John Tomase

Is there time for Red Sox to trade Mookie Betts before spring training?

Is there time for Red Sox to trade Mookie Betts before spring training?

February arrives this weekend, spring training begins in two weeks, and Mookie Betts remains on the Red Sox roster.

This leads to an obvious question: with rumors swirling about interest from the Padres and Dodgers, is there still time for the Red Sox to swing a trade?

According to chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, the answer is yes.

"Sometimes the action happens early, some years it happens late," Bloom said recently. "Obviously, closer to spring training there are practical hurdles. You want to feel like you have time for the impact of anything to settle. But I've been around deals that happened very late and there's certainly still time. But I don't say that to indicate anything one way or the other, just to answer your question."

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It turns out that history is with him, though blockbuster trades this late in the offseason certainly aren't common.

Examine 20 years' worth of transactions and you'll find a handful of impact deals that occurred between Jan. 27 and Opening Day. Most don't involve the kind of money — $27 million — the Red Sox are trying to move with Betts, but it's worth noting how tricky they are to consummate this close to the start of the season.

Since 2000, five deals generally fit Boston's current parameters: trading an All-Star caliber player this close to the season, when most clubs have settled their budgets and rosters. (For the sake of this exercise, we're not including the monster free agent deals Manny Machado and Bryce Harper signed last February/March with the Padres and Phillies, respectively).

Two of the five deals don't realistically compare to Betts, though. On this date in 2006, the Red Sox acquired center fielder Coco Crisp from the Indians for a package that included top prospect Andy Marte and catcher Kelly Shoppach. Crisp was good, but not great, and the Red Sox acquired him while he still had arbitration eligibility remaining.

Likewise, the everything-must-go Marlins shipped All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies last Feb. 7 for a pair of prospects, a fringe big leaguer, and international bonus money. Realmuto had two years of team control remaining when the Phillies acquired him.

That leaves three deals involving players the caliber of Betts — trades of former MVPs Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, as well as Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.

Let's break down each to try gain some insight into what the Red Sox face.

Feb. 10, 2000: Mariners trade Ken Griffey Jr. to Reds

When owner John Henry told reporters in September that the team wanted to drop below the $208 million luxury tax threshold, he effectively put his next GM in a box, but it's nothing compared to the one Seattle's Pat Gillick found himself in during the winter of 1999-2000.

He entered that offseason knowing he needed to trade  the former MVP and all-around best player in baseball before his contract expired in a year, but Griffey's 10-5 rights meant he could dictate his destination, and he provided the M's with only four options: the Reds, Mets, Astros, and Braves.

Gillick negotiated all winter before finally striking the February deal that sent Griffey to his hometown Reds for a package that included future Gold Glover Mike Cameron and right-hander Brett Tomko.

Cameron ended up making as many All-Star games (1) as Griffey over the next four years, winning two Gold Gloves to Junior's zero. He also played an integral role in the 116-win behemoth of 2001, while Griffey never made the postseason over his nine years in Cincinnati.

Here's where the Betts comparison falters, though. Griffey arrived in Cincinnati at age 30, while Betts only just turned 27. Betts should be that much further from his decline, buying his next team some more leeway if it signs him to a long-term deal.

Feb. 16, 2004: Rangers trade Alex Rodriguez to Yankees

Red Sox fans need no reminder of how this deal went down.

Boston spent half of that offseason trying to acquire the defending MVP, striking a complicated deal involving Manny Ramirez, Nomar Garciaparra, Magglio Ordonez, and others. It would've pulled it off, too, except the MLBPA balked at Rodriguez reducing his salary.

So in swooped the Yankees at the 11th hour by dangling slugging infielder Alfonso Soriano, completing the trade that put Rodriguez in pinstripes and made him villain No. 1 in Boston for the next decade.

While Rodriguez imported more than his share of controversy to the Yankees clubhouse before retiring in disgrace, he also delivered, winning a pair of MVP awards and the only World Series title of his career in 2009.

If there's a tie to Betts, it's the idea that the Red Sox could move down the road with one club — let's say the Padres — before a division rival with massive resources springs into action, in this case the Dodgers.

Feb. 2, 2008: Twins trade Johan Santana to Mets

Sometimes, there are no right answers.

Take the 2008 trade that sent the two-time Cy Young Award winner to New York before he played out the final year and $13.25 million on his contract.

