The offseason can’t end fast enough for your Boston Red Sox. With baseball spring on the horizon in the form of spring training, the winter of the Sox’ discontent has a definite ending in sight, and, mercifully so does the Mookie Betts trade in refashioned form. It’s hard to recall an offseason that the Sox will be more eager to put in the rearview mirror when pitchers and catchers officially migrate to Fort Myers, Fla., on Tuesday.
The Sox have taken more dings and dents than the fabled Green Monster this offseason. They’ve lurched from one organizational/reputational crisis or self-inflicted wound to the next. They’ve looked indecisive, unaware, and shambolic. Who would have thought the offseason would be more disappointing and uninspiring than last season’s 84-78 campaign?
Finally, there’s some certainty and clarity for the Sox on the cusp of spring training via the news Sunday that the Betts deal is back on. A much-needed mulligan produced a better return from the Dodgers, closing the book on an ignominious offseason. The revamped deal sends Betts to LA for Alex Verdugo, the centerpiece of the original three-team swap with Minnesota that the Sox had put in cold storage since Tuesday, and Dodgers prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong. It still divests sourpuss pitcher David Price — the salary cement blocks the Sox strapped to Betts in trade talks — to Dodger Stadium and allows the Sox to dodge the luxury tax. Boston only has to pick up the tab on half of the remaining $96 million on Price’s albatross contract. Minnesota and the Dodgers worked out a separate deal involving the pitching prospect originally earmarked for Boston that the Sox suspiciously marked medically defective to reboot the deal, Brusdar Graterol.
The Sox will hold their first workout for pitchers and catchers Wednesday at Fenway South. They might not have officially named their manager by then, but at least the Sox won’t be fielding RFPs (request for proposals) for Betts during PFPs (pitchers’ fielding practices) at Camp Chaos. They’ve turned a distasteful salary dump into a decent deal. That’s still not enough to redeem a dreadful offseason.
To recap Boston’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad offseason:
■ They started out searching for a successor to deposed president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who spent the team into luxury tax oblivion. They aimed for established names like Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey, and Boston baseball alums Mike Hazen of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cubs savior Theo Epstein. After striking out, they floated the idea of sticking with the Gang of Four of capable and loyal front office executives that had collectively run the Sox following Dombrowski’s unceremonious departure — Brian O’Halloran, Eddie Romero, Raquel Ferreira, and Zack Scott. When that trial balloon got popped, they tapped one of the game’s brightest young executives from the rival Tampa Bay Rays, Chaim Bloom, in late October. But then they clumsily married Bloom to the existing Gang of Four, further muddling a complicated and opaque baseball decision-making structure.
■ With a goal — NOT A MANDATE — expressed by Sox principal owner John W. Henry (you know what else he owns) of avoiding paying the luxury tax for a third straight season, the Sox were largely frozen in carbonite Han Solo-style trying to figure out what to do. Owners of baseball’s highest payroll in 2018 and 2019, they nibbled around the edges of their roster with coupon-clipping signings like second baseman Jose Peraza (one year, $3 million). Meanwhile, the rival New York Yankees, who finished 19 games ahead of the Sox, fortified their roster, adding ace Gerrit Cole via a $324 million mega-deal. Swell.
■ In January, the Sox found themselves part of the fallout of the Houston Astros’ illicit electronic sign-stealing scandal, first unearthed by The Athletic. Sox manager Alex Cora was singled out by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred as one of the key principals in the trash-can banging, sign-swiping scheme while serving as Houston’s bench coach in 2017. With the Sox under MLB investigation for allegedly employing similar sign-stealing methods using their video replay room during the 2018 World Series-winning season, the Sox and Cora “mutually agreed to part ways” on Jan. 14. The loss of a popular and charismatic manager was a devastating blow. The next day, the club held a sophistry-filled press conference that didn’t play well with fans or media, inviting ridicule.
■ Even when the Sox succeeded this offseason in achieving an objective, it devolved into an episode worthy of a laugh track. Last Tuesday, the Sox agreed in principle to a three-team deal to ship imminent Fenway flight risk Betts and his $27 million salary, plus Price, to the Dodgers in exchange for Verdugo and Twins prospect Graterol. The Sox shed enough salary to limbo under the $208 million luxury tax threshold. Making a difficult call on their best player should’ve stood as the crowning achievement of their offseason. Instead, it became an embarrassing fiasco, exposing sloppy disagreement and indecision.
Spooked by the medicals on Graterol and potentially the negative reaction from fans and media about dishing Betts in a manner that prioritized payroll-paring over player procurement, the Sox plunged the deal into a state of purgatory while they forced a more favorable return. In the end, they got the Mookie Mulligan they desired and a better deal, winning the staredown. Give them some credit for fixing a mistake. But the clumsy, botched nature in which it was executed reflected poorly on the organization and Bloom. It was indicative of their entire offseason.
Boston’s cold feet made some in baseball hot under the collar, drawing the ire of the MLB Players Association; superagent Scott Boras, and Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno, whose team has a deal with the Dodgers contingent upon the Betts trade.
Poor Graterol became a pawn in the Red Sox public relations game of Twister. The portly pitcher possesses some medical red flags. He missed the 2016 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015 and more than two months last year with a shoulder impingement. But the Sox — and the rest of baseball — knew this when they traded for him. Graterol isn’t good enough for the Sox, but now the Dodgers are poised to take him to separately complete their portion of the deal with the Twins, which revolves around sending starter Kenta Maeda and $10 million to Minnesota.
The Sox should have gotten more in the deal for Betts from the jump, especially considering they had all offseason to engineer it. The Sox even got the right moves wrong.
The only person that might come out of this deal with his reputation more unfairly maligned than Graterol is Bloom, thrust into a bubbling cauldron of crises and agendas in his first months on the job. How can other GMs and colleagues around baseball trust and respect his word if he can be so easily overruled by the internal workings and PR sensitivities of the Sox’ organizational hierarchy? Bloom’s credibility was collateral damage of Boston upgrading its take for Betts.
Bring on the baseball. We need to see players wielding bats and gloves in a sunny setting because we’ve seen enough of this offseason of gloom, doom, and Bloom.
It’s a horror movie with the Sox haunting themselves.