This is the time for resolutions, the new year inspiring people to make difficult decisions they’ve put off or to embrace challenging change. It’s also the time of year when willpower to put those thoughts into practice wanes. The Red Sox’ new year’s resolution should be to provide a resolution to the Mookie Betts saga.
It’s an open question as to which superstar will have their status and their future in our local sports pantheon determined first, Betts or Tom Brady?
The Betts saga has dragged on all offseason with no denouement or clarity in sight. Red Sox pitchers and catchers are due to report to Fort Myers, Fla., for spring training on Feb. 11, and we still don’t know if Betts is part of the Sox’ plans for 2020 or if new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom intends to move Mookie before he moves on from the Sox as a free agent at the end of this season.
Betts’s future is the single biggest question facing the Red Sox. Let’s go, Red Sox, has an entirely different meaning this offseason where the team feels partially paralyzed by the Betts dilemma and its payroll obligations.
Ostensibly, there has been zero movement toward getting him to agree to a long-term deal, so the silent Sox have to decide whether they want to roll the dice and take one last ride with Betts and the win-at-all-costs roster Dave Dombrowski left behind or whether they want to cash in an asset and initiate a soft reset. Please just choose a path for 2020.
A plan without conviction or clear direction isn’t a plan. It’s wishful thinking. That’s what Boston has now masquerading as flexibility. There’s a fine line between patience and procrastination. It feels like failure to launch at Fenway Park.
We did get some clarification regarding Betts on Friday, when he avoided arbitration and reached an agreement with the team on a record-setting one-year, $27 million deal. The Sox sweetened the contract by adding a suite for Betts’s use on the road, according to reports. That could be an indication that Plan A is to try to convince him “Say Anything”-style to stay beyond this season. Grab a boom box, Mr. Bloom.
Betts’s salary for 2020 is set, but his playing address is not.
There are still teams out there that could be motivated to make a splash. As a one-year rental the 2018 American League MVP could be baseball’s Kawhi Leonard, punctuating a pit stop before free agency with a championship. The Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals profile as teams that could splurge for one of baseball’s elite players. Since 2016, Betts is second in baseball in Baseball-Reference wins above replacement at 33.8, trailing only Mike Trout (35.5) in bWAR. The next closest player is Colorado’s Nolan Arenado at 25.
Run by Bloom’s former boss with the Tampa Bay Rays, Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers have won seven straight National League West titles, but been left hollow in the postseason, as Chavez Ravine has transformed into a postseason cemetery for World Series aspirations. Betts could be the difference. The Dodgers have the prospects, financial means, and the motivation to take him on and absorb the final three years and $96 million of Boston hardball hostage David Price’s contract as a tariff.
Such a potential deal gained traction because of reporting from excellent MLB Network and Fox Sports reporter Jon Morosi, who said the clubs had discussed a deal.
With the Sox eager to shed salary to get under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold and avoid the compounding financial and competitive penalties that come with triggering the tax for a third consecutive season, they could benefit from another Dodger Blue Bailout like the one provided in 2012. That year, the Sox shipped out approximately $263 million in salary to LA by making the cost of obtaining Adrian Gonzalez absorbing the salaries of malcontent Josh Beckett and overpaid free agent misfire Carl Crawford.
The Cardinals, who advanced to the National League Championship Series, gambled on an impending free agent last offseason, trading for six-time All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. They inked Goldschmidt to a contract extension last March. The Redbirds have a deep farm system, and they added to it by acquiring one of Bloom’s former Rays farmhands, highly touted lefthander Matthew Liberatore, in a trade with Tampa Bay last Thursday that also cleared excess outfield inventory. That fueled speculation that maybe the acquisition of Liberatore portended a play for Betts.
The Red Sox need to declare their intentions for 2020 soon. Cleveland Indians president Chris Antonetti, who has been gauging the market for his franchise player, shortstop Francisco Lindor, proclaimed Wednesday that his expectation now was that Lindor would be in Cleveland’s Opening Day lineup. It would be nice if the Sox provided similar clarity.
We know clearing payroll isn’t technically a mandate, but it feels like the primary objective of an inert offseason. Doing that doesn’t align, however, with keeping Betts for 2020. It’s counterintuitive to keep Betts and then pare both the payroll and the roster around him.
If he’s staying, then the Sox should damn the torpedoes and the looming luxury-tax reckoning and keep the band together to chase another World Series. The Sox could at least start the season with that intention and, if it’s no longer realistic by the trade deadline, deal Betts, a la the Baltimore Orioles with Manny Machado in 2018, and trim payroll to get under the threshold.
Betts is the face of the franchise. The preference would be for him to finish his career in Boston, but the longer this dance goes it feels like that’s not his first choice. Yes, Betts has praised the Red Sox, his teammates, the fans, and everything Boston from the Greenway to the MFA.
But what else is he going to say publicly? The Sox appear no closer to securing a long-term commitment from him, and it feels like he has one cleat out the door.
Markus Lynn Betts feels destined to go down as another Nomar Garciaparra or Fred Lynn, wildly talented and popular Sox supernovas that shine bright for a few years and then are gone.
If that’s the case the Sox should cut the cord, cut their losses, and move on. The affable and classy Betts has had ample time to send a signal that this is where he desires to be long term. It hasn’t happened. He either doesn’t want to live in the Boston baseball fishbowl the rest of his career or plans to be a mercenary who goes to the bidder that packs the most zeroes in his paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with either sentiment.
But the Sox seem hell-bent on courting someone who is already planning an exit.
It’s a new year, but the same old story with Betts. It’s time for a resolution.
Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.