- Tim Burke
Why the Red Sox Traded Mookie Betts
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
Red Sox Nation, we knew this trade was inevitable but it did not make it sting any less. Like any blockbuster, this trade is complex and has a lot of moving parts. My goal is to write about all the different angles of the trade. This post will focus on why the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts.
Mookie Betts is an elite and generational talent. As a Red Sox fan, the idea of a Mookie Betts being traded feels like a punch to the gut. The reality is baseball is a business. Mookie Betts believes he is worth four hundred twenty million dollars over the next twelve seasons. The Red Sox were not going to pay him that so they traded him. I can already see the angry fans in Boston arguing forever saying “Mookie Betts did not want to play in Boston, he was in it for money” or “he is not worth the money” and the usual "John Henry is cheap."
The truth is the situation was much more complicated than any of those statements. Here is the full breakdown on why Mookie Betts is no longer a Boston Red Sox.
The Asking Price
Mookie Betts is a future Hall of Famer. Any team trading a known future Hall of Famer is crazy. Well maybe not if there is no chance they can resign him before the player hits free agency. The Red Sox have been trying for multiple off-seasons to extend Betts and according to Lou Merloni, those negotiations did not go well for Boston.
There is no way Mookie Betts should be paid similar to Mike Trout money, right?
Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. He could retire tomorrow and he would be a first ballot Hall of Famer. When he goes off into the sunset we might even say he was a top five player of all time. He is that good. Mookie Betts exceeding Trout’s record breaking contact is not likely but it’s certainly possible. The price for elite talent just keeps going higher and higher every year. This offseason, the Yankees signed a pitcher who is soon entering his thirties for nine years and three hundred twenty four million to pitch for them once every five days. On average, Geritt Cole is thirty six million on his Yankee contract, more than that Mike Trout.
An elite position player is worth more to a team than an elite pitcher. Mookie Betts certainly has the right to ask for a record breaking contract. At his best, Mookie Betts can compete with Mike Trout for AL MVP for the next five years. Why have the Red Sox not paid him his market value then?
A New Philosophy
Baseball in the 21st century is all about information and data. Teams who use that information and data to the fullest extent will have the most success, the teams that do not will falter. The Red Sox are adapting to survive. Baseball fans are about to see a more analytical, player development focused Boston Red Sox organization which should excite all of Red Sox Nation.
Believe it or not John Henry is a smart man. His mission is to be ahead of the curb and win as many World Series as he can. He is also a businessman. Keeping those two things in mind, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind John Henry admires teams who win games without spending 200 million dollars. Tampa and Oakland are changing the game and making owners and front offices question the value of money per win. Even the Dodgers are on this trend. In his first five seasons as the Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has cut the payroll from 193 million to 169 million while winning the National League West all five years. Sorry George Steinbrenner but there are ways to be competitive without spending the most amount of money.
Chaim Bloom has two goals. We know the first is getting below the luxury tax but he also wants to create sustainable success in Boston. The lack of farm system depth and payroll flexibility is a disaster waiting to happen in Boston. Unfortunately, Chaim Bloom may be forced to make some unpopular decisions. The Red Sox hired Bloom to plan for the future. He has spent the past fourteen years apart of an organization who not only consistently draft and develop players better than anyone but have been one of the most innovative baseball front offices since the days of Branch Rickey.
Despite coming from a team who values dollar wins more than anyone, Chaim Bloom understands the value of generational talents are worth spending big bucks on. Here is a link to a great article by Bloom from 2003 below.
What is stopping Bloom from signing Betts at market value?
Reason 1: Luxury tax
Major League baseball's luxury tax is something the owners of any team can afford, especially the Red Sox but that does not mean they are something to laugh at.
Under the CBA, first time offenders would pay a fee of 20% on the dollar, second time offenders would pay a 30% on the dollar, and third or subsequent time offenders would have to pay 50% on the dollar.
In 2019 the Red Sox payroll was 242.8 million while the luxury tax was at 206 million. Major League Baseball forced the Red Sox to pay thirty percent on the first twenty million and forty two percent on the next twenty million over. The 2020 season could potentially mark a third season over the luxury tax. Yes, John Henry and the Red Sox can afford to pay the luxury tax but the penalties can go beyond payroll limitations. Boston lost their ability to a first round draft pick due to being over the luxury tax. Can we really blame the Red Sox for wanting to cut payroll?
Reason 2: They cannot afford everybody
Despite a disappointing 2019 season, the Boston Red Sox are a team filled with talent. Unfortunately for Sox fans talent is expensive to keep. A lot of changes could be happening at Fenway Park due to restructuring of payroll. Here are notable future free agents the Red Sox will have to deal with.
Future Free Agents
JD Martinez 2021 and 2022 (opt out clauses)
Jackie Bradley 2021
Christian Vazquez 2022
Andrew Benintendi 2023
Rafael Devers 2024
Current large contracts
Chris Sale 30 million
JD Martinez 23.75 million
Xander boegarts 20 million
Keeping any of these players would cost the Red Sox a lot of money. The biggest problems teams with several All Star caliber players have is they eventually have to negotiate new contracts with all of them. There is no way a team can keep everybody. Unpopular decisions will have to be made beyond Betts. The Red Sox needing to fix their payroll disaster lining up with Mookie Betts entering Free Agency is the perfect storm and only justification for this trade to ever happen. That being said, a culture change in how the Red Sox handle Free Agency is NEEDED. They are willing to spend money on successful players from other teams such as Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford. The issue is they refuse to pay the great talent they have internally who deserved to be paid. Jon Lester and Adrian Beltre are great examples of that. I hope that is a problem Chaim Bloom fixes.