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?

Biggest Loser from the COVID-19 Fallout: Mookie Betts

He was supposed to be baseball’s next $400 million dollar man, and rightfully so. Mookie Betts was in pole position to have a monster offseason, where he would become the most sought-after unrestricted free agent.

The Red Sox had reportedly made several attempts to restructure the contract with Mookie. In 2016, he declined a five-year, $100 million deal. Following the 2017 season, Betts again turned down an offer of an eight-year, $200 million dollar contract. After his 2018 AL MVP season, Mookie was offered a ten-year deal, worth $300 million in the offseason. Mookie counter-offered with twelve years at $420 million. In an effort to recoup something in return for Betts, Boston dealt him away after the 2019 season. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers after insisting on hitting the market in search of his desired price tag. 

Like every other business, the market for athletes is dependent on the total market revenue. With the stoppage of play, each team will be affected differently. According to the New York Times, the LA Dodgers are currently at $232 million in local losses, with teams like the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, and Boston Red Sox close behind with $214 million, $199 million, and $188 million in losses, respectively. 

Even if there is an abbreviated season, teams will lose out on a significant amount of revenue. This will take away from their ability to pay out contracts after the season, and the market will see an overall dip.  The Athletic’s Peter Gammons suggested that Betts would be “lucky” to earn a deal worth $250 million in the current market.

While it was unforeseeable during prior negotiations, Betts must be kicking himself over what could have been. He might not command the $420 million dollar price tag he was in search of, but he has a lot to prove if baseball is to be played this year. 

Does Boston now have the ability to offer Betts a competitive contract offer, due to the expected market dip?

The Days of the Prototypical Leadoff Hitter Are Numbered

In a rapidly evolving landscape, the traditional build of a leadoff hitter is hard to find in today’s game—the days of the Rickey Henderson-type leadoff hitter are long over. 

Admittedly, I looked at my phone screen a bit cock-eyed when I read David Ross’ announcement that Kris Bryant would be the Cub’s leadoff hitter for the 2020 season… He is the closest thing to a five-tool player on their roster and surely belongs in the heart of their order.

The Cubs have notoriously tried 17 different players in the leadoff spot (i.e. Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo) since Dexter Fowler’s departure in 2016.  Their experiment with Schwarber leading off ended in a dismal season for the outfielder.  In the games that Schawrbo led off, the Cubs won just 26 games and lost 30.  While his ability to hit the longball never left, he saw a slight dip in batting average in the leadoff spot during the 2019 season.  

Kris Bryant, the leadoff hitter, could have made the Cubs a contender again.  Without the virus’ impact on society as a whole, we might have seen this bold move pay off for the Cubbies.

In today’s game, there is a large emphasis placed on a player’s athleticism, and it is expected that most batters in a lineup have sufficient wheels.  Concocting a carefully crafted batting order comes out of necessity in the wake of a hitting revolution.  Metrics like exit velocity, WAR, and OPS have become so prevalent in today’s game, it has streamlined so many facets of the game. Teams need to adapt or die, which forces Darwinism to run its course. 

Maximizing the most out of a given game from the jump is incredibly important, but it is also equally as important to have an explosive and productive back-end of the lineup.  Having the compatibility and effectiveness in any combination of three batters can maximize a team’s ability to produce runs efficiently.  If your most dynamic player is only seeing the batter’s box 4 times per game as opposed to 5, as insignificant as it sounds, it could mean the difference between a win and a loss. 

In the wake of the now-infamous Mookie Betts trade, Boston is left without an outright leadoff hitter.  The only person on the roster who has experience leading off is Andrew Benintendi, who notoriously was experimented with in the leadoff hole during the 2019 season.  The Benintendi Experiment did not last for more than a few weeks even with Mookie on the roster; Benny is not “the guy.”  He had a largely uninspiring 2019 campaign at the dish, posting career lows in BA, OBP, and OPS.  When leading off, Benintendi hit .267 in the first half of the season.  These statistics alone do not discredit his efforts, but he is not the sparkplug that belongs at the top of the lineup.   

One player currently on the Red Sox comes to mind when thinking about those who could benefit from “top loading” the batting order. 

Looking at Xander Bogaerts’ physique, one would correctly assume that he belongs in the heart of the order. His 6-foot, 1-inch frame is well-suited for hitting in the 2-5 holes in the lineup where it would be able to do the most damage by being sandwiched between great hitters. 

When purely looking at his hitting capabilities, Bogaerts has the ability to get behind the ball and drive it to all parts of the field.  He also displays plate discipline beyond his years; not the type of maturity one would expect from a 27-year-old. 

Filling Mookie’s role is no easy task—he was 10th in the entire league in OBP with .391, ahead of some very big names.  One of the players following Mookie at 13th in the league in OBP however, is our boy, Xander.  Bogaerts posted a .384 OBP and saw lots of growth in his batting abilities.  He even posted an OPS that was 14th in the league.  Xander also has the slight speed advantage over Mookie, with Xander posing a 28.0 ft/sec as opposed to Mookie’s 27.9 ft/sec. 

At any level, every ballplayer should be prepared to lead off an inning—even the not-so-fleet-of-foot DHs out there.  Whoever leads off a game is no different.  A leadoff batter’s approach could differ depending on the pitcher, as he could set the tone of the game either by jumping on a pitcher early in the count or working to wear the pitcher down via attrition. The one thing that remains a constant throughout all leadoff hitters, though, is the ability to work the count and get on base often.

“Top loading” lineups with a team’s best five-tool players will be the way of the future.  Shifting players who typically belong in the heart of the lineup to the top of the order will become more prevalent in years to come.