Why Did the Red Sox Trade Mookie Betts?
Updated: Oct 2, 2020
Mookie Betts has arguably been the second best player in baseball over the past five seasons (courtesy of Mike Trout), which is his whole career. He is undoubtedly a top ten player in baseball, as proven by his 2018 AL MVP trophy, four consecutive top ten MVP voting finishes, four consecutive All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves, plus three Silver Slugger awards in the Outfield. So, why did the Red Sox make this trade?
There are two main reasons by my own calculations. One is that Mookie only has one year of arbitration until he hits free agency. Plus, whether the Dodgers extend him or he becomes a free agent, his contract will likely near the record contract ever given. This is an almost defensible reason to trade him, especially as it seems extension talks came to a halt recently, when Mookie reportedly countered with Mike Trout level money and the Red Sox balked.
If the Red Sox failed to extend him before he reached free agency, and then failed to sign him as a free agent in competition with every team, then they would have lost him for nothing. It is a good strategy to recoup value on your great players before they leave you for nothing.
However, it has become clear to me that this trade was about saving money. First, Mookie's reported counter is not that ridiculous considering I would predict he would get a similar contract as a free agent. But what really makes this clear to me is their front office's decision to package him with David Price and his three years/$96M remaining on his contract. By doing this, the Red Sox succeeded in their mission to get under MLB's luxury tax threshold of $208 Million for the 2020 season. John Henry and Fenway Sports Group must be really excited about that. The rest of Boston and their loyal fans, not so much. In fact, FSG succeeded in showing their fan base that winning comes second to saving money, a great way to alienate some of the most passionate fans in America. Mookie's return without David Price could have been legendary. Instead, they get the eighth best player the Dodgers had under-25 and a flamethrowing reliever. But at least they saved a lot of money.
This decision confirms the Red Sox place as one of the big losers of the offseason, when coupled with the 2018 sign stealing scandal, Alex Cora's subsequent firing, and their marquee free agent splash was resigning Mitch Moreland. A fun analogy I cannot take credit for making but definitely want to share is this trade is similar to when in 1919, the Red Sox sent Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees for $25,000. This is a fun analogy because the Red Sox did not win a championship for 86 years after that! The Curse of Mookie does not have the same ring to it (yet), but if ownership decides to keep penny pinching and trading their best players for pennies on the dollar, they might just be starting another legendary streak.