Trading a player with Mookie Betts’ ability at his current age would be a somewhat unprecedented occurrence, and it’s not going to happen this season with the Boston Red Sox still right in the hunt for an American League wild card spot.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said as much this week on the Dale & Keefe Show on WEEI 93.7 FM, although he also left the door open for a future trade by pointing out that anyone can be dealt.
“I’ve always said you always consider trading any player you possibly have,” Dombrowski told the show’s hosts. “When I was with Detroit, Miguel Cabrera was the MVP and you’re in the position where he won the Triple Crown. I used to say would I trade Miguel Cabrera? Yeah I would trade Miguel Cabrera because if you could get two Miguel Cabreras for one you would do that. So it doesn’t happen very often but you have to be open-minded. So, sure, could you ever do that with any player the answer would be, ‘Yes.’ Is it likely? Most likely not but, again, you can never tell what happens with any particular player.”
It would be difficult to gauge Betts’ value and to get the right return because he’ll be just 27 this offseason, when it would logistically be the best time to trade him. Betts, who’s playing on a one-year $20 million contract he settled on with the Red Sox without arbitration, is eligible to be a free agent in the winter of 2020/21. Since Mike Trout signed an extension for 10 more years added to the two years left on his contract in March, and several other star players similarly re-upped with their teams last offseason or in the early part of this season, there’s been concern about Betts biding his time. Betts can be expected to seek something along the lines of $30-35 million on a long-term extension, similar to Trout.
It should be noted that recently Betts told MassLive.com that Boston shouldn’t read too deeply into his decision to not sign an extension this early in the process.
“I’ve loved it here,” he told reporter Christopher Smith. “I love the front office, my teammates, coaches. Everybody. It’s been nothing but amazing here. Just because you go to free agency doesn’t mean you don’t want to be somewhere. It’s just a part of the business.”
Betts won the 2018 AL MVP award with a 1.078 OPS leading up to the Red Sox’s run to the World Series championship. This year he’s “dipped” to an .874 OPS while still playing Gold Glove-quality defense in right field. Free agency could be a bonanza for him at 28, considering the 2020/21 free-agent class is scheduled to lack anyone even close to him in terms of talent, especially if Giancarlo Stanton doesn’t exercise his opt-out with the New York Yankees. Although not everyone will be able to bid on Betts’ services, he’ll have his pick of some of the higher-profile teams.
There’s still plenty of time for the Red Sox and Betts to hammer out an extension that keeps the outfielder in Boston for most of the rest of his career. The Red Sox have shown they’re willing to commit to the core of their current team with their recent extending of shortstop Xander Bogaerts’ contract and their re-signing of Chris Sale.
Much like Betts can’t be blamed if he decides to go to market, the Red Sox can’t be blamed if they decide they don’t want to be stuck losing Betts for nothing. J.D. Martinez could opt out this winter and replacing two MVP-caliber bats over two winters could prove difficult. The Washington Nationals have bounced back after losing Bryce Harper, but they had to hit on a number of replacements in free agency and in their farm system to stay afloat, and they’re still not a sure thing to make the postseason.
Again, a scenario where Betts is traded is hard to fathom. Not just because of what he’s brought in terms of production in a short time, but also because the Red Sox are big market team with the financial wherewithal to retain a player like Betts and a mandate to go all-out in pursuit of a championship every year.
The Arizona Diamondbacks determined they wouldn’t be able to retain Paul Goldschmidt, heading into his 31-year-old season and one season from free agency, so they traded him to the St. Louis Cardinals coming off a .922 OPS season. Arizona got 25-year-old starting pitcher Luke Weaver, plus catching prospect Carson Kelly and minor-league infielder Andy Young. That’s not the type of haul a team with championship aspirations can accept without having several other moves in the pipeline.
A couple other comparable offseason trades involved the Miami Marlins trying to dump salary after new ownership took over rather than a team worrying about losing a player to free agency. In fact, Christian Yelich was entering the third year of a seven-year contract (worth $49.57 million) when Miami dealt him to the Milwaukee Brewers, a contract that looks like a bargain now that Yelich is a perennial MVP candidate. The Marlins did managed to pry four prospects, including three from Milwaukee’s top 10, out of the Brewers.
Similarly, Miami traded Stanton to the Yankees and got All-Star infielder Starlin Castro and two low-level minor leaguers in a trade that was 90 percent about money.
Perhaps the closest comparable trade would be last season’s deal of Manny Machado, who was ticketed for free agency at the close of the season, to the Los Angeles Dodgers from the Baltimore Orioles. Although the Orioles got five prospects, only Yusniel Diaz was considered one of the Dodgers’ top four gems. The Orioles may have gotten more had they acted the winter before, the equivalent of the Red Sox and Betts’ situation this winter.
The underlying theme in all these trades was that teams dealt star players for pieces of their future. If the Red Sox decide trading Betts is the way to go, there could possibly be a team willing to include a veteran piece, maybe even one under team control, that could help make up for Betts’ loss while Boston tries to bolster other areas of its roster. But there will still be a big hole where Betts once resided and the future will always be better with him in Boston’s right field.