Minnesota's rookie GM, Bill Smith, knew he couldn't afford Santana long-term (sound familiar?), so he jettisoned him for a pile of prospects, virtually all of whom missed. The best player in the deal was outfielder Carlos Gomez, not that the Twins benefited; he didn't blossom into an All-Star and Gold Glover until 2013 with the Brewers.

Meanwhile, the Mets didn't receive an adequate return on their six-year, $137.5 million investment, either. Santana delivered three good-to-great seasons before injuries effectively ended his career in 2010.

The real what-if in this scenario is how different the deal would look if the Twins had traded Santana to a Red Sox team that boasted Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, and Jed Lowrie in a loaded farm system.

It's a cautionary tale for Bloom as he evaluates competing prospect packages from the Padres and Dodgers, because making the right deal for the wrong players accomplishes nothing.

Pros (prospects!) and cons (Wil Myers?) of potential Mookie Betts trade to Padres

Pros (prospects!) and cons (Wil Myers?) of potential Mookie Betts trade to Padres

With multiple reports revealing that the Padres and Red Sox have discussed a Mookie Betts trade, here are some thoughts on what it all means ...

MONEY MATTERS

The money doesn't really work for me. In swapping Betts for outfielder/first baseman Wil Myers, the Red Sox would save $13 million in 2020, which gets them roughly two-thirds of the way towards their goal of dropping below the $208 million luxury tax threshold. Maybe San Diego kicks in some cash to increase that number.

Boston would then be assuming the final three years and $68.5 million remaining on Myers' contract (including a $1 million buyout in 2023), though for luxury tax purposes, he'd only count for just under $14 million annually.

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If the Red Sox are intent on slashing $21 million in payroll, jettisoning Betts and still coming up well short of that goal feels suboptimal.

Put another way: if the Red Sox carry Betts into the season and then trade him at the deadline, they'd save about $9 million. Is that $4 million difference worth four months of Betts to see if the Red Sox can contend?

From this view, that's a yes.

L.A. STORY

I'd still rather move David Price and the $32 million he's owed in 2020 to find the savings the Red Sox need, and that's why the Dodgers remain their most logical trade partners.

L.A. has the need for the five-tool outfielder after two World Series losses and one shocking NLDS ouster, it has the financial and prospect resources to acquire both Betts and Price, and it could actually use another starter, to boot.

Add Andrew Friedman's familiarity with Price from their Tampa days, and these Padres discussions feel more like a way to goose the Dodgers to the table rather than watch a star player join a division rival.

WHERE THERE'S A WIL ...

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom knows Myers well from Tampa, where the slugger was one of the centerpieces of the 2012 trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to Kansas City.

Myers won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2013 in what was a remarkably weak class — former Red Sox infielder Jose Iglesias finished second — and made an All-Star team in 2016 with the Padres, but has trended noticeably downward since. Injuries limited him to 83 games in 2018, and last year he hit only .239 with 18 homers while striking out 168 times.

If the Red Sox are going to take Myers, they absolutely need the Padres to pick up some of his salary, because there's a real possibility he has reached the JAG portion of his career.

BUYER BEWARE

Granted, this little bit of egregiousness happened on Dave Dombrowski's watch, but how quickly the Red Sox forget the pitfalls of dealing with A.J. Preller.

The Padres GM was suspended by MLB for withholding medical information that would've revealed more extensive damage to the elbow of left-hander Drew Pomeranz before the Red Sox acquired him in 2016.

The Red Sox surrendered their top pitching prospect, right-hander Anderson Espinoza, and by the time San Diego's malfeasance was revealed, the Red Sox decided it was too late to undo the deal.

Espinoza has since needed a pair of Tommy John surgeries, leaving his career very much in doubt, but the Red Sox shouldn't forget how badly Preller burned them.

FARM FRESH

If there's one plus to a potential San Diego deal, it's that the Red Sox would be choosing players from one of baseball's most loaded farm systems, as we laid out here.

A couple of names to watch: imposing Cuban right-hander Michel Baez, a 6-foot-8 behemoth who is a potential future closer, and catcher Luis Campusano, who is considered one of the best young backstops in the minors.

