Tom Werner

Mookie Betts isn't the Red Sox mishandled negotiation Tom Werner loses sleep over

Mookie Betts isn't the Red Sox mishandled negotiation Tom Werner loses sleep over

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Tom Werner still wonders about one who got away, and it's not Mookie Betts.

The Red Sox chairman wishes the Red Sox could've found a way to keep the All-Star outfielder, but he doesn't regret the team's offers, which he considered aggressive.

There is one player he wishes the team had handled differently, though.

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"I go to sleep at night thinking that maybe we could've made another offer to Jon Lester that maybe would've bridged the gap," Werner admitted on Monday. "I think we made (Betts) what we consider fair and generous offers. As John (Henry) said, I think it was all right for Mookie to want to test the market."

The Red Sox botched the Lester negotiations in spring training of 2014, offering the homegrown All-Star left-hander a four-year, $70 million contract. Lester's camp never even countered, believing the gulf between the team's offer and their ask would make them look greedy once it inevitably leaked.

They were probably onto something, because not long ago WEEI's Lou Merloni reported that Red Sox offered Betts a 10-year contract worth roughly $300 million, while the player countered at 12 years and $420 million, a figure the Red Sox simply weren't willing to reach.

"Free agency plays into many decisions clubs like ours have to make," Henry said. "Today's players spend years in the minor and major leagues earning the right to be paid in a free market, earning the right to make choices. They make significant sacrifices to get there and they deserve what they receive."

Things worked out for Lester. He was traded to the A's that July before signing a six-year, $155 million contract with the Cubs. The Red Sox engaged with him that offseason, but fell well short of Chicago's offer, instead entering 2015 with the five aces that turned out to be zero aces en route to another last-place finish.

All Lester has done since is make two All-Star teams, finish second in the Cy Young voting, win at least 18 games twice, and lead the Cubs to their first World Series in over 100 years.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, overcompensated for his loss not once, but twice, first by signing David Price to a record seven-year, $217 million albatross of a contract to replace him, and then by extending ace Chris Sale last spring, despite injury concerns, to avoid a repeat of the Lester fiasco.

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 want it both ways on Cora dismissal, and other thoughts from a surreal day at Fenway

Red Sox want it both ways on Cora dismissal, and other thoughts from a surreal day at Fenway

For more than an hour on Wednesday afternoon, the Red Sox asked us to embrace two essentially incompatible ideas.

On the one hand, they repeatedly requested that we withhold judgment over any cheating they may have committed in 2018 until Major League Baseball completes its investigation. On the other hand, we were only sitting there because they had already rendered a seemingly ironclad verdict on the matter by dismissing manager Alex Cora.

Ownership claims that Cora had to go solely because of his actions in Houston, which were detailed in a bombshell nine-page report on Monday that left little doubt about his central role in the scheme to steal signs.

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Still, considering that he is being accused of conducting the exact same behavior in Boston, minus the trash can, it's hard to see how the team can play the innocent-until-proven-guilty card when it is suddenly conducting a managerial search less than a month before the start of spring training.

"We have not rendered judgment on 2018," said team president Sam Kennedy. "We've rendered judgment with respect to 2017."

That sounds like having it both ways, to me, but in any event, here are my other takeaways from one of the stranger days I've seen at Fenway Park in the past 25 years.

* MLB has boxed itself in on this issue. What started as an attempt to lay down the law in order to deter future sign-stealing is in danger of starting a chain-reaction conflagration that torches multiple franchises.

The Red Sox and Astros are in the market for new managers. As I type, the Mets are wavering over the future of the newly hired Carlos Beltran. The last thing commissioner Rob Manfred wants is eight more press conferences like Wednesday's, with teams detailing why they fired their decision-maker(s) under the cloud of scandal.

The idea is to make an example of the Red Sox and Astros so no one ever crosses this line again. But if more media-driven revelations keep appearing, Manfred and Co. will have no choice but to act, except this time they'll be rendering judgments in the middle of the season, when a forced managerial change could be particularly destructive to a contending team.

Baseball's attempts to clean up this mess could create an even bigger problem.

* So where do the Red Sox go from there? The front office's search will naturally start internally, since the shortest path to continuity is hiring from within. The problem is, the team really can't name a successor from Cora's staff until the league produces its report on 2018, and that could be two months from now. 

The nightmare scenario would be receiving assurances from a current coach that his hands were clean, elevating him to manager, and then seeing his name all over a damning report. The Red Sox can't take that chance, unless they want to conduct another managerial search after Opening Day.

If they want to start with an experienced, unemployed manager, they've twice interviewed former Tigers and Angels skipper Brad Ausmus, who has reached the playoffs once in five seasons. Just-retired Giants manager Bruce Bochy would be another possibility, except he reiterated in a recent interview that he plans on taking 2020 off before considering a return to the dugout.

One man who deserves a look from someone, somewhere, is 70-year-old Dusty Baker, who has won at least 90 games in five of his past six seasons helming the Nationals and Reds.

* What impact might this have on the rest of the offseason? The Red Sox have been surprisingly quiet despite assumptions that they'd have dumped payroll by now. They could take the Cora news in two directions, either viewing it as an opportunity to just blow everything up and start over, or as a mandate (there's that word again!) to build the best possible team in 2020 to avoid further alienating the fan base.

Considering their obsession with PR, it's hard to imagine they choose option A at this point, but it's too late for them to make any big moves that significantly improve the roster, which means their most likely course of action is to hope that everyone who underperformed last year (i.e., everyone in the rotation not named Eduardo Rodriguez) finds a return to form.

Good luck with that.

* One final tidbit: Kennedy would not reveal, as part of the "mutual decision" to part, whether the team will pay Cora either his salary or a settlement. It wouldn't be a shock if the Red Sox take care of Cora in some way, since ownership clearly remains fond of him, and he's probably going to be out of a job for the next two years. A settlement would also help ensure that he goes quietly without fighting his dismissal.