MLB free agents

Mookie Betts removed from Red Sox season ticket web page

Mookie Betts removed from Red Sox season ticket web page

Are the Red Sox sending a not-so-subtle hint about Mookie Betts' future in Boston to prospective season ticket holders?

When you visit the portion of the team website seeking new season-ticket buyers, the illustration on the web page shows Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and Chris Sale.

Barstool Sports' Jared Carrabis pointed out earlier this week that Betts had been removed from the illustration. The Red Sox All-Star right fielder and 2018 AL MVP, the subject of much trade speculation as the team prepares to shed payroll this offseason, actually appeared on the page in mid-August. By last week, Eduardo Rodriguez had replaced him. The current graphic has Sale on the left.  

Just like the others pictured on the page, Betts isn't a free agent...yet. Bogaerts and Sale have signed long-term extensions and the Sox are reportedly ready to talk about an extension with Devers. Betts? He'll likely receive more than $30 million for the 2020 season in arbitration then command a long-term deal of $300 million or more when he tests the free-agent market after next season.

That kind of financial commitment due the soon-to-be-27-year-old (happy birthday on Monday, Mookie) - and Red Sox ownership's admission that their goal is to get under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold - has led many to believe that Betts will be traded this winter.

A report even emerged this week of what the Red Sox would be seeking in a Betts trade. 

Red Sox team chairman Tom Werner said last week the team remains hopeful of keeping Betts. Still, with his teammates assuming he'll be gone before next season begins, the Sox appear to be reluctant to promote a player to season-ticket holders who'll be in another uniform.

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Red Sox want to keep Mookie Betts, but preparing 'Plan B or Plan C' if he decides to test free agency

Red Sox want to keep Mookie Betts, but preparing 'Plan B or Plan C' if he decides to test free agency

BOSTON -- Trading Mookie Betts is not a foregone conclusion, not for Tom Werner anyway.

The Red Sox team chairman said on Friday that the team has had talks with Betts' agents within the past two weeks and remains hopeful that the reigning American League MVP can be signed to a contract extension.

"We've stated publicly that we would hope he would stay with us the rest of his career," Werner said. "We have made proposals to him in the past and he did want to test free agency, which is his right. And we'll have some conversations with him going forward. But obviously there'll be a point where hopefully we can make a deal or we'll decide at that point what is plan B or plan C, but we haven't gotten to that point and we're very open to continuing discussions with him."

Betts has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining after signing a one-year, $20 million contract to avoid arbitration this season. He's due $28 million-$30 million this winter, but if the red Sox decide he's not interested in staying long term, they'll have to explore moving him.

Werner disputed the notion that Betts wants out.

"No, I think he loves the Boston Red Sox," he said.

Betts, who turns 27 Oct. 7, began the day hitting .294 with 29 homers, 79 RBI, and a 6.9 WAR that ranks sixth in the American League.

"We think he is one of the great players in baseball," Werner said. "Hopefully, there is a meeting of the minds going forward."

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Say goodbye to J.D. and Mookie? Red Sox payroll decisions are about to get ugly

Say goodbye to J.D. and Mookie? Red Sox payroll decisions are about to get ugly

If Red Sox ownership really wants to reset the luxury-tax clock, then the new GM should expect the following item to be missing from his new office: a checkbook.

For the Red Sox actually to drop below the $208 million threshold that returns their penalty structure to zero will require not so much pruning shears as a chainsaw, with two high-profile victims -- Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez -- on the chopping block.

The Red Sox spent more than $240 million last year and will be in that range again this year. If they spend beyond the tax threshold again in 2020, they'll trigger the most onerous penalties, with a tax of 50 percent on every dollar spent over $208 million, 95 percent on every dollar over $248 million, and a sliding scale in between. They could end up making a tax payment of more than $20 million.

The problem with dropping below that $208 million figure is the Red Sox are already well over it for 2020 if they do nothing except keep their signed and arbitration-eligible players. By just a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation, they have more than $220 million already committed to next year's team, which is why Dave Dombrowski's successor will inherit such a challenge.

The clearest way to slip below that threshold requires a pair of unthinkable moves -- letting Martinez opt out of his contract and walk, and trading Betts. And even that might not be enough, given the rest of the team's needs.

Those two should count for roughly $50 million against next year's cap, assuming Betts earns about $28 million in arbitration and Martinez carries his $22 million luxury-tax hit (on an actual salary closer to $24 million). Renouncing Martinez would still cost $6 million for cap purposes in 2020, since it's the difference between his tax hit ($44 million) and his actual earnings ($47.5 million in salary, $2.5 million buyout) over two years in Boston.

If that's where ownership wants to maroon its new GM, John Henry and Co. might as well hire Harry Sinden, who took arrows for the Jacobs family while holding a death grip on the Bruins' purse strings in the 1980s and early '90s.

How did the Red Sox find themselves in such dire financial shape following a season that will see them miss the playoffs and finish around .500? It's not pretty.

Consider the following 2020 salaries, totaling nearly $135 million, for luxury tax purposes:

David Price ($31 million), Martinez ($22 million), Chris Sale ($25.6 million), Nathan Eovaldi ($17 million), Dustin Pedroia ($13.75 million), Xander Bogaerts ($20 million), Christian Vazquez ($4.5 million).

If we estimate $60 million in arbitration (which requires saying goodbye to backup catcher Sandy Leon and knuckleballer Steven Wright), we're already pushing $200 million with just the following players: Betts, Jackie Bradley, Eduardo Rodriguez, Andrew Benintendi, Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes.

Add young, pre-arb players like Rafael Devers (whom we'll get to in a second) and Michael Chavis, plus $15 million for medical expenses and benefits, and we're already in the $220 million range without addressing free agent losses such as Rick Porcello, Mitch Moreland, and Brock Holt, or depth for a rotation that doesn't know if it can trust Sale, Price, and/or Eovaldi to stay healthy, even though they'll be earning $79 million in real money.

Removing Betts and Martinez from the equation drops that commitment to the $175 million range, but also creates holes at DH and right field that can't be filled for free.

It also calls into question whether it makes much business sense, in 2020, to extend Devers, since doing so will jump his tax number from about $800,000 to $12 million to $15 million if he were to receive a contract in line with the eight-year, $100 million extension Ronald Acuna Jr. signed with the Braves.

This is all assuming that ownership has designs on dropping below $208 million. If it does, there's no way the Red Sox will pay Betts $35 million a year, and you can kiss him goodbye. There's also no realistic path to squeezing in Martinez at $25 million annually. That's what happens when an unreliable Big Three is soaking up a third of the payroll. The prospects of moving Sale, Price, or Eovaldi without eating most of the money range from dim to hopeless.

With payroll and winning no longer strongly correlated -- if the season ended today, two of the game's six lowest payrolls would face off in the AL wild-card game (Tampa vs. Oakland) -- the Red Sox can't simply buy their way to a title.

So, good luck to the new guy if he's ordered to shed payroll, because that's going to cost him some serious talent and leave the Red Sox in a position that might benefit their bottom line and long-range plans, but could make 2020 every bit as painful as 2019.

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