The emotional impact of the Tuesday night trade that sent Mookie Betts (and David Price) to Los Angeles isn’t fading any time soon, not when you consider how the emotional ties to the teams we love are precisely the reason we care so much, bound as we are to the players and franchises that steal our hearts. When management starts prioritizing business interests over rooting interests, we are understandably angry, undeniably disillusioned, and unabashedly sad.
That’s how Red Sox Nation feels today, bidding farewell to a generational talent simply because his future price tag was going to be too high. There’s no other way to slice the reality of the trade that shipped Betts off to the West Coast in exchange for two potentially decent players who together don’t match Betts’s skill set, and with Price thrown in so the Sox could dump more salary.
But of all the swirling emotions roiling an aggravated fan base, the one that doesn’t belong is surprise. This is how baseball works in 2020, when managing finances is every bit as demanding as managing rosters, and either process can go badly enough to demand a do-over. When the Sox moved every chip to the center of the table to win the World Series just two seasons ago, when they broke open their checkbook and stocked the roster to win the franchise’s fourth championship since 2004, no one complained.
But the profligate spending in the heady aftermath all but guaranteed a day like today would arrive. With a big-money deal for Nathan Eovaldi (that heroic World Series relief appearance looks awfully expensive in hindsight), a similarly unwise one-year reward for Series MVP Steve Pearce (limited to a measly 29 healthy games in 2019), and an ill-timed extension for the mercurial Chris Sale (who couldn’t even make his final World Series start, giving way to Price, and whose injuries have sidelined him for long stretches), there should be little surprise that former president of baseball ops Dave Dombrowski didn’t make it through the 2019 season.
So now it’s time to pay the price, and behind new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and his history of doing more with less in Tampa Bay, the Red Sox move forward. They move forward without Betts, and without Price, but with a young outfielder (Alex Verdugo) who can play right away where Betts once did and a hard-throwing pitcher (Brusdar Graterol) they hope can eventually take some of the innings Price once threw.
They move forward with a return for Betts that while light in comparison to him is more than the value of the draft pick they would have gotten had he left via free agency at season’s end. They move forward unconstrained by the season-long story line of whether Betts would indeed test the market or re-up with the Sox, the same kind of story line that grew tiresome across 16 games with the Patriots and Tom Brady. Imagine how it would have felt after 162 baseball games.
They move forward with the ability to get under the luxury-tax threshold and thus get more payroll flexibility for the upcoming years, a reality that seems ridiculous when that money would be best spent on a player like Betts (or perhaps Betts himself once he’s on the open market) but doesn’t happen without first parting ways with Betts.
The roller coaster of sports never stops, does it? Was it really only 465 days ago that the Red Sox were atop the baseball world, standing on the same Chavez Ravine field Betts and Price will now call home, celebrating their championship win over the Dodgers? The stunning fall since then has been tough to stomach, a head-spinning plummet to the depths of embarrassment and outrage.
I can still see Alex Cora standing in front of a packed house at the 2019 Boston Baseball Writers dinner, proclaiming that if we thought the previous year had been good, “Just wait till this year.”
That didn’t turn out so well.
We had spring training with a tired pitching staff that barely pitched. We had a regular-season start with a veteran team that could barely win. We had bursts of hope swallowed by stretches of incompetence, promises of team meetings and defiant reversals that they weren’t needed.
We had a trade deadline pass with nary a move to help a battered bullpen, a top executive fired without any public explanation from his bosses, and a limp to the season’s finish line with no playoff ticket to be punched.
Then we got to the offseason, with a front office makeover geared toward a rebuild, a Houston sign-stealing scandal that ultimately ended Cora’s managerial tenure, a search for his replacement that still is ongoing, and now, a trade of a homegrown talent not simply lauded for his superior skill but beloved for his personality and leadership.
That 2018 title was costly in so many ways, and it’s truly a shame that Betts is collateral damage. But as much as our hearts don’t want to hear it, our heads have to recognize that this is reality in sports, too. The Red Sox are moving forward, with or without Betts, and with or without you.