TORONTO — He’s only 21, and maybe we’re seeing the good side of Mookie Betts’s development as a major leaguer, just as we saw it from Xander Bogaerts the first two months of the season (offensively, anyway).
Betts has shown gradual improvement, and demonstrated a definite confidence on and off the field. He brings energy and excitement to the lineup.
He has 37 stolen bases among Portland, Pawtucket, and Boston. He hit .335 combined at Portland and Pawtucket, with 11 homers, 65 RBIs, and a .960 OPS.
He looks like he belongs, but where?
Betts is a second baseman by trade, so it would stand to reason that a transition to third wouldn’t be severe. But he’s actually become a good center fielder. Not Jackie Bradley Jr. good, but good nonetheless.
Problem is, the Red Sox just signed a $72.5 million center fielder in Rusney Castillo. The job is his. He’ll be the center fielder and leadoff hitter next season in an outfield with Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig.
Castillo has also been an infielder, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility, we suppose, that he could shift positions. But right now that’s not in the cards, so what is in the cards for Betts, who has above-average base-stealing ability, pop in his bat for a little guy, and quite frankly flashes as a very exciting player?
If so, he wouldn’t be the prototypical guy there.
He’s not the big, strong power hitter most teams like to have there. But getting him on the field in some role would be beneficial to the Red Sox.
He’s had a fast ride to the majors, no doubt.
Like Bogaerts and Bradley, he hasn’t had much Triple A time (211 at-bats). Someone that young probably should have a full season at Triple A, with 500 at-bats. That may be why Bradley and Bogaerts have struggled. Should the Red Sox take that chance again?
There certainly will be many rumors and machinations in the offseason. The Red Sox are going to be asked for their young guys — some of their young guys — in trade. They will be asked for real performers like Betts, not so much the guys who have struggled in the majors like Bradley and Will Middlebrooks.
And so we come to Giancarlo Stanton. Lately he has taken shots at his front office for perhaps not spending the money to create a team around him in Miami. But he can talk all he wants. He doesn’t become a free agent until after the 2016 season, and it appears to me, based on conversations with their front office, that if they can’t get him signed, they may go to arbitration the next two years — pay him a boatload on one-year deals — and then see what happens.
But if Stanton tells them, “I’m not re-signing here,” then the Marlins may start to listen as quickly as this offseason. Stanton will likely be the National League MVP this year.
If he is available, the Marlins will want the best of the best prospects, and probably a major league-ready player. Before this notion occurs that they’d want Cespedes, don’t forget that Cespedes has only a year left on his contract, and if he continues to be a near 100-RBI player, he’s going to make a lot of money, which will be problematic for the Marlins.
But Betts being traded is certainly one scenario.
As the Red Sox explore trade options for a front-line pitcher, Betts’s name will pop up again. To get a quality starter like Cole Hamels would require that type of quality going back to the Phillies.
So what’s the end result?
Will the Red Sox dig in and insist that Betts stay put? If they’re digging in that Bogaerts isn’t going anywhere, or that Henry Owens isn’t going anywhere, any of these type deals may not get done.
I’ve always said that to acquire great players, it usually has to hurt — you have to part with a player you’re fond of.
Betts is the prospect du jour. His exposure to the big leagues has been positive, which means the scouts in the stands have a favorable impression.
The Red Sox have gone about player acquisition the right way, loading up on talent. They acquired two good righthanded bats in Cespedes and Craig. It’s interesting with Craig, because we haven’t seen the best of him because he’s ailing with a foot injury that likely affects him at the plate.
But he’s a good hitter (knocked in more than 90 runs twice) with a reputation for hitting with runners in scoring position (.362 over his career, with a .997 OPS), which is what this Sox team hasn’t done all season. So once he gets right, the feeling is he’s going to be a producer.
They could always flip him to another team, considering the dearth of righthanded hitting around the majors, but he would have to be healthy.
So here we are with the next head-scratcher — what to do with Mookie Betts?Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.