The Red Sox had the better part of five years to lay the groundwork and eventually come to terms on a long-term deal with Mookie Betts, to form the same bond the Angels did with their homegrown superstar, Mike Trout.
With no agreement in sight, the Red Sox traded Betts to the Dodgers in February.
It took the Dodgers five months to make a deal.
That Betts agreed to a 12-year, $365 million extension on Wednesday isn’t shocking. Once the Dodgers got their arms around Betts, they were never going to let go.
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said trading for Betts was always with more than the 2020 season in mind. The Dodgers saw Betts as the centerpiece of a contending team for years to come.
So did the Red Sox. But their best offer before the trade was approximately $65 million less.
I wrote in February that it was an institutional failure on the part of the Sox that they believed their best option was to trade Betts.
Now that failure is magnified after the Dodgers so quickly convinced Betts to forgo free agency.
“This is a special day. I’ve been working toward it my whole life,” Betts said. “I’m super happy to be part of this organization the rest of my career.”
To be certain, the pandemic played a role in this deal coming together.
Betts needed this season to be completed to gain enough service time to become a free agent. There are no guarantees of that happening. Going into free agency a year older was not as appealing.
Betts also couldn’t be sure what the free agent market would be like this winter, particularly if the pandemic remains unchecked into 2021.
The Dodgers didn’t get a discount, but they did avoid the risk of other teams getting to bid and driving the price higher.
The timing was perfect. Friedman had worked for several years to clear payroll space to put the Dodgers in position to make a major signing. None of their current contracts go beyond 2022.
The Yankees outbid them on Gerrit Cole, and Anthony Rendon preferred the Angels to the expectations that would have come with playing for the Dodgers.
But Friedman remained patient and used the financial flexibility to trade for Betts and pay the tariff imposed by the Sox by taking on $48 million of David Price’s remaining contract. Giving up Alex Verdugo and two prospects was largely meaningless to the Dodgers. Their deep farm system has ample replacements.
Friedman took a chance knowing Betts could play out the season and become a free agent. But it was a calculated gamble.
The Dodgers had the ability to make Betts an offer at what he perceived his value to be. That was foremost. But they also could offer the intangibles of playing for manager Dave Roberts, a roster loaded with young talent, the southern California lifestyle, and opportunities outside of baseball.
“I love being here. I love everything about here,” Betts said.
Betts sticks close to family and friends in Tennessee and likes to bowl. He’s not a scenester by any means. But Betts also has interest in music, fashion, sneaker culture, and philanthropy. Los Angeles will fit him without suffocating him.
“He looks good in our uniform,” Roberts said during spring training, and you can read into that in many ways.
With Betts, 25-year-old outfielder Cody Bellinger, and 25-year-old righthander Walker Buehler, the Dodgers are set up for long-term success.
“I want to bring some rings back to LA, for sure,” Betts said.
It’s false to say Betts disliked playing in Boston and wanted out. What he wanted, however it came to be, was to get what he saw as his value in a market that paid a far lesser player in Bryce Harper $330 million over 13 years.
Betts was asked if he would have accepted the same deal with the Sox.
“A very valid question,” he said. “I’m just going to stick with I’m here in LA for 12 or 13 years and I’m super excited.”
New Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom did what owners John Henry and Tom Werner felt had to be done by trading Betts.
They’re opening up financial resources to be positioned for a big signing of their own at some point. Bloom, who once worked for Friedman, has a plan he will implement over time.
But trading a generational talent such as Betts is something they will have to live with, especially if he leads the Dodgers to multiple championships.
The Sox could well be right if they believe a $365 million contract deal is bad business. The Phillies were 81-81 with Harper last season, and Trout hasn’t been in a playoff game since 2014.
But Betts believed he was worth it, and the Dodgers agreed.