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Red Sox owners insist that Mookie Betts trade was a baseball decision

Red Sox principal owner John Henrydirected a message toward fans to open Monday’s press conference.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A week after the trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers for three young players, the Red Sox tried again Monday to explain why it made sense.

This time, principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and team president Sam Kennedy took a swing at it, insisting the deal was more about improving the team’s talent base than cutting payroll.

As the players went through the first full-squad workout of spring training, the owners defended a trade that has defined the season before it started.

“We traded Mookie Betts to get value back and set yourself up to win another championship,” Kennedy said.


“Maybe it was the wrong decision. But that’s why we made the decision.”

In previous years, the owners’ annual spring training news conference took place with Henry and Werner seated on a wooden bench outside the clubhouse. But this year the Red Sox moved the session to a dining room inside the ballpark and had Kennedy join Henry and Werner at a table.

In another break from tradition, Henry opened the session by reading a 783-word statement that explained his side of the trade.

The crux of the missive, and much of what followed, was that the Sox felt they received more value for Betts in the trade than they would have otherwise.

Related: Read John Henry’s opening statement

They also pushed back against the idea that the trade was made only to cut payroll to get under baseball’s competitive balance tax limit and reset the penalties for next year and beyond.

“There are clearly certain advantages by resetting and getting under,” Kennedy said. “But we’ve tried to be clear that this was not exclusively about the CBT and getting under that CBT threshold. There would have been other ways to do that.


“You don’t trade Mookie Betts to get under the CBT. We traded Mookie Betts and David Price to get substantial value for the return.”

If Betts played out this season with the Sox, became a free agent, and signed with another club, the only compensation would have been a draft pick. The Sox felt the three players from the Dodgers were a better return considering Betts was not open to a long-term contract.

“We made legitimate offers over three offseasons,” said Henry, who also owns the Globe. “I made it personally clear to him one-on-one that we wanted to see him in a Red Sox uniform for the rest of his life, if possible.

“We live in a different world today. Players spend so many years being underpaid in the system that we have that when they get to free agency they’ve earned the right to maximize their chances of being paid a maximum amount.”

Related: Mookie Betts bids farewell: ‘You were great to me, Boston’

Left unsaid, but occasionally hinted at, was that the Sox also saved $75 million over the next three seasons and avoided what would have been another year of luxury tax payments.

“Hopefully we’ll look at this trade and see the benefits of it as time goes on,” Werner said. “In the short run, this is going to be painful. It’s painful for us. But it does give us flexibility.”

Part of that short-term pain has been angering the fan base over the loss of Betts, a multidimensional and personable 27-year-old who is arguably the best player the team has developed in decades.


Mookie Betts was all smiles as he chatted with some of his new teammates at Dodgers camp in Arizona Monday.gregory bull/Associated Press

Kennedy said ticket sales are off by 15 percent compared with the same point last year and that season-ticket renewals, which typically run 88-89 percent, are down to 82 percent.

The Red Sox raised ticket prices by an average of 1.7 percent on Oct. 8, only nine days after finishing 84-78 and 19 games out of first place. Kennedy acknowledged that they knew at the time that trading Betts was a possibility. Kennedy was asked if that was a poor decision in retrospect.

“I try not to look back and have a lot of regrets,” he said. “But I will say that we’ve made a lot of mistakes in our 19 years here. I think we’ve made a lot of good decisions. I’ll leave it at that.”

At one point during the news conference, Kennedy spoke for just over a minute promoting ticket deals at Fenway Park. He returned to that theme a few minutes later.

A few minutes after the news conference broke up in Florida, Betts emerged from the Dodgers clubhouse at their Camelback Ranch complex in Glendale, Ariz. A large crowd of fans greeted him with loud cheers.

Peter Abraham can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.