Two driving forces led the Red Sox to trade Mookie Betts.
The first was realizing that extension talks with Betts, a free agent after the 2020 season, were not headed anywhere. That led to a determination to trade him before the season’s start as long as they could receive sufficient value in return.
“I think you go into every offseason where you have a strong potential free agent, you always, during an offseason, weigh what you might get compared with what you might wind up with if you do nothing,” Red Sox principal owner John Henry, who also owns the Globe, said last week. “And I think we were all probably surprised that there turned out to be a deal. I don’t think it was so much a question of us going out looking for a deal as just a normal course of an offseason where you’re looking at everything.”
Said president Sam Kennedy: “The value proposition was there. We weren’t sure we would get the value back that it would require us to make a move.”
Once the Red Sox realized an extension was unlikely, they were open to talks with other teams, some of whom had expressed interest in trading for Betts during the 2019 season. Last year’s talks never progressed, since at midseason the Red Sox were still competitive and dealing away Betts was a no-win situation in every way.
Eventually, talks between the Dodgers and Red Sox resulted in a return package of outfielder Alex Verdugo, catcher Connor Wong, and infielder Jeter Downs for Betts and David Price.
Henry stressed that getting under Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax threshold was not a leading factor in trading Betts.
“Yes,” said Henry in response to the question of whether the club would have traded Betts even if it had already dipped below the CBT by making other deals. “We had other avenues for getting under the CBT.”
One avenue might have been trading Price and Jackie Bradley Jr., and Bradley’s name surfaced over the winter in trade rumors.
Henry said the reality of the economic system that rules Major League Baseball forced a team like the Red Sox to consider trading a player of Betts’ caliber with a year of team control remaining.
“We also live in an economic system today in baseball that you can’t just ignore,” Henry said. “When I was growing up, you didn’t have great players leaving their teams. We had a different economic system that did not work at all for the players. Over decades now, bargained between players and clubs, there’s a system that we now live under that I think makes a lot more sense. But, you end up having to make difficult decisions as a result of the system. It’s a continual thing for clubs and players.”
Kennedy insisted the Red Sox’ calculus in the Betts trade involved working with the economic system and still fielding a team that could be competitive in the near and long term.
“We have to be honest about why we made the decision to do what we did, and that’s clear,” Kennedy said. “We think it’s the best interests of baseball operations. John mentioned the MLB system in which we operate and that requires really, really difficult decision-making, so we made our decision and we have to stand by it and now we have to move forward.
“We are not giving up on the 2020 season. We think we are built to be able to compete. We all of a sudden now have some flexibility and resources that can be deployed as we go forward here in the coming days, weeks, and months ahead. And we just added significant value for the long term, so it’s a balancing act between that inherent conflict between short term and long term. There were baseball reasons for this deal, there were franchise reasons for this deal, which is we have an obligation to do everything in our power to win World Series championships as often as possible. That’s how we see our mission and our responsibility.”