FORT MYERS, Fla. — In an attempt to clear the air and explain the motivations behind the trade that sent Mookie Betts to the Dodgers last week, Red Sox principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner, and CEO Sam Kennedy delivered comments and answered questions for 32 awkward minutes Monday morning at JetBlue Park.
I would not say they stuck the landing. It went about as well as Deval Patrick’s presidential bid and the quest to bring the 2024 Summer Olympics to Boston.
Little is likely to change in the wake of Sox management’s effort to explain a salary dump that the club refuses to acknowledge is a salary dump. Folks who hate the Betts deal are unlikely to feel any better from what was said at the tense presser. The Red Sox seem to know this.
“I understand there is probably little I can say today that will change how you feel about this,’’ Henry said, while reading a 6½-minute statement at the outset of the press conference.
He’s right. The Sox are going into 2020 asking you to “root, root, root for payroll flexibility,” and it’s an impossible sell. It is the rally cry of the Tampa Bay Rays, not the Boston Red Sox.
All three Sox officials made an attempt to compare the Betts deal to the trading of Nomar Garciaparra at the deadline in 2004, but we all know that this is nothing like that. Garciaparra was injured, sulky, and a defensive drag on the championship-bound Red Sox. When that deal was made, many Sox fans were still angry at Nomar for not playing in a critical loss a month earlier at Yankee Stadium (the night Derek Jeter had to go to the hospital after diving into the stands, while Nomar sat and sulked in the visitors dugout).
Trading Betts in 2020 is nothing like trading Nomar in ’04. Betts is a recent MVP, an ever-smiling World Series winner in the prime of his career who never had a bad day in Boston. Red Sox management’s insistence that dealing Mookie was a “baseball deal’’ does not wash with the fans or with most of Baseball America.
Seated at a table between Werner and Kennedy, the low-talking Henry (who also owns the Globe) opened by reminding fans that he grew up a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals and star Stan Musial. The Sox owner acknowledged, “My heart would have been broken if Stan the Man had ever been traded, for any reason.”
Good empathy there. But how would young John Henry have felt if the Cardinals swapped Musial for an unproven 23-year-old outfielder with a fractured back and two faceless minor leaguers, then explained to fans that it was a baseball deal that ultimately would benefit the Cardinals because of the club’s new “payroll flexibility.”
Young John Henry wouldn’t have bought it then, and nobody around here is buying it now. And the Sox’ insistence that this deal had nothing to do with Henry’s desire to get under the competitive balance tax is bound to only further enrage Boston’s savvy baseball fans.
Some Monday lowlights:
First question: How is this not a salary dump?
Kennedy: “It’s understandable that people could view this transaction as a way to rid yourselves of some salary obligations . . . We had a hard decision to make and we decided that it was in the best interests of the baseball operation to go forward with this transaction to get substantial value back in exchange for two great players . . . We’ve tried to be clear that this was not exclusively about the CBT.’’
Second question: John, would you identify this as a baseball trade or a trade about finances?
Henry: “A baseball trade.’’
Werner pointed out, “We’ve acquired talent that will be under club control for I think 17 years.’’
Swell. The Sox have 17 years of “club control” of Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong while the Dodgers have Betts and David Price.
Henry said the Sox had made “legitimate offers” to Betts in three offseasons.
Henry and Werner were verbally pinned when Boston Sports Journal’s Sean McAdam asked why ownership allowed the megabucks signings of Nate Eovaldi and Chris Sale last spring when Henry claimed in September 2019 that the club had known for “over a year” that it would have to “reset” for 2020 with Betts coming into his walk season. This timeline simply does not work.
Henry passed. Werner said, “We’ve also said that [resetting] was a goal, not a mandate,” then dodged with a bag of words.
Regarding the troubled history of Verdugo, Kennedy said, “We did an extremely high level of due diligence with MLB and the Dodgers. We are comfortable with the decision. I had a chance to meet Alex in person this morning and let him know that the entire organization is here to support him.”
When Henry was asked if he could assure Sox fans that this is not a bridge year, he deferred to Werner, then added, “Don’t you think this would be a record payroll for a bridge year?’’
When I asked Kennedy if there would be any consideration to rolling back ticket prices, company man Sam launched into a detailed, lengthy, and uncomfortable pitch to sell tickets (“Come to Fenway Park for nine dollars! We have affordable family options, includes food and beverage!”). It was like going to someone’s house for dinner and having them whip out a line of Tupperware they’re trying to sell.
After the session, Werner and Kennedy stuck around for smaller, informal interviews. The last thing I heard before I walked out of the room was Werner saying, “It wasn’t a salary dump. It was to give us flexibility. It was a wise trade.’’
The home opener is Thursday, April 2, against the White Sox at 2:05 p.m., and the Red Sox have 12 more frosty home dates in April. Seats are still available.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at email@example.com