington cultivated to produce a winner in 2018.

But Dombrowski was a mercenary, and with the transaction of a World Series title complete, the Red Sox seemed eager to turn the page Monday.

"I would just say we were extremely desirous of bringing in someone who would augment and add as opposed to just bringing in someone who might have been an autocrat, for instance, a one-man show," Henry said at Monday's press conference.

That's a pretty clear distinction between what the Red Sox had in Dombrowski and what the Red Sox are getting in Bloom, whom Duquette describes as a collaborative leader who's simply "an easy guy to talk to."

Personal traits notwithstanding, the Boston brass also is counting on Bloom to rebuild its barren farm system and attempt to recreate the model of sustainable success that Epstein established almost two decades ago.

"What is the fabric of your organization? What are you trying to build?" Duquette said. "I think that’s what the Red Sox are trying to accomplish: win, but also develop and establish a core group."

Bloom is well-suited for that task coming from the Tampa Bay Rays, where he helped build a solid foundation with a (very) limited budget as vice president of baseball operations.

Not that it's an easy task. The 36-year-old has several looming problems to address, most notably whether to trade superstar outfielder Mookie Betts before he becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season and whether to re-sign slugger J.D. Martinez, especially if he opts out of his current contract.

Oh, and he'll face a bit more scrutiny in Boston than he did in Tampa.

"This fan base knows the 25th through the 40th man on the roster. They know what he looks like," Duquette added. "Chaim’s dinner reservations? They're going to change for him."

Bloom clearly is what the Red Sox envision in their head of baseball operations, though. So, he should feel pretty comfortable making those reservations.

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Chaim Bloom, Red Sox brass address Mookie Betts' future in Boston

Chaim Bloom, Red Sox brass address Mookie Betts' future in Boston

Chaim Bloom has plenty on his plate as he takes the Chief Baseball Officer title for the Red Sox, and figuring out the future of Mookie Betts is right at the top of the list.

Betts is entering the final year of his Red Sox contract and there hasn't been any indication the two sides are remotely close to coming to terms on an extension. All signs point toward the 2018 American League MVP being prepared to test out free agency in 2020, which brings into question whether the team could look to trade the face of their franchise.

During Bloom's introductory press conference on Monday, the 36-year-old was peppered with several questions regarding the direction of the organization. Predictably, a number of those questions were Betts-related, but Bloom opted not to get into specifics during his first day on the job.

“Just having gotten here, obviously I come in with some information having competed against this team for a long time," Bloom said. "There’s a lot I don’t know and a lot I’m still learning."

As Bloom gets himself situated in his new role, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner and principal owner John Henry will continue to face questions regarding Betts until the star right fielder's contract situation is resolved.

Werner reiterated his prior comments regarding the organization's desire to keep Betts in Boston for the rest of his career, though he didn't exactly exude confidence in the two sides reaching an agreement any time soon.

“As we’ve said, we think he’s one of the great players in baseball, and in a perfect world, we would like to figure out a way for him to continue to be a player for us for [the rest of] his career,” Werner said. “He has the right to test free agency. We had conversations with him in the past, and Chaim and his group will lead conversations going forward.”

Since planning out Betts' future is the No. 1 order of business for Bloom as he takes over for Dave Dombrowski, it's conceivable his name was brought up multiple times during the interview process with the new Chief Baseball Officer.

Henry acknowledged there indeed were discussions with Bloom about Betts, though there other variables that come into play including whether Mookie even wants to be in Boston for the long haul.

“I would say we talked about that there are a lot of tough decisions to make this offseason,” Henry said. “That’s not uncommon during offseasons, but there are some significant decisions. They’re not all in our hands, obviously. The first one is not our decision to make, but it will impact us.

"It was more of a general discussion. We talked about Mookie, JD [Martinez], other issues, but we didn’t focus on ‘What should we do?’ because you’re going to be looking at a number of factors, including where Mookie wants to play — for the long term.”

Between Betts' uncertain future, J.D. Martinez potentially opting out of his contract, and the money tied up within the Red Sox rotation, Bloom has quite the mess to sort out this offseason. But if there's one thing Sox brass wants to be made clear, it's that they believe Bloom is the perfect man for the job.

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