John Henry

Five things it would've been nice to hear Red Sox ownership say about Mookie Betts trade

Five things it would've been nice to hear Red Sox ownership say about Mookie Betts trade

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After listening to Red Sox ownership wax sentimental about Stan Musial, long for just one more peek at Mookie Betts' dreamy smile, and remind fans that $99 tier five family packs are available right now, so get 'em before they're gone, I found myself wishing they could've demonstrated a little more humility and candor on Monday morning.

In truth, they had little chance of satisfactorily defending a move most fans consider indefensible. But had we the opportunity to shoot up owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and CEO Sam Kennedy with a little sodium pentothal, here are five things I wish they had said.

1. "This was about the CBT."

If there's a truly head-scratching aspect of the Betts trade, it's ownership's insistence that the media has someone misconstrued the organization's intentions. Even Henry's meandering opening statement, which he billed as "addressing Red Sox fans directly," suggested that reporters have somehow failed the fanbase by noting the obvious truth that the Red Sox wanted to drop the payroll below $208 million to reset their luxury tax penalties this season.

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There are a host of reasons to do so. It protects the team's spot in the draft, it reduces the amount it must pay for exceeding various thresholds, and it positions the club to spend again, a la the Yankees and Dodgers this winter.

But nope. They're still clinging to this defiant notion that the trade was about talent and not clearing the books. OK.

2. "This was a salary dump."

I'm not sure why "salary dump" is such a dirty phrase. In moving half of David Price's remaining $96 million off the books, the Red Sox not only ditched a player who's unlikely to justify his paycheck, but they created the opportunity to replace him with someone younger, and youth is the most valuable currency in today's game.

The Yankees and Dodgers are the two highest-profile examples of big-market teams who slashed payroll in order to build around youth, and it has worked out smashingly for each. The Yankees created the flexibility to sign Gerrit Cole to the largest contract ever given a pitcher, while the Dodgers had room to absorb both Betts and Price. Each team is also coming off 100-win seasons.

Werner was asked why financial flexibility couldn't be a justifiable end in and of itself.

"It can be," he said. "But if we had simply wanted to have a salary dump, there would've been other ways to do that. It wasn't a salary dump. It was to give us flexibility. We could've moved in different directions. We could be sitting here saying Mookie is a member of our team this year. We made a strategic decision for what was in the best interests of the team this year and going forward, that this was a wise trade. We followed Chaim (Bloom's) recommendation, but there would've been other ways to have a salary dump than the path we went forward with."

Werner added it was "hypothetically" true the team could've traded Price alone, but I'm skeptical another club would've eaten half of his remaining money without Betts being attached.

3. "We've mismanaged our payroll."

When the club explained why it fired former president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in September, Henry noted that he knew shortly after the World Series parade that the two men did not share the same vision moving forward. Dombrowski wanted to spend, Henry wanted to cut.

So it's fair to ask why Henry allowed Dombrowski to sign pitchers Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi to contracts totaling more than $200 million last offseason, a question that ownership batted away.

"These decisions, there are a lot of hypotheticals here," Werner said. "We are pleased with the value we got back from the Dodgers. We might not be having this discussion, we might have preceded under different scenarios, but we are where we are based on the proposal that we agreed to."

Based on his injury-riddled 2019, Sale would not have cashed in for $145 million this winter. Based on his injury history, Eovaldi shouldn't have been signed to a $68 million contract based on two strong weeks in the playoffs.

But they were and here we are. The bloated Red Sox payroll cost them Betts as much as anything else.

4. "We've mismanaged our roster."

Band-Aids are how you end up becoming the New York Knicks. At some point, a team must be willing to take a step back, make some hard decisions, and set a course for the future. Throwing money after a top-heavy roster with zero depth might keep the Red Sox in marginally better playoff contention, but it won't address the hard truth that, with or without Betts, they're not a realistic World Series contender.

The once-strong farm system has been pillaged, the back of the roster is a mess, and there's little in the pipeline that suggests hope. The Red Sox need a reset while there's still time to build around the Xander Bogaerts-Rafael Devers-Andrew Benintendi core, but the sooner they start that process, the better.

5. "We're going to spend again."

This is a factual statement that is on the team's side, and yet no one thinks to just come out and say it. Criticize Henry and Co. all you want, but they're not shy about spending. The money they save this year will go right back into the roster, and it shouldn't surprise anyone if they boast the game's highest payroll within a year or two.

