I want to start by quoting Michael Baumann at The Ringer, because he’s right:
“This trade is a disgrace for the Red Sox and the league. I don’t understand why the owner of a prestigious ball club — a de facto public institution — would charge his baseball operations department with ridding the team of a once-in-a-generation players when he could keep that player and continue to rake in unspendable profits. It’s such a mind-bogglingly greedy and self-defeating move that I resent being made to try to understand it.”
There was going to be pain. That much we knew. Whenever and however Mookie Betts moved on from the Red Sox, it was going to hurt one or several parties involved among the team, player and fans.
The Red Sox decided to rip off the band-aid now, with help from the Dodgers, who are happy to harvest the life forces from our open wound. This is the second time L.A. has done a cleanup job on John Henry’s excesses, but at least the first time they were doing the on-field club a favor by jump-starting its rebuilding effort. The Carl Crawford/Adrian Gonzalez Red Sox weren’t going to win anything. The Mookie Betts/Chris Sale Red Sox were a different story, having been, you know, all-time great.
“Were.” Yeah. Instead of running it back a last time with a top-five player in baseball, the Red Sox will now run it back without a top-five player in baseball, even as their main rival signed the biggest free agent pitcher in a minute and seem determined to make the Sox pay for their dithering. For once, I’m all for it. The Yankees managed to rebuild on the fly and have some lean years without trading their most identifiable players, because, well:
Players like @mookiebetts don’t come around very often. If you have it, keep it.— Will Middlebrooks (@middlebrooks) February 5, 2020
This is really a “don’t overthink it” situation, in every way. Brian Cashman has compared Mookie’s future quest for top dollar to Robinson Cano’s, which on one hand suggests the Sox should trade him but on the other provides a useful window not to. Like Cano or Bryce Harper in Washington after him, the clubs let their star players finish out their contracts and depart for quote-unquote “nothing” afterward. They both seem better off for it, too.
The worst part about this trade is that Betts is gone, but the second part is the explaining. There is a huge subset of writers who decided that the real problem with the deal is that fans didn’t understand it, or that fans’ anger is “misplaced,” because of the deal’s rosier long-term financial implications for Boston, or some retroactive quid-pro-quo with the 2018 title. Ken Rosenthal has been particularly egregious here, effectively brokering the deal in public and doing P.R. for the Sox at the same time, but enough local writers have chimed in to make me check that I didn’t double-down on crazy pills this morning.
So let me be clear about two things: One: We get it. We understand the Red Sox pushed themselves into a corner and this is one way out of that corner. Two: No! Just no. Rightly or wrongly, this is a franchise that was defined for 86 years by its decision to trade its best player for financial relief, and now they up and did it again. (And to repeat a line of argument from the “he’d leave for nothing otherwise!” crowd, why do the Dodgers want him, then? Because of the baseball he’d play before that!) They saved money, but at a huge cost.
The Red Sox will be fine after this in most other ways, because they’re too big to fail. It’s the reason they screw up so often: They can! But as Chad Finn, one of the local writers who nailed this one, wrote, what’s the point of any of this if Mookie has to leave? Why do we bother? Because he was going to leave, or “didn’t like” Boston? Fine! He’d have been allowed, and if Chaim Bloom is half as smart as anyone thinks he’d still work his magic, and you wouldn’t become the laughingstock of the sport.
Maybe it’s fitting, though. With penalties for sign-stealing coming down the pike and the Astros on the fritz for their bang-bang policies, maybe we needed to be put in our places. The good news is that the players, at least, still want to win, and these Red Sox, in this new, Mookie-less place, will need all the help they can get.