Yes, the Red Sox and Padres are talking about Mookie Betts. Whether those conversations go anywhere remains to be seen.
Major league sources confirmed a report by Dennis Lin of The Athletic that the teams have had conversations about a trade that would send Betts to San Diego. According to one source, those conversations have included San Diego first baseman/outfielder Wil Myers — largely to free payroll space so the Padres could afford Betts’s $27 million salary in 2020 — as well as both prospects and young controllable major league pieces.
Under general manager A.J. Preller, the Padres have spent years building one of the deepest farm systems in the game. But after nine straight losing seasons, San Diego sees a chance to emerge as one of the better teams in the National League.
The Padres made sizable investments in free agents Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado in the previous two winters, and last month traded with the Rays to land outfielder Tommy Pham. By adding Betts, the Padres would go from fringe to legitimate contention.
One source suggested that to acquire Betts, San Diego expressed a willingness to clear the bar set by the trade of Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks to the Cardinals last winter, at a time when Goldschmidt had one remaining year of team control. (One distinction: Unlike Betts, Goldschmidt gave every indication of being willing to sign an extension.) Arizona landed an everyday catcher (Carson Kelly), a starting pitcher (Luke Weaver), infield prospect Andy Young, and a competitive balance round draft pick from the Cardinals.
While the Padres discussed the possibility of acquiring a starting pitcher from the Red Sox earlier this offseason, the need to include Myers in a deal underscores that San Diego lacks the payroll space to consider adding both Betts and a starter such as David Price or Nate Eovaldi.
In all likelihood, if the Sox and Padres were to consummate a deal, it would have only Betts going to San Diego, meaning that the Sox would have to make additional moves to get below the luxury tax threshold.
Partly for that reason, some members of the industry expressed skepticism that the Padres and Red Sox will line up a deal. The Dodgers, by contrast, continue to look like a better match, given their superior financial resources and an excellent farm system.
There is a broader question about the Red Sox’ willingness to deal Betts: In the wake of last week’s departure of Alex Cora, it could prove particularly ugly from a public relations standpoint. Moreover, it’s fair to wonder whether the package being proposed by the Padres is superior to what the Sox might get if they were to move Betts instead at the trade deadline.
From the other side, what would motivate the Red Sox to trade their best player?
The exact players San Diego has proposed sending to Boston aren’t known. But the Padres have a number of talented if not-yet-established players on their big league roster and one of the strongest farm systems in the game, putting them in a position to offer a solid package.
The Padres have outfield depth, so it’s easy to imagine them including a young, controllable outfielder such as 23-year-old Trent Grisham (acquired from the Brewers this winter after he hit .231/.328/.410 with 6 homers in 51 games while making his big league debut as a 22-year-old).
The presence of Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis on the left side of the infield suggests that Jake Cronenworth — a former Rays prospect who hit .334/.429/.520 in Triple A last year and also threw 7⅓ scoreless innings before moving to San Diego in the Pham deal — could become part of a deal.
San Diego also could offer one or more young pitchers, including righthander Cal Quantrill (24 years old; 6-8, 5.16 ERA in his big league debut in 2019), lefthander Joey Lucchesi (26 years old; 18-19, 4.14, 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 56 big league starts in 2018-19); or massive 6-foot-8-inch righthanded reliever Michel Baez (24 years old; 1-1, 3.03, 8.5 strikeouts per nine in just under 30 big league innings).
San Diego had six prospects in Baseball America’s just-released list of the top 100. The Padres consider lefthander Mackenzie Gore (ranked No. 6 by Baseball America), righthander Luis Patino (No. 18), and dynamic shortstop C.J. Abrams (No. 22) off-limits, and likely feel the same way about outfielder Taylor Trammell (No. 73).
However, they also have other highly regarded prospects, most notably catcher Luis Campusano, a 21-year-old who hit .325/.396/.509 with 15 homers in the high Single A California League, a performance that landed him as Baseball America’s No. 79 prospect. Though the Cal League is a great hitter’s environment, evaluators view Campusano as having tremendous offensive upside.
If the Padres and Sox strike a deal, it’s not hard to imagine a competitive balance draft pick (between the first and second as well as second and third rounds for revenue-sharing recipients) being involved. After all, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom took part in several deals that included competitive balance picks with the Rays. The Padres have a competitive balance Round A selection, the 35th overall pick.
As for Myers, he’s an enigma. He was the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year for Bloom’s Rays, then saw his performance crash in 2014 because of injuries and an inability to adjust to the league. He was dealt to San Diego, where he had very good seasons in 2016 and 2017 but has since seen declines in health and production, including a disappointing 2019 in which he hit .239/.321/.418, mostly as an outfielder.
San Diego hasn’t made any secret of its willingness to trade him, and some view him as a change-of-scenery candidate.
Myers is halfway through a six-year, $83 million deal for which he’s owed $61 million over the next three years. That commitment limits the degree of salary relief the Sox might get by dealing Betts if the Padres don’t include money in the trade.
However, it’s worth noting that Myers has an average annual value — the key number used to calculate payroll for luxury tax purposes — of just under $14 million.
The looming question of whether Betts will stay in Boston beyond 2020 ensures that the Red Sox will have to confront a question of how to balance their desire to have the superstar on the roster next year with its effort to field consistently competitive teams over the next several years.
It’s a dilemma without easy answers, helping to explain why rumors involving Betts are unlikely to disappear even with spring training less than a month away.