Last night, the worst fears of every Red Sox fan came to fruition: Boston traded Mookie Betts, their home-grown, MVP-winning, championship-earning outfielder widely considered to be the second-best player in baseball. They also sent out David Price and his hefty contract. In return, they received two decent prospects and significant financial relief. Ken Rosenthal lays out the positives of the trade below:
As the trade came closer to reality, more and more rumors began to spread about Betts' desire to hit the open market as the central reason for a trade when he still had a year left under contract. Buster Olney said he wanted to help out his fellow players by hitting free agency, and therefore the likelihood of an extension was low.
WEEI's Lou Merloni reported last month that the Red Sox offered Betts a $300 million contract over 10 years, and Betts countered with $420 million over 12 years during last year's offseason. The gap in those offers may have gotten closer this offseason, but obviously not close enough for Betts.
In short, the Red Sox felt their best move was to get ahead of Betts' looming free agency and get something in return for him instead of letting him leave and receive only a compensatory pick. In a vacuum, it's a savvy sports move that reminds one of their neighbors, the Patriots, who have utilized the strategy many times (and were often criticized for it) while maintaining a dynasty.
But nothing ever happens in a vacuum. Boston just traded their best player only two years removed from a World Series title and one year after managing to go 84-78 despite everything possible going wrong for their pitching staff. If things broke the other way for them in 2020, or even just slightly better, they're a playoff squad, especially as guys like Michael Chavis and Rafael Devers continue to improve.
The Red Sox did not need to trade Betts for baseball reasons. If the haul was other-worldly, then there's a certain level of justification. But this trade package tops out as fine. The level of mental gymnastics required to convince someone this was the right move to make right now is significantly greater than if Boston had rode it out for the year with Betts, topped out as a divisional playoff team, and watched him sign a record deal in free agency. That scenario would have been disappointing, sure, but at least fans could feel like the organization did everything they can to maximize the prime years of one of baseball's very best players. They'd still have money to reload, even if Price was still a part of the equation.
But that is not what happened. Instead, the Red Sox organization chose to save money under the guise of a smart baseball move-- and fans should be furious.
The Boston Freaking Red Sox are not a small-market team who would struggle to put together the money to pay Betts, nor would they have a hard time fielding a competitive team around him if they gave him what he wanted. According to Forbes, the organization was the third-most valuable in baseball in April of 2019, clocking in at $3.2 billion in total value. That's a 14 percent increase from 2018, and while the team won't have the benefit of a World Series title to boost their value from last year's rankings to this year's, it's safe to assume it's higher than that at this point in time.
John Henry and Tom Werner are the two principal owners of the Red Sox, the ones who are forking over the most when it comes to investments in players, as well as the men who pay the luxury bill. As it so happens, they also own Liverpool FC. As of May 2019, Liverpool was valued by Forbes at $2.2 billion. Obviously those numbers do not mean that Henry and Werner have nearly $5.5 billion dollars to spend on whatever they please, but the pair are not wanting for cash to use for the betterment of their franchises. To be pinching pennies when it comes to an MVP-level talent who will likely play at that level, or something similar, for the next half-decade is insulting to their fanbase.
Boston won't be a bottom-of-the-barrel squad this year by any means. They could definitely use all the money they've saved to lure another big-name free agent to the organization. But trading Betts so you can sign two or three guys who MIGHT have something resembling the impact he has is the kind of move the Miami Marlins or the Pittsburgh Pirates make. Not the Red Sox, who have one of the most rabid fanbases in sports, who would sell out Fenway even if the team was the worst in baseball.
The spin-zone will be in full force in the coming days about how this is the smart move, that you can't let someone like Betts walk for nothing, and it isn't the end of the world. Whatever. It certainly isn't the end of the world, but the situation is simple-- the men who call the shots at the top of the organization didn't want to pay Betts $5 million more a year, and valued resetting the luxury tax threshold over everything.
"Baseball is a business" is the phrase you'll hear from both sides in the weeks and months to come. That is true. But baseball being a business doesn't justify this move alone. Betts is one of the best players in baseball. He was developed by the Red Sox. He's as close to perfect off the field that you can find. He defines what a five-tool player is. And they traded him because of money. It's a move that will haunt Red Sox fans forever.