As much as I would like to crawl into a hole and not think about what is in my opinion the worst-case scenario for this offseason, there is no avoiding Mookie Betts trade talk this winter. This is a conversation that has already begun the talk around the Red Sox since the season ended and only figures to intensify as the offseason really begins. Obviously, this talk isn’t just starting, either. It’s been bubbling for the better part of a year at this point, and it’s now being fueled by speculation coming from inside the front office.
The fact is that this has all been going on long enough that people have generally drawn their lines in the sand and know where they stand. It’s no secret that I think trading the second best player in baseball in the midst of his prime when you’re one of the richest franchises in the game would be a disaster. There’s no need to go down that road again, at least not right now. I can’t promise I won’t rant and rave about it later in the offseason, but for now I’ll keep it on the backburner.
Instead, I just want to address what seems to be the main point that is being made by those on that other side of the sand. You’ve heard it a million times by now. “You can’t lose him for nothing.” There are a couple things wrong with this line of thinking, the first of which being that it sort of assumes a binary set of options. Either you trade him now or you lose him next winter in free agency. There is no reason to believe that should be the case.
Even if you want to look beyond that, though, there is another major issue with the line of thinking. “You can’t lose him for nothing.” The basic premise here is just false. Let’s just go along with the binary set of options and say that they do keep him only to lose him in free agency next winter. In this scenario, the Red Sox wouldn’t be losing him for nothing.
The biggest point to be made here is that the 2020 season still counts. Any trade of Mookie Betts this winter would by definition make the Red Sox considerably worse. They would be losing their best player and a guy who they would not be able to replace with just one roster spot. So, in the best case scenario you would have to take up one extra roster spot just to get to Betts’ production, and that is an optimistic viewpoint. It would probably take a combination of more than two new players and/or improvement from players already on the roster.
This is a team, as we’ve mentioned many times, that is built to win right now. The pitching was awful this year, but it is also not a group around whom you go into a rebuild. The Red Sox are, and should be, banking on bounce-backs (maybe not all the way back, but a good chunk of the way there) from Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi. That is obviously the key, and when you combine that with a core in the lineup of (maybe) Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and (maybe) J.D. Martinez, you have a team that can win a World Series. I mean, we saw it happen! So, to put it more succinctly, by keeping Betts even in this made up world where you know he’s walking the next year, you are giving yourself a much better chance to win a championship in a year where that should absolutely be the goal. It’s hard to put a numerical value on that, but it seems pretty large to me.
Even beyond that, there is more to gain from keeping Betts for the 2020 season. This one requires you to at least consider the possibility that the superstar, who has never said a bad word about playing in Boston, would consider staying beyond just next season. It doesn’t seem like a leap to me, but some seem to disagree. Anyway, by keeping him for an extra year you have a better chance to keep him around on the open market. It’s almost certainly going to come down mostly to money, but you have another year to show off the team as well as city culture and make him want to remain a part of it. You also give yourself an entire year of exclusive negotiating rights that extends into the beginning portions of that offseason as well. That head start is, again, hard to quantify but it’s impossible to deny there is value there.
Finally, there is the actual tangible return in the compensation pick. Now, compensation is not what it once was and it is certainly not equivalent to what they would get in return for Betts. That said, it is also not nothing. If the team stays under the luxury tax in 2020, their compensation pick would come right before the start of the second round. If they exceed it, it would come after the fourth round. That’s obviously a big difference, but either way it is an extra draft pick and extra bonus pool money to be spread around.
So, there is value to be had in keeping Mookie Betts even if you end up losing him in free agency after the 2020 season. Most important is that you allow yourself a much easier road to being competitive in the upcoming season, but the exclusive negotiating window and compensation pick should not be discounted either. Whether or not all of that combined makes it worth keeping him is up to you. That’s not really the point I’m trying to make here. All I want is for people to stop saying you can’t lose Mookie Betts for nothing. It’s just not a real possibility nor a discussion worth having.