With erstwhile heir apparent Jimmy Garoppolo playing in Super Bowl LIV Sunday, this week has represented an opportune time to revisit and lament the measly return the Patriots received for gifting him to the San Francisco 49ers in a 2017 trade. Brace yourselves; another Boston team is on the verge of sending a treasured asset to the West Coast at a discounted rate.
It appears the doomsday clock is close to striking midnight on Mookie Betts’s Red Sox career. With Truck Day set for Monday, the Red Sox are ready to move on from Betts. They’re stoking a bidding war between two Southern California rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. The Athletic reported Thursday that the Sox and the Dodgers were “approaching a resolution” in their trade discussions. Hallelujah.
Whatever the deal is that puts a bow on Betts’s Boston career — at least the first act — prepare to be underwhelmed a bit. It’s a buyer’s market for Betts, not a seller’s one. Trade partners can sense that the urgency to consummate a deal this late in the offseason rests with the Red Sox. The Sox are the motivated party, desperate to drum up business and reduce payroll.
Accordingly, both the Dodgers and Padres have been reluctant to include their premier prospects in a deal for the best player in the game not named Mike Trout. You can forget about the Red Sox bringing back coveted Dodgers infielder Gavin Lux or highly touted pitching prospect Dustin May, both of whom made their major league debuts last season. The return for Betts will be 60 cents on the dollar at best.
The real return for Betts isn’t going to be the talent. It’s going to be the Red Sox limbo-ing under the $208 million luxury tax threshold and avoiding incurring the tax for a third consecutive season. That’s a tough sell to the Fenway Faithful, especially when they bear the burden of some of baseball’s highest ticket prices, prices that increased marginally this offseason after the Sox failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
It’s going to be Jimmy G for a second-round pick all over again. That was Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s bidding. He prioritized a happy quarterbacking home for Garoppolo over the best possible return. Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is trying to maximize the return for Betts, but he’s dealing with a bad hand. The other high-profile stars potentially available — Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor, Chicago’s Kris Bryant, and Colorado’s Nolan Arenado — all come with at least two years of team control. Mookie is a high-priced ($27 million) rental.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, to take Betts off the Sox’ hands, the Padres and general manager A.J. Preller want the Sox to eat 75 percent of the remaining $61 million on the contract of outfielder/first baseman Wil Myers, whose OPS has declined each of the last three seasons. They’re not willing to include top prospect pitcher MacKenzie Gore, outfielder Taylor Trammell, or shortstop C.J. Abrams.
The San Diego paper reported Monday that the Padres wanted to send Myers, along with outfielder Manuel Margot (a former Red Sox farmhand dealt to San Diego in the deal that netted Craig Kimbrel), or 250-pound outfielder Josh Naylor, plus either talented pitcher Joey Lucchesi or young hurler Cal Quantrill (son of former Sox pitcher Paul Quantrill) to the Sox for Betts.
This strikes me as a classic Danny Ainge trade tactic. Ainge, the Celtics president of basketball operations, will throw a lot of names into a deal that on the surface have value, but in reality the deal is tilted heavily in his favor because he’s not parting with anything he would truly be uncomfortable sacrificing.
It speaks volumes about the Sox’ motivation to move Mookie that they would even entertain doing business with Preller, who famously withheld accurate medicals on Drew Pomeranz from former Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in a 2016 swap. MLB suspended Preller without pay for 30 days for his deceitfulness.
The true value with the Padres may be in pushing the Dodgers to up the ante. LA has always been the most logical landing spot for Betts.
The Dodgers have the financial and talent resources to pull off a deal. They’ve bailed the Sox out before. In 2012, they took on the contracts of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett as the freight for obtaining Adrian Gonzalez, ridding Boston of approximately $263 million in salary.
They could absorb at least a portion of the contract of Boston hardball hostage David Price in a Betts deal. There is a natural rapport between Bloom and Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who was Bloom’s boss with the Tampa Bay Rays.
After losing the World Series in 2017 to the cheatin’ Houston Astros and in 2018 to the under-investigation Sox, then falling in the playoffs last year to the eventual world champion Washington Nationals, the Dodgers are desperate to end a Chavez Ravine title drought dating back to 1988.
Betts could be a franchise-altering force for them for a year, the same way Kawhi Leonard was for the Toronto Raptors when he guided them to an NBA title last season. Mookie is that good.
Over the last two seasons, Betts has posted a .991 OPS; only Trout (1.086) and Christian Yelich (1.046) boast better ones. Since 2016, no one has scored more runs than Betts (487), and he is second in extra-base hits (308) to Arenado’s Coors Field-inflated total of 321.
The Dodgers could field an outfield with Betts and 2019 National League MVP Cody Bellinger at what The Athletic termed “a reasonable price.”
The Sox might have to take the best offer they can get at this point. They’re not close to re-signing Betts before he reaches free agency. WEEI’s Lou Merloni reported that Betts was looking for a 12-year, $420 million deal while the Sox, at one point, offered 10 years and $300 million. That’s a Grand Canyon-sized gap.
Betts has had ample opportunity to compromise or indicate that he plans to re-sign here. It hasn’t happened.
If the Sox decide to roll the dice, keep Betts, and chase another championship, there can be no half-measures. It’s nonsensical to keep Betts around and then pare the payroll and talent around him to avoid the luxury tax. That type of ideological compromise wouldn’t satisfy any of the Sox’ goals on or off the field.
Also, removing Betts from the roster for 2020 and resetting the luxury tax could make it more likely that he’s here in 2021. Absence could make the heart grow fonder for Betts, and the Sox would have more financial flexibility to chase a big-name free agent next offseason knowing they’ve reset their luxury tax penalties to the lowest level (a 20 percent tax beyond the $210 million luxury tax threshold for 2021).
The day after Jimmy G plays in Super Bowl LIV is Truck Day, when the Sox ship their equipment to Fort Myers, Fla., for spring training. Equipment might not be the only thing the Sox ship out of Fenway. Their best player could be on the move, too.
But don’t expect happy returns.