I still can’t believe they did it. I’m typing this a week from the first, aborted trade of Mookie Betts to the Dodgers for the inconceivably weak return of Alex Verdugo and Brusder Graterol was announced, and a day after the second, improved deal of Betts for Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong was executed, and I’m no less angry than I was when this all started, if not angrier. There’s a civil war in Sox Nation, and I’m on the front lines of team “don’t trade the face of baseball.” You must be the other guy.
At the risk of being dramatic, I will never get over this callous, cynical trade, and its defenders are forever on my shit list. I see the numbers and understand how, at the right angle, this looks like the right way out. But I also know that, like a mosaic that looks coherent from one angle but falls apart entirely at another, stand anywhere but where the Sox want you to stand and this is a shambles. The phantom savings — Hundreds of millions in penalties avoided! $400 million for Mookie! The Price contract gone! — create a picture that is edifying, sure, from a point of view. Just not multiple ones. And why is that? Because they are lies.
There has been wonderful, righteous criticism from some corners of this trade, but it’s not enough, and it has led to an uncomfortable number of Red Sox fans and reporters for cheerleading a deal that has no place in this solar system. Everyone understands John Henry wants to “save” hundreds of millions, but the people arguing for the trade leave out how much Mookie has already saved him, already made him, and stood to do so *again* this year, because the point of their argument is to silence, not convince. They say there’s no question about the numbers, and they’re absolutely right. The numbers just make them look like clowns.
To wit, Bloom admits the team has gotten worse in 2020. Lovely. The Sox are still good but it’s the principle — and precedent — that counts. The most popular rationales for the trade, aped by major national reporters and a long line of locals, run along several courses that I will genericize and then rebut:
- Mookie wanted to sign for top dollar because of his importance to the league, and if the Sox lost him they would do so for “nothing.”
- Those attacking the deal don’t fully understand the financial implications — because, if they did so, they’d understand.
- Mookie did not “want to be here,” so his departure was inevitable.
One at a time:
- Mookie’s commitment “to the union” is a negotiating ploy. If we are going to be *actually* savvy about how money works, we could meet the incredibly simple standard of understanding how negotiations work, or at least not reading absolute truth into the politics of negotiations;
- I/we full understand the financial implications as presented to me, and find them incomplete and unconvincing for reasons I’m elucidating right here and now;
- Whether or not he “wanted” to be in Boston is irrelevant and stupid.
In fact, if you asked, “Well why wouldn’t Mookie Betts want to stay in Boston?,” a likely answer would be that they never appreciated him. Hundreds of millions of dollars of value, by any estimation, and how did the team thank him? By staring him down in arbitration, year after year, determined to shake down their generational star for every cent they could and remind him, painfully, of the peculiar, onerous circumstances of his employment.
Per Baseball-Reference, Betts put up an even 42 WAR in Boston over six seasons while earning $32.5 million, or, if you prefer, $2.5 million more than David Price made last year. While I have been told that WAR-per-million-is a terrible stat in most cases, I have been told by the same people that the simplest possible rule of thumb is a single Win Above Replacement is worth about $8 million, at least on the open market. Even accounting for jubilant overspending, and the fuzziness of the whole exercise, you’d have to be blind not to see the nearly $300 million gap in Betts’s production and earnings, and I guess what I’m saying is we’ve trained ourselves to be blind.
(A fun fact too is that David Price has averaged just under 3 WAR per season while earning $30M per, which means he likely hasn’t been a huge drain, and of course none of this involves the playoffs, which aren’t included in the WAR total for Betts or Price and also aren’t paid like normal salary. Price’s contract is probably better on a dollar per dollar basis, on-field, than paying half of it for him to pitch somewhere else, one suspects.)
All of this would be galling enough if the Sox hadn’t included $48 million to the Dodgers, plus the upshot of Mookie’s 1-year, $27 million deal in arbitration that is — safe to say! — below market rate. Which leaves my calculations of what the Sox have done here as:
- Trade your star player/the face of baseball, the one you earned (conservatively) $250 million on so far, and another $50 million and another implied $15 million or so.
- Don’t do this, and try to win the World Series, because you’ve made more money from this player alone than he could ever really cost you.
All of this is before we get to the way the Sox handled it, the disregard for players and fans and anything but their arbitrarily drawn bottom line, and their generally indefensible position toward the truth during the whole affair. Throw in the Kool-Aid that they brewed up for the True Believers, and I cannot go 30 minutes without bursting into a rageball supernova.
With this trade, the economist view of the team has finally, from the nascent days of Bill James and Nate Silver, come to dominate mainstream discourse, having been bastardized irreparably along the way. The traditionalists used to accuse the stat guys of rooting for spreadsheets; now Stark writes a column braying that the National Reporter Class understands them 10 years too late. I mean, just think off all the team control the Sox got with Verdugo, Downs and Wong! Ain’t it grand! (It is not.)
To top it all off, the Red Sox sent Bloom out there on Monday and told the world that trading Betts was never a priority, nor was getting under the CBT. He told them the world he was proud of how his team handled the negotiation, like someone overmatched for the P.R. part of his job at his age would be, and clearly is. The Twins would like one or several words on that one, and for as much as I feel for Bloom in this situation, this is either his deal or he’s lying about its genesis, and that’s bad either way, *before* the Graterol misfire. It was amateur hour, extended to the full week, and probably the rest of 2020.
Bloom at least got a better return eventually, through incompetence or shamelessness, and the team is better for it... but it only if you’re grading on a self-imposed, pointless curve. Maybe I’m the crazy one, and would prefer Mookie Betts, even in the face of luxury tax penalties, and even in the face of the less-middling return. If so, it’s not because of a lack of imagination. That I have. It’s because, unlike the people defending the trade, I can fucking count.