All offseason, the idea of trading Mookie Betts has been one the Red Sox approached with reluctance. Yet if they did entertain offers for the superstar, one team always seemed like the most logical candidate: the Dodgers, who have tremendous payroll flexibility, a deep pool of prospects, and a considerable desire to add star-caliber talent in pursuit of their first championship since 1988.
As early as the Winter Meetings, one National League evaluator wondered whether the Dodgers could motivate the Red Sox to part with Betts by offering to take on both him and a starting pitcher (perhaps David Price, who is owed $96 million over the next three years) while giving Boston a meaningful prospect in return.
According to league sources, such an idea never gained any meaningful traction throughout December. The Red Sox focused on trying to shed payroll and get below the $208 million luxury-tax threshold by trading from elsewhere on the roster (a starting pitcher and perhaps a player such as Jackie Bradley Jr.) while keeping Betts.
The Dodgers’ attention — after Gerrit Cole signed with the Yankees — was trained on a potential deal for Cleveland shortstop Francisco Lindor, a star with two remaining years of team control (as opposed to one year for Betts).
But according to Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com, talks between Cleveland and Los Angeles about Lindor have been stuck in neutral for some time. And during that time, talks between the Dodgers and Red Sox about Betts have become “at least as frequent — and perhaps even more involved,” than LA’s conversations about Lindor.
There’s more reason to believe that conversations between the Dodgers and Red Sox could advance now. The number of potential landing spots for Red Sox starting pitchers has diminished, with potential trade partners such as the Blue Jays (Hyun-Jin Ryu), White Sox (Dallas Keuchel), Reds (Wade Miley), and others having rounded out their rotations with free agents.
The fact that the Red Sox haven’t been able to find a trade to create their desired payroll flexibility might also lead them to consider less desirable avenues — including a deal involving Betts.
Could a Dodgers-Red Sox blockbuster — reminiscent of the August 2012 deal in which the Red Sox reset their payroll by dealing Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to Los Angeles while receiving a five-player package that included prospects Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa — take shape?
League sources suggested that nothing is close regarding a deal in which the Red Sox would send Betts to LA or anywhere else. Clearly, their preference appears to be to shed payroll while having Betts anchor the lineup for at least one more year.
Multiple members of the industry remain skeptical that the Sox — with ambitions of contention in 2020 — would deal one of the best players in the game.
Even so, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom acknowledged last month that the team has to be open-minded.
“He’s one of the best players in baseball, someone we’d love to have in our uniform for a long time, but we’re also not doing our job if we’re not open to possibilities that can help the organization,” Bloom said in December.
“That remains our stance, recognizing that when you have a player of this quality, there’s going to be a lot of chatter surrounding him. Nothing has changed as far as how highly we value him and how hopeful we are that he’s going to be here.”
That said, the Red Sox’ projected payroll now sits about $22 million above the $208 million threshold, at a time when they still must address other roster needs (perhaps a lefthanded-hitting first baseman), would have to fill any holes created by trades, and would have to preserve some financial flexibility for in-season moves. In other words, they probably need to move more than $30 million in payroll.
Moving Betts (who could make from $27 million to $30 million) and Price (who carries a $31 million average annual value) would allow the Sox to do just that rather easily. But it also would create an enormous challenge as they tried to offset the loss of one of the best all-around players in the game as well as a starter who, when healthy, remains an asset even in his mid 30s.
To this point, the idea of a blockbuster deal with the Dodgers remains more possibility than likelihood. But until the Red Sox find another path to give themselves the payroll flexibility they seek, it also can’t be ruled out.
Alex Speier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.