So, there it is. The dumb and detrimental deed is done. Call it one of the lousier days in 21st century Red Sox lore, and one totally self-inflicted.
Pending the medicals, Markus Lynn “Mookie” Betts is heading to the Los Angeles Dodgers, along with David Price and a stack of cash to pay part of the latter’s salary. The Red Sox have willingly turned themselves into a pretender to save a few bucks.
I can’t wait to hear it during for the home opener April 2 against the White Sox: “Welcome to Fenway Park, home of the Tampa Bay Rays North.” Hey, but Truck Day was cool. Did you see all those sunflower seeds?
All of those winter trial balloons about trading Betts, floated without nearly enough pushback from Red Sox fans, end with the most complete player they’ve developed in the draft era headed to the West Coast to play for a storied franchise that, unlike the Red Sox apparently, actually desires to win a championship in 2020.
In return for Betts, a former Most Valuable Player heading into his age-27 season, the Red Sox have acquired promising outfielder Alex Verdugo, who hit .294/.342/.475 with 12 homers in 106 games as a rookie last season but missed most of the final two months with injuries, and minor league pitcher Brusdar Graterol, a top-100 prospect who might end up being what Anderson Espinoza was supposed to be.
Neat. A pitching prospect. Guys, maybe the Sea Dogs can win the Eastern League this year!
Here, you can have my cup of Kool-Aid. Swig away if you’re buying any of this. Me, I’m not drinking this swill. You shouldn’t, either. This isn’t akin to selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees, because nothing is that. But it’s awfully close in concept to trading Yaz for prospects in 1968, or Jim Rice for a few scattered pieces in 1979.
If you can’t keep Mookie Betts, who does everything right, what are we doing here?
This bad day has been inevitable for a while now, or pretty much since we heard the absurd yet apparently accurate report that the Red Sox were considering taking on money from Wil Myers’s contract — he of the negative WAR last season and $61 million remaining on his deal — in order to move Betts to the Padres.
When that rumor originated from San Diego, the Red Sox front office should have responded by saying, “That’s the dumbest idea since Bill Lee for Stan Papi. Not happening.” When they didn’t, well, that was confirmation enough that something was coming. That doesn’t make it any less disheartening now that it has.
Spare me the rationalizations for why this just had to be done. I’ve heard all of the excuses as the Red Sox have greased the skids for this, tried to sell the idea that trading him for “assets” that will never come close to amounting to him is the only move, and I don’t want to hear them parroted to me by those of you who root for the financials over the ballplayers.
I’ll say it again, and I’ll keep saying it even now that the cause has been lost, because at the least we should remember to appreciate greatness around here rather than be willing to part with it so abruptly.
Betts, again, is the best position player developed by the Red Sox in the draft era, a five-tool player, better and more complete than Fred Lynn and Rice, better than even Dewey and Nomar. In five-plus seasons with the Red Sox, during which he converted from second base to right field and mastered the new position so fully that he won four straight Gold Gloves, Betts slashed .301/.374/.519 in 794 games.
He has finished first, second, sixth, and eighth in MVP voting over the last four years. His per/162 averages were 28 homers, 96 RBIs, 26 steals, 197 hits, and 125 runs. By WAR, he owns the second- and 11th-best seasons in Red Sox history. In 2018, his 10.9 WAR tied 1946 Ted Williams for the runner-up spot behind ’67 Yaz (12.5 WAR), which was the best individual season any of us will ever see. In ’16, Betts’s 9.7 WAR tied ’57 Teddy Ballgame for that 11th spot. He’s 27 years old and already keeping company with the all-timers.
Oh, and he’s also a low-key gem of a guy who does things like slipping out into darkness to feed the homeless after playoff games. That’s not someone you trade for luxury-tax relief. That’s someone you keep as the beacon of your organization.
Don’t tell me that it’s OK that Betts is gone because, hey, what has $400 Million Man Mike Trout ever won? Trout hasn’t won because the Angels have done a laughable job of surrounding him with talent. You know what the lousy Angels would be without Trout? Lousier. Much lousier.
Don’t tell me that you knew Betts didn’t want to be here. He’s been as consistent with his statements on his status as he has been at the plate. He says he likes it here. He’s also said he wants to maximize his value, which is his right. Countering the Red Sox’ $300 million offer — which they surely knew he was not going to accept — with a reported 12-year, $420 million proposal was not a sign that he wants out. It was a sign that he was willing to stay, but it’s got to be worth his while to give up his chance at free agency. But, of course, that won’t stop the Sox from telling us he didn’t want to be here and they just had to do something. Few popular ballplayers leave Boston without a management-induced scar.
Don’t take offense to Betts asking for a huge contract, as ridiculous as the money in pro sports seems right now. Someone is going to pay it to him, and you know why? Because he’s exceptional, worth it, and the teams can afford it. The Red Sox raised some ticket prices this year, just traded their best player, and you’re on their side? Do you root against your buddies when they ask your boss for a raise, too?
Don’t accept that Betts had to go because the Red Sox can’t afford to pay him that much. He is collateral damage for the ill-considered contracts for Nathan Eovaldi and the premature extension for Chris Sale, but they still could pay him, and they didn’t have to deal him now. They can get under the luxury tax any time during the season. This was a choice.
Don’t tell me the Red Sox needed to do this to rebuild the farm system. They got one prospect, a 20-year-old fireballer who pitched in relief in Triple A and the majors last year. For Betts, they should have acquired three more just like him.
At least they found him a good home. The Dodgers won 106 games last year, have a loaded roster, a deep farm system, no foolish Eovaldian financial commitments, that great American Dave Roberts as their manager, and the deep desire to end a 32-year title drought.
And now they have Mookie, the most complete player developed since . . . well, you know. It’s been awhile.
What a lousy day to root for the Red Sox. Around here, we used to chant to beat LA. After Tuesday’s news that Betts is headed west, it’s a whole lot more appealing to want to be LA.