This past week, we got a fresh, new, hot-off-the-presses Mookie Betts trade rumors, which I am now convinced only exist to annoy me. (Since, you know, I am the Protagonist of Reality.) This one came from Jon Morosi of MLB.com, who says the Dodgers have pivoted to Betts and the Red Sox after talks with the Indians about Francisco Lindor stalled out. For what it’s worth, Alex Speier has since reported that nothing is close on this front, and at this point I would still be surprised if Mookie Betts wasn’t wearing a Red Sox uniform on Opening Day.
This isn’t about this specific rumor or the likelihood of it, though. Rather, it’s about the conversation that has followed. More than anything, the Morosi report certainly got people in Boston and around the league talking. It’s also not the first time the idea of packaging Betts and David Price in the same deal has been presented, and having it put out there so concretely has only upped the frequency and enthusiasm of those suggestions. One connection with that idea has just been impossible to avoid has been the comparison to The Punto Deal from the summer of 2012.
It doesn’t take a genius to see why this connection is made, as there are plenty of potential similarities. That it’s the Dodgers involved in these trade rumors as well is sort of the cherry on top of it all, though it’s not the only part that’s the same. This is a Red Sox team coming off a disappointing season, whereas the 2012 team was coming off heartbreak and in the midst of a truly disastrous season. This hypothetical trade would also work to clear salary around a solid core, in this case being guys like Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Chris Sale, Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez, etc., while back then it was David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury, etc. Even with these similarities, though, making this kind of trade would not be the Punto trade 2.0.
We have to start with the big contract part of it, with Price being this “modern version” of the deal of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett. For on thing, David Price is on person compared to two, which is different. More importantly, Price is more of a contributor than those two were. Beckett was very good in 2011, but he was having a terrible 2012. Crawford, meanwhile, was massively disappointing in 2011 and merely average in the few games he played in 2012 before getting hurt. Price’s contract is inflated to be sure, but not by a ton. More importantly, he is a good bet to help on the field if/when healthy. The other two were no sure bets on that front.
Beyond the contracts and the talent, Price is also not the off-the-field issues these other two were. As much as I think the chicken and beer thing has turned into something of a caricature since the original “scandal” took place, it also...wasn’t great! We can laugh all we want about it, but it also kind of sucked, and Josh Beckett was a big part of it. Crawford, meanwhile, just never felt comfortable in Boston. At least that’s what it looked like from the outside and nothing he’s said since leaving has really disputed that. Price, on the other hand, has a very different perception from fans and media than in the clubhouse. While many fans and media members don’t like him (for some fair reasons and other not-so-fair reasons), he’s been regarded as a good teammate his entire career. Guys like Chris Archer and Marcus Stroman have described him as a mentor and leader. That’s not necessarily a reason to say Price can’t be traded, but rather just to point out trading him isn’t some sort of addition by subtraction for team morale and chemistry.
Then, there’s the Betts vs. Adrian Gonzalez part of the trade. Although the latter is often grouped with Crawford and Beckett, he was included in this deal in order to facilitate it, as he was the true target for the Dodgers. He was the star-level talent, just like Betts would be. Except, well, there’s no doubt Betts is a better player. I don’t have to explain that one. That Betts is only under control for one more year while Gonzalez had multiple years left at the time of the trade is a point in the latter’s favor, but the talent is disparate enough that it’s still not equivalent. In 2012 the Red Sox traded an All-Star-level talent. In this hypohetical, they’d be trading an MVP-level, Hall of Fame-level talent. Again, this isn’t even to say they can’t trade Betts (they shouldn’t, but it’s not the point). It’s just that it is not comparable to Adrian Gonzalez.
Then, there’s the return. In hindsight, the Red Sox did not get much back from the Dodgers in this deal with Ivan De Jesus, James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster. At the time, though, that was a pretty substantial return, particularly with those last two. Webster was a top-100 prospect and De La Rosa had been the year before and now had major-league experience. These were two pitchers who were supposed to plug into the rotation soon, and stay there. The Morosi report indicates they might get one such prospect despite, again, dealing better players in this hypothetical trade. It’s just not the same Dodgers organization who, at the time, was desperate to build a winner and flex their financial muscles. It’s also not the same league, as the top market teams just aren’t as willing to take on salary nor are they as likely to deal top prospects. For better or for worse, that’s just the way it is.
The biggest point here is about what comes after, too. The reason the Punto Trade is (rightfully) looked at as such a success is that the team used the cleared salary to sign a bunch of B- and C-tier free agents that helped catapult them to a championship in 2013. It was great work by Ben Cherington and company, but it was also fairly lucky. If you play out that offseason and regular season 100 times, the free agents only play that well and win a championship a handful of them. Since then, baseball has only skewed younger and free agents with that kind of impact have only become harder to find. I have no doubt Chaim Bloom is very good at what he does, but pulling off what Cherington did after the 2012 season for the 2021 season would be extremely difficult.
At the end of the day, this kind of trade just isn’t the way for the Red Sox to get done what they want to get done. I’ve already written about the David Price situation and how I think they just need to not worry about the return at this point and get rid of as much money as possible without sending other pieces or taking on other contracts. It goes without saying that it’s much easier for me to say that from my apartment than it is for Bloom to actually pull that off, of course.
For the Betts part, it’s no secret where I stand on that. I don’t want him traded, and I think the only semi-defensible reason to reset the luxury tax this winter would be because you are planning for a mega-deal next winter. That said, if you do trade Betts, attaching him to another contract is not the way to do it. Take care of the Price (or Jackie Bradley Jr., or Nathan Eovaldi, or whoever) business separately and treat Betts like the star he is. Trading Betts wouldn’t be a salary dump, it would be a way to acquire elite young talent. If that’s not on the table, then neither is he.
It’s easy to look at another potential mega-trade with the Dodgers and look back at the Nick Punto Trade. This is not that, though. That was trading three players who just weren’t good fits with the organization who were also worse than their modern counterparts to reset after a disastrous year. This would be trading two key contributors from a better team for a lesser return to try and catch lightning in a bottle for a second time in a much more difficult environment. That’s not great planning from where I sit.