The Mookie Watch is on.
In recent days, the view of Mookie Betts’s future in the Red Sox organization has shifted. Major league sources believe that it’s likelier than not that Betts gets traded, potentially in the very near future.
Unquestionably, wheels are turning.
With that in mind, here’s a look at where things stood as of Thursday afternoon:
■ A two-team game: Industry sources peg the Dodgers and Padres as the teams meaningfully engaged with the Red Sox, though in recent days the conversations have involved Los Angeles more than San Diego.
It’s possible that another team could jump in, but for now, all signs point to a two-team race. Talks between the Diamondbacks and Red Sox had “no real traction,” according to a source, before Arizona landed center fielder Starling Marte from the Pirates.
■ The Red Sox can be patient . . . to a point: The Red Sox have been willing to wait out a game of offseason musical chairs, letting the big free agents come off the board, then watching the teams without a seat circle around Betts.
But it would be a mess if Betts shows up in spring training with his status unresolved — considering there will be (presumably) a new Red Sox manager in the mix, and potential fallout from MLB’s investigation into the team’s 2018 sign-stealing.
The Red Sox probably need to make a determination about Betts prior to the date for pitchers and catchers to report (Feb. 11). Even without such an unusual confluence of circumstances, the teams talking to the Red Sox likely feel the same.
■ Why would the Red Sox trade their best player? It’s worth underscoring that Betts isn’t merely great — he is one of the foremost talents in the game.
The Red Sox have been pessimistic about signing him to a long-term deal for some time. WEEI’s Lou Merloni reported that last spring, the Sox offered Betts a 10-year, $300 million deal; his side countered with a 12-year, $420 million proposal.
The Globe has not been able to confirm those numbers, but major league sources acknowledge that in every conversation about a long-term deal between Betts and the Sox, there’s been a sizable gap — to the point where it’s been difficult to imagine bridging it through negotiations outside the context of free agency.
■ Is it unreasonable for Betts to seek more than $400 million? Not at all. Righthander Gerrit Cole just received a $36 million-a-year deal over nine years from the Yankees, and pitchers are viewed as carrying considerably greater risk — and typically, less overall value — than position players.
Betts has a better, more consistent track record than Bryce Harper, who received a 13-year, $330 million deal from the Phillies; than Manny Machado, who got a 10-year, $300 million deal from the Padres; and than Giancarlo Stanton, who is in the middle of a 13-year, $325 million deal with the Yankees.
Betts isn’t the equal of Mike Trout — to whom the Angels committed $430 million over 12 years — but Trout’s deal came two years shy of his free agency. The fact that Trout won’t hit the open market reinforces the idea that when Betts does so, he’ll be a rare five-tool talent, the type that smashes previous contractual standards.
■ What would the Red Sox want in return? Conversations with both the Padres and Dodgers have included a major league-ready outfielder. The Padres haven’t shown a willingness to discuss Tommy Pham or Trent Grisham, but seem open on just about any other outfielder. Manuel Margot (a strong defensive player capable of playing all three positions but with an unimpressive offensive profile) and Josh Naylor (a powerful 22-year-old corner outfielder) look like primary targets for the Sox.
The Sox also are discussing a big league-ready starting pitcher (the Padres have shown a willingness to discuss righthander Cal Quantrill and lefty Joey Lucchesi, among others) and, perhaps most notably, catcher Luis Campusano, who hit .325/.396/.509 as a 20-year-old en route to MVP honors in the High A California League.
Though catchers drafted out of high school come with a high-risk profile, some evaluators believe Campusano would rank ahead of any prospect currently in the Sox system.
The Padres also have the farm-system depth (or a competitive-balance pick, the 35th overall in 2020) to sweeten the pot, though with a caveat: They would need the Sox to take Wil Myers.
While San Diego would subsidize part of the former All-Star’s deal coming off his poor 2019 season, the savings the Sox achieve by dealing Betts would be partially offset by the need to pay Myers. In other words, the Sox couldn’t get below the luxury tax threshold simply by dealing Betts to San Diego.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, offer a more straightforward proposition. They’d trade a big league-ready outfielder — and multiple sources have mentioned Alex Verdugo (who hit .294/.342/.475 as a 23-year-old rookie in 2019) along with multiple prospects outside of the ready-to-contribute jewels of their system, Gavin Lux and Dustin May.
Los Angeles also has the financial might — and potential rotation need — to entertain adding David Price to a Betts package, though the Dodgers would assume only a fraction of Price’s salary, and a deal involving the lefthander might compromise the prospect return for the Sox.
■ What’s the likelihood that such a package would be worth it for the Red Sox? Unclear.
In 2012, when the Dodgers bailed out the Sox by acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett, the Red Sox also acquired five players from them: highly regarded pitching prospects Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, power hitter Jerry Sands, infielder Ivan De Jesus Jr., and first baseman James Loney. None contributed, though the Sox used the financial flexibility to reshape their roster, helping them to a title in 2013.
Before the 2018 season, the Rays (with current Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom as a senior vice president) traded franchise player Evan Longoria to the Giants for three prospects. None has made a noteworthy contribution.
Before the 2019 season, the Diamondbacks dealt franchise first baseman Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals. They got back a big league-ready starting pitcher (Luke Weaver), catcher Carson Kelly, a prospect, and a draft pick — a strong enough return to maintain wild-card hopes into the final month of the season.
■ Is there an off-ramp to conversations? Of course. The Sox always could decide that Betts profoundly elevates their chances of a championship in a way that suggests they should remain in a win-now mode. Anthony Rendon contributed to a title with the Nationals in his walk year in 2019; Albert Pujols did the same with the Cardinals in 2011.
But given that the Sox have acknowledged their desire all winter to shed payroll, and have been transparent about the difficulty they’d face trying to keep Betts and J.D. Martinez, and given that they haven’t been able to find a viable trade for one of their high-priced pitchers, it’s hard to see them standing pat after a winter of minimal activity.
Alex Speier can be reached at email@example.com.