Top prospect Triston Casas is quite literally growing on the Red Sox

Top prospect Triston Casas is quite literally growing on the Red Sox

The Red Sox drafted Triston Casas as the rare high schooler who already possessed big-league size at an imposing 6-foot-4, 238 pounds.

It turns out he's still growing.

The team's top prospect recently stopped by Fenway Park, and the team's first order of business should be updating his bio.

Not only has Casas added bulk, but he's taller, too. A week after his 20th birthday, Casas now stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 255 pounds. To put this in perspective, he's only an inch shorter and already 10 pounds heavier than Yankees behemoth Giancarlo Stanton. If he's got any growing left in him, he could rival Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, all 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds of him.

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"I just turned 20, so I'm still growing into my body," Casas said. "I'm not putting any limits on my size. I'm not sure how much more I might grow. It's been weight training, nutrition, a combination of a lot of things. It's mostly natural. It's my genes. There's no secret formula for it."

Casas noted that his father is also 6-5 — "he's a little bigger than me in terms of roundness" — and that his mom stands about 5-9, "so she's not tiny."

Good genes are only half the battle, though, and Casas is proving himself to be the team's most exciting prospect. The first baseman recently checked in at No. 70 on Baseball America's top 100 list, making him the highest-ranked Red Sox farmhand, five spots ahead of Bobby Dalbec.

He put up numbers at two levels of A ball last year that certainly jump off the page for a 19-year-old, hitting .256 with 20 homers and 81 RBIs in what was effectively his pro debut. Drafted 26th overall in the first round of the 2018 draft out of Plantation, Fla., Casas tore a thumb ligament just two games into his career at short-season Lowell, necessitating season-ending surgery.

He returned in 2019 and got off to a slow start at Low-A Greenville before taking flight. Hitting just .208 through April with 31 strikeouts and only two homers in 22 games, Casas hit. 267 with 18 homers and an .870 OPS thereafter, striking out a more manageable 87 times in 98 games.

"Once you get in that 450-500 at-bat level of the season, it starts to get a little comfortable," Casas said. "I felt like I was having my best at-bats in August, and when the season ended, I was a little disappointed that we didn't have another month left. I'm looking to build on that momentum and bring it into the season."

Casas finished third in the South Atlantic League with 19 homers (he added his 20th during a September cameo with High-A Salem), and no other teenager cracked the top 10. He joined Xander Bogaerts and Tony Conigliaro as the only Red Sox teenagers to hit 20 homers at any level since 1960.

All of that slugging made him the unanimous No. 1 prospect in the organization, with his smooth left-handed swing drawing comparisons to Braves All-Star Freddie Freeman.

"I'm more on the side of ignoring all of it," Casas said of the plaudits. "I try to live with the satisfaction that I'm happy with myself, and the numbers I'm putting up are a product of the work I'm putting in. I feel like there are a lot of improvements that need to be done, because I don't feel like I had my best season."

He was lucky enough to grow up near Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer, a fellow graduate of Heritage High School. Hosmer has served as a mentor for years, though Casas likes the idea of closing the student-teacher gap as he gets closer to the big leagues himself.

"I've talked to him a couple of times this offseason, a little more often now that I've signed, just because we have a little bit more compatibility and we're a little more relatable to each other," Casas said. "He's a really good mentor. He's kind of like the first big leaguer I've ever talked to, growing up, he's in the area and I don't know if he's always felt the need to take me under his wing, but same high school, same area, he's been really beneficial to my career."

If there's a player Casas admires, it's Reds first baseman Joey Votto. Despite his natural power, Casas chokes up like Votto, especially with two strikes, "where I'm way up on the pine tar."

"I emulate Joey Votto as much as I can," Casas said. "He's my favorite player."

He won't be Votto until he limits the strikeouts. He ruefully noted that he recorded more K's (116) than hits (107) in 2019.

"That was a very concerning stat for me," he said. "That's something I got back in the cage and focused on. I feel like it has a lot to do with your mentality stepping into the box, being ready to hit right from the first pitch. But it's something that I learned from last year. Last year was a big learning experience, so I'll look to build on it this year."

Casas hopes to build, and maybe he'll continue to grow, too. Whatever happens, he knows this much: he's not in the game simply to be a highly regarded prospect.

"To be recognized by a lot of people as the Red Sox' best minor-league player or hitter, it's really nice," he said. "But at the end of the day, I don't want to be a minor league player."