So say it! "We're only two years removed from spending more on players than any team in baseball," Henry could've said, "and I want the fans to hear this directly from me: we will spend that much again."

Instead, unfortunately, we got a bunch of sentimentality about Stan the Man, a misleading comparison to Nomar Garciaparra, and an embarrassing plea to buy student tickets for nine bucks. When it comes to getting out of their own way, Red Sox ownership always seems to end up in a heap.

Red Sox ownership takes heat for comparing Mookie Betts trade to Nomar deal

Red Sox ownership takes heat for comparing Mookie Betts trade to Nomar deal

Boston Red Sox principal owner John Henry tried to get ahead of the criticism Monday by reading a prepared statement about the team's decision to trade Mookie Betts.

Instead, he opened the door for more criticism.

Here's Henry's full statement:

Here's what Henry is taking heat for: After empathizing with Red Sox fans who feel "disbelieving or angry or sad" about Boston trading away its 27-year-old superstar, Henry compared this situation to the team's trade of All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra at the 2004 trade deadline.

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"Some of you no doubt felt the same way in 2004 when we traded Nomar, who like Mookie was a hugely popular, homegrown player," Henry said. "All of us in the organization hoped we could avoid ever having to go through something like that again. But most clubs face similar dilemmas from time to time."

Henry added that Boston lost several star players -- specifically Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury and Manny Ramirez -- while winning four World Series titles over the last 20 years. Red Sox chairman Tom Werner also referenced the Garciaparra trade in Monday's press conference from Fort Myers, noting the team has "been in this situation before."

... But was it really the same situation?

Garciaparra was entering his ninth MLB season in 2004 and already had dealt with several serious injuries. He didn't make his 2004 debut until June 9 due to an Achilles injury and turned 31 just before the deadline.

Yes, Garciaparra was a highly popular player on the final year of his contract. But Betts showed virtually no signs of wear and tear through six seasons with the Red Sox and is very much in his prime. (He's the current favorite to win National League MVP.)

Critics were quick to call out the Red Sox on Twitter for shoehorning Nomar into the Betts trade discussion.

You get the idea.

The Red Sox went on to win the World Series in 2004 after trading Garciaparra in return for Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz.

The 2020 Red Sox? Don't expect them to compete for a World Series title after they traded their best player (and a key member of their rotation in David Price) from a team that won 84 games last season.

John Henry insists Mookie Betts trade wasn't driven by desire to cut payroll

John Henry insists Mookie Betts trade wasn't driven by desire to cut payroll

The Boston Red Sox continue to do damage control after trading away their franchise player.

Many have criticized the Red Sox for dumping outfielder Mookie Betts and pitcher David Price on the Los Angeles Dodgers as a means to get under Major League Baseball's competitive balance tax for 2020.

Principal owner John Henry has deep pockets, after all -- Forbes recently listed his Fenway Sports Group empire as the third-wealthiest sports group in the world at $6.6 billion -- so why couldn't the club shell out a little more money to sign Betts to an extension before he hit free agency in 2021?

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In a recent interview with The Boston Globe's Michael Silverman, Henry defended the team's decision to trade Betts and insisted critics are too focused on his September 2019 comments admitting the Red Sox need to be under the CBT in 2020.

"You’re hung up on CBT," Henry told Silverman. "You see this and I think the media, too, to some extent, ever since we mentioned that clubs have a tendency to get below CBT once in a while."

"It’s surprising that anyone would think we would outspend every other team in baseball every single year. To me, that’s a little surprising. Clubs have to make difficult decisions, and one of the biggest decisions they have to make is, ‘Do we potentially let a great player walk away for very little compensation?’ That’s one of the decisions that you have to make irrespective of CBT – it has nothing to do with CBT."

The Red Sox paid a $13.4 million luxury tax bill for 2019 after boasting the highest payroll in baseball and haven't ranked lower than fifth in spending among MLB clubs under Henry's tenure.

They're not always the highest-spending club, though: Boston has topped the CBT 10 times in the last 17 years, while the rival New York Yankees have exceeded the CBT in every year during that span.

But Henry insisted the luxury tax was "only an element" in trading Betts, and that the Red Sox' return of outfielder Alex Verdugo, infield prospect Jeter Downs and catcher prospect Connor Wong will be better for the club in the long run.

"Maybe you and others at this point undervalue the baseball side of the deal," Henry told Silverman. "We have balance, and not just this year."

That "balance" likely won't lead to more wins in 2020, but Henry seems adamant trading Betts was the right move for the franchise in the long-term -- financials notwithstanding.