At this point I’ve been doing this for a long time — damn near a decade, which is wild to me. There’s been a lot of side effects on my life from doing this for so long, but one of them is that I have sort of become unaffected by various opinions I deem as bad. Part of it is that I’ve been wrong enough in a very public fashion that, ya know, I’ve realized I might not be as smart as I like to think! The other is that I’ve remembered it’s part of being a fan. I know I’ve argued some things that are objectively wrong about the Celtics — I still hate the Isaiah Thomas trade even though it was obviously the right move — but I let rational thought go out the window. It’s fun to be irrational, and I recognize that. With that being said, there are still some narratives and talking points that serve to make me mad online.
All of that is to say that what follows is basically me getting mad online about a topic that’s been brought up for a long time now and is gaining some steam once again. Said topic is trading Mookie Betts. It’s being brought up again with the idea that the Red Sox should be sellers this summer after their disappointing start to the year. The general idea of the team selling is a topic for a different day, and another topic on which I have thoughts. I’ll probably get those off my chest at some point soon.
Today, though, I just want to focus on Betts. I’ll get right to the point and say the idea that the best course of action for the Red Sox would be to trade last year’s American League MVP is patently absurd. It’s so absurd that I can’t believe it’s even coming up. Well, I shouldn’t say that because I’ve followed Boston sports long enough to know that anything can come up. Hell, at the height of the Jimmy G era people talked about trading Tom Brady, so you know nothing is off-limits. Still, I can’t believe this particular idea has shown itself to have so much staying power.
Part of me thinks we’ve actually gotten to the point where some have forgotten just how good Betts is. I mean, everyone knows he’s good, but it seems he’s being thought of as your typical very good baseball players rather than the bonafide super-duper star that he actually is. For example, Chris Smith of Masslive posted a poll on Twitter asking who people would rather have for the rest of their careers: Betts or Rafael Devers. The final result was a blowout, but when I first looked at it and shared it Betts was winning by a 55-45 percent score with over 750 votes. The comments overwhelmingly supported Devers. It’s crazy!
Remember, Betts is probably the second best position player in the game, behind only a guy who is arguably the best to ever play. Last year Betts put up one of the best single seasons the league has seen. Even in his down years, he has been outstanding. In 2017, for example, he had the worst offensive season we’ve ever seen from him. Despite that, he finished sixth in MVP voting and was a six-win player on Baseball-Reference and a five-win player on Fangraphs. This year, he is again seemingly disappointing offensively. Even with that given, he is one of six players in the game with more walks than strikeouts and is on pace for another five-to-six-win season. To go back to the Devers comparison again, think about the difference in perception around the two players this year. Betts is clearly underperforming compared to expectations and Devers is overperforming, and even with that they are exactly tied in Baseball-Reference WAR while Devers has a half-win advantage in Fangraphs WAR. It’s worth noting, the margin of error for WAR is about a full win, making even the difference between the two in fWAR pretty much negligible.
All of this is to say: Betts isn’t just a good baseball player. He’s not just a great baseball player. He’s not just an elite baseball player. He’s just about as good as it gets. The arguments for trading him, despite this fact, have some pretty big holes. One popular reason is that he could walk and you don’t want to lose him for nothing. First of all, even if that is the case there is still a year-and-a-half until he walks. The Red Sox are still in a win-now window, and losing him makes winning now significantly harder. That also ignores the fact that him leaving in free agency after the 2020 season is far from a given. With what we know publicly, it seems like it is going to come down to the highest bidder, and there is zero reason the Red Sox should be outbid for anyone, much less a homegrown super-duper star who can and should be the face of the franchise for the rest of his career. There’s been no indication that he dislikes Boston, and if anything it’s been the opposite.
That line of reasoning sort of goes along with the second argument for trading him, which is the idea that the team can’t afford to keep him and build a winner around him. Again, we are talking about the Red Sox in a team without a salary cap. Yes, every team has budgetary restrictions, but you save money in order to fit players like Betts into that budget. The idea that teams can’t win while having highly paid players on their roster is, of course, absurd. The Red Sox won a championship last year with two very highly-paid free agents on their payroll that weren’t even on the roster. That doesn’t even include someone like David Price, one of the highest paid pitchers in the game. There is always a way to get money off the books to make room for other players, and if the front office isn’t creative enough to build a winner with Betts making market-rate, then it’s time for a new front office.
The final argument for trading Betts right now is perhaps the most mind-numbing to me: The idea that dealing him will allow you to reset the franchise in quick order. There’s two things wrong with this. For one, there is zero reason to be resetting anything right now. In addition to Betts, you have Devers, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi as an incredible core offensively. You also have Chris Sale locked up and David Price still pitching well. That’s a team that should be building up, not resetting. On top of that, it’s putting an awful lot of faith in hitting a home run with players you acquire. Even with a massive package that Betts would command, the best-case scenario is likely getting one of the players to be something like 75 percent of Betts. Yes, they would be cheaper, but again, you save money on young players to be able to afford veterans like Betts.
The Red Sox did not play as well as they should have in the first half of the season, and it’s not hard to justify questioning this roster. They don’t look like a championship team right now. That said, the best way to getting back to a championship-level team is to build around one of the best players in the game. That’s Mookie Betts. The idea of trading him is absolutely absurd, and I am extremely mad on line just thinking about it.