Despite all the warning signs and hints that this trade was coming, the idea that the Red Sox, whose contracts have set the market in the past, could get rid of their best player for financial reasons was hard to believe.
But on Tuesday it happened. Boston traded Mookie Betts, the most popular player on their roster and the most complete player in franchise history and they’re going to regret it.
In the 16 months since they walked off the field at Dodger Stadium as World Champions, the Red Sox have made bad decision after bad decision, but none of them worse than dealing one of the sport’s best players just entering his prime on Tuesday.
A decade of contract decisions ranging from questionable to downright dumb crashed into this moment. Boston bound itself up so much financially that when Betts is a free agent next year, they won’t have the money to pay him. It’s a sad consequence that could have been avoided.
Betts should have been the face of the franchise for another decade-plus, the longterm heir to David Ortiz. His number 50 should have someday hung on the facade in right field and his plaque someday in Cooperstown with a Red Sox hat. Betts was already terrific and just beginning his prime, the type of player teams dream of trading for, not trading away.
Boston isn’t a small-market team. The Red Sox have the revenue streams to compete for any and every free agent who comes on the market. That doesn’t mean they should, but Betts is a break-the-bank worthy talent. Instead, he’s headed west and the Red Sox are headed south.
Good luck getting people to pay increased ticket prices now.
At least sending him to Southern California means he’ll be posting MVP-level numbers in games that start too late for most Boston-based fans to watch.
This isn’t a surprise. The Red Sox have been leaking information and softening the ground for months trying to convince their fans they had no choice. But trading a quarter for two dimes and a nickel almost never works out for the team dealing the larger coin.
The fingerpointing should first be aimed at fired general manager Dave Dombrowski, who seems like the type of guy who’d use a high-interest credit card to pay above sticker price for the shiniest car on the lot. He left the payroll bloated and the farm system starving. But the ownership let it happen. They need to own some of this, too.
Dombrowski’s moves hamstrung replacement Chaim Bloom, who actually got a better deal than most people expected. Procuring pitcher Brusdar Graterol from the Twins gives them a higher-end prospect than many figured was possible for only one guaranteed year of Betts.
But it won’t matter. Bloom is going to spend the first several years of his tenure living down the fact that he traded Betts even if ownership gave him no choice. Still being Bloom will be easier than being Alex Verdugo, who has the unenviable task of replacing Betts.
Former Red Sox great Dwight Evans wore 24 as a professional in honor of Willie Mays, his childhood hero. So when he called Betts “a little Willie Mays” after working with him during his rise through the minors, he didn’t do it lightly.
Betts isn’t Willie Mays. Nobody is. But his skills aren’t that far off, and he’s certainly the closest Boston has ever been to having that kind of player since Tom Yawkey turned down the chance to sign Mays in 1949, a decision that set the franchise back decades.
Betts was a star African-American player for a franchise whose poor history with African-American players is well-documented. Betts’ success seemed to mark unspoken progress. His race was rarely mentioned and never an issue publicly as Boston embraced him as a man and a player.
Red Sox management should be rooting for Betts to sign a monster deal next summer. They have to be. If he gets 10-plus years and more than $400 million, there’ll be champagne corks popping on Jersey Street. The only way they come out looking good is if Betts’ contract is so absurd that everyone questions its wisdom.
Even that won’t be enough to earn them blanket absolution. Every year Betts thrives for somebody else while the Red Sox aren’t playing in October is a year when fans are angry.
There could be plenty of those coming up.
Matt Vautour is a sports columnist for masslive.com. This column was distributed by Tribune Content Agency.