Why Trading Mookie Betts Was the Right Move

Betts, who recently observed his 28th birthday, received a long extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers at $365,000,000 over 12 years. It’s needless to say that he’ll have some coin once his playing days are over with some rings to pair…

With his performance in the playoffs as of late, the front office in Boston has come under much scrutiny from media and fans for trading a highly regarded player like Mookie. Much of the outrage focuses on the fact that Mookie is a generational piece, but Boston sought sustainable success with talented, young ballplayers after the decimation of the farm system by former GM Dave Dombrowski in an effort to chase a ring.

In analyzing the deal, we must consider the contracts of the players involved… At the time of the trade, Mookie was set to hit free agency at the end of the 2020 season. In an interview with David Ortiz for the World Series, Mookie suggested that he saw himself staying in Boston for the rest of his career. However, he omitted the most significant part: He wanted to be rewarded with one of the highest contracts in the league.

Mookie made it clear that he wanted to be paid as a top player in the game, but never committed to Boston explicitly until after the fact.

He quietly rejected multiple offers from the Red Sox before the pandemic, the last of which was comparable to his current $365mil deal with the Dodgers. In a pre-COVID market, this was still a massive deal– but he sought $400mil as a free agent. His unwillingness to settle for anything less than what he valued himself, made it clear that he was not tied to Boston.

Admittedly, I was initially in the boat that thought the trade was lopsided for Betts at first… Verdugo and Graterol for an elite player like Mookie surely was a joke, right?

While Brusdar Graterol will be a cornerstone reliever in the near future, there might have been some misrepresentation of whether he was a starter or reliever. His inclusion in the deal was ultimately voided and instead, the Red Sox got a crop of young talent with infielder Jeter Downs and catcher Connor Wong, in addition to Verdugo.

Mookie Betts had no immediate intention of re-signing with the team. The Red Sox effectively gained “free talent” for an expiring contract when the race for the playoff was muddied by a very tough division with the Rays and Yankees in the hunt. The Red Sox effectively punted on the 2020 season by preempting an imminent exit with a trade that effectively locked up their middle-infield for the next 5 years. They also gained an every-day outfielder who can play all three outfield positions.

In his very short career, Verdugo has shown that he can replicate Betts’ offensive output (with slightly less power). In his career spanning over four years with 211 games underneath his belt, his career slash line is .290/.345/.458. It is impressive by itself, and he is gaining confidence at the plate– he has a very high ceiling.

Drooling Meme GIFs | Tenor

Jeter Downs is also a name to remember… The SS/2B was a highly touted prospect within the Cincinnati Reds organization until the Dodgers traded for him specifically. The 2018 trade that sent Jeter Downs to the Dodgers was the blockbuster that sent Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Matt Kemp and Kyle Farmer to Cincinnati. They, along with $7 million in cash, were packaged for Jeter Downs (then a 7th-ranked prospect), Josiah Gray (then a 20th-ranked prospect) and Homer Bailey. The Dodgers clearly valued Jeter Downs heavily and parted ways with him to get their dude in Betts.

Mookie is a great talent, but not someone you build around. He is, at best, an ancillary piece, who could turn a team into a super-team. His glove is elite, but he is not the best “complete” outfielder in the league. I don’t think he even breaks the top 5 (Trout, Acuña, Yelich, Bellinger, Judge all have slight advantages).

We will thank the Red Sox’ front office for making this trade in the near future, even though it is not apparent at the moment. The Dodgers’ World Series win validated that they “won” the trade, but who is to say the trade can’t be mutually beneficial?

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