FORT MYERS, Fla. — That the Red Sox arrived at a point where they believed the best option was to trade Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night represents an organizational failure.
Betts was not simply their best player. He was the most valuable position player the franchise had produced since Ted Williams.
You build around a player like that. You don’t trade him.
No blunder will ever top trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees 100 years ago. But dealing Betts to the Dodgers in the ignoble cause of resetting the penalties for exceeding the luxury tax limit means something went terribly wrong.
It starts with failing to sign Betts to a long-term contract after his third or fourth season in the majors.
Angels executives gained the trust of Mike Trout, convincing a player with deep East Coast roots that he had found a home in southern California.
The Sox never found a way to do that with Betts.
Theo Epstein, who drafted Betts, left the team amid controversy a little more than four months later. Ben Cherington, who promoted Betts to the majors in 2014, was essentially fired in 2015.
Betts flourished under Dave Dombrowski, who was fired in September.
Somewhere along the way, Betts turned down every offer the Sox made and decided his best option was to become a free agent after this coming season and let the market decide what he was worth.
If the Dodgers persuade him otherwise — and don’t bet against that — this trade will look even worse for the Sox.
There was never much rancor between Betts and the Sox. But they never got to a point where there was anything close to a partnership, either.
Some questionable deals along the way didn’t help as the Sox committed large chunks of their payroll to Nathan Eovaldi, J.D. Martinez, and Chris Sale and soared over the luxury-tax threshold.
Eovaldi, who has pitched more than 154⅓ innings once in his career, landed a $68 million deal after the 2018 season. He made only 12 starts last year.
Sale, who missed six starts with an elbow injury in ’18 and was limited throughout the postseason, was awarded a $154 million deal last March. He then missed eight starts with a shoulder injury.
Martinez has produced a ton of runs over two seasons. But committing an average of $22 million to a designated hitter over what could be five years was bad business when the Sox had young stars such as Betts and Xander Bogaerts approaching free agency.
Don’t blame Dombrowski. All of those deals were approved by ownership.
The Sox have four championships under John Henry and Tom Werner, four more than they won in the previous 86 years. The issue lately has been consistency and the lack of a long-term plan.
The Sox followed up the 2013 title with two last-place finishes and a series of terrible roster decisions. They jacked up the payroll to record levels to win another championship in 2018, and now they’re starting over again with a new GM, a new manager (still TBA), and without Betts.
I’d have liked to see them take a shot at another championship with Betts and keep pushing to sign him. But new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was hired to think beyond the next day and there’s reason to believe he’ll set the Sox on a straight course for a change.
Bloom did what was he was hired to and waited patiently for a market to develop for Betts. Then he played the Dodgers off the Padres to get a package that included well-regarded outfield prospect Alex Verdugo and impressive 21-year-old righthander Brusdar Graterol, who the Dodgers got from the Twins to send to the Sox.
Eventually something had to be done. The Sox can’t stay over the luxury-tax threshold forever given the financial cost and loss of draft picks. Trading Betts was the cleanest and quickest way to do it while maintaining what should be a competitive team.
If Eovaldi and Sale can be even reasonably healthy, the Sox have a shot at the postseason. This isn’t a teardown.
But the Sox should still be embarrassed they became one of those teams who felt compelled to trade a homegrown star. They’re no better than the Marlins giving away Christian Yelich or the Pirates parting with Gerrit Cole.
That Bloom convinced the Dodgers to take Price and pay off a reported half of the $96 million remaining on his deal won’t help the Sox this season but could down road.
Price turns 35 in August and has been on the disabled list with arm injuries four times in the last three seasons. Let the Dodgers worry about how he will age.
But there’s no escaping how bad the overall picture is for the Sox.
In what proved to be his final act with the Red Sox, Betts drew a walk in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Orioles in the final game of last season and scored from first base on a ground single to right field.
Betts slid headfirst across the plate, let out a celebratory roar, and wrapped Bogaerts in a hug as the crowd at Fenway Park cheered.
Watching Betts play with so much passion in a meaningless Game 162 left me hopeful there was some way out of having to trade him.
Instead, it ended with a huge trade that left the Sox a lesser team.