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Why Mookie might be gone

John Henry has showed his hand.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox
Please stay. I know it’s not really up to you, but still.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It seems simple now: The goal was never to have Mookie Bettts. Any team can draft and keep a player through his arbitration years; after that, they’re fair game. If you really want an MVP you’re going to have your chances to go get one. The real value is in making one, using him, and selling him off to the highest bidder, as Boston seems fit to do now with Betts two years after a certified miracle season.

Even with that said this is an extreme situation, the Red Sox are seemingly ready to jettison their signature star under cover of their new boy wonder Chief Baseball Officer, effectively trading one of the faces of baseball for that of Chaim Bloom, who may turn out to be worth it but will have to fight uphill to do so. Many people are upset about this in advance but the Rays were much better than they had any reason to be this year, so I will wait to get mad up to and until Bloom can’t repeat the trick in Boston, should that come to pass.

It might not. He seems smart. If he trades Mookie he’s probably being all but forced to, but this is a Rays guy so you never know. He might actually believe the Sox can be better without him. He may have found the secret like the guy who discovered penicillin and is waiting to make sure of the results have merit before blowing our minds. More likely though he knows he’s gotta do this thing — and do it from a position of weakness — because the luxury tax rubber is about to hit the road if he doesn’t, and the Sox have made it clear they aren’t paying the tax. It’s an unenviable position as far as exceedingly enviable positions go.

Is it unnecessary? God yes. The Sox can afford to pay all this and don’t want to because, as it turns out, running a baseball team isn’t about doing everything possible to win. It’s about doing everything possible to win while costs decrease or stay even in the face of minor inflation, and maybe doing it well enough one year to win it all and write off the next five seasons of recouping pure revenue while cutting the payroll.

The Sox are only partially exposed to this oppressive model because they are one of the big market teams in baseball, but they willingly participate along with everyone else to obscure the degree to which the whole league operates on found money. Nearly all sports do; virtually every owner got rich, and remains so, off an investment unrelated to sports, and the sports investment comes down to wanting to fill some deep-seated childhood fantasy or restore dignity to this that or the other. In the Sox’ case, it’s paid off beyond our wildest dreams, and yet here we still are, dragged into the doldrums by the rules by which the owners insist on playing.

The insistence is what gets me: This seems like a months-long public relations campaign to get the fanbase okay with trading Mookie that hasn’t worked yet and seems destined to fail through the entirety of 2020 no matter what they get or how they do. If Henry is counting on another 2013-like run to clear the air, he’d be delusional, and he’d have to be counting on it to hope this gambit works, at least this year, which leads me to believe he doesn’t care much about winning it all this year, just as they didn’t care too much about it last year.

But let’s be fair and say it’s possible for the Sox to trade Mookie and be competitive next year to the point of being a title contender even with the loss of their signature star. The Nationals are an imperfect example of this phenomenon, because Bryce Harper is not as good as Betts and Juan Soto might be, but they are an example, like the 2006 Cardinals, of a team just good enough to win actually pulling off the whole damn thing. To wit, they will still play 2020 whole season and the Red Sox still have many good baseball players at whom Henry can point as proof of concept.

If it works, L’Chaim, literally, but that’ll never be the end of the story either way. People still grouse about Jon Lester leaving because they do not like it when their favorite players are jerked around or appear to be, and especially not when they’re wearing a uniform that isn’t Boston’s after doing special things inside that uniform, and especially not after watching the Sox go sign the same damn player — David Price — a year later for top dollar. In that sense you can see a world where, after trading Mookie, the Sox are hugely in on the free agent slugger du jour in two years.

I don’t expect it, though, for the same reason this post exists at all. If the writing is on the wall, as it might be, the least we can do is read it. If we didn’t leave after Lester we’re not leaving now, and there’s almost nothing we can do about it but show up and root for another World Series title next year. These are who the Red Sox are. We don’t have to love it, like it, or condone it, but we ought to know by now what we’re getting. It’s probably not Mookie Betts any more. We’ll have to wait a long time for another of him, but we will.