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We started this

Was the Mookie Betts trade inevitable? Seeing what has come after it, probably. But we were still first. And there’s no evidence that it’s working.

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals
It would be a bigger bummer if the Padres weren’t really rad, but it’s hard to feel great about it.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

In May 2018, the Tampa Bay Rays foisted the “opener” on a league that was appalled just long enough it to embrace the idea and save a lot of money in the process. Starting pitchers are both expensive and notoriously unreliable, and the burden on warehousing them was lowered. It was not a small tumble. If you can live with one of five starts being a bullpen affair, why not two? More money saved. The same product over the long haul. Everyone wins.

The same thing happened after the Mookie Betts trade. Owners realized they could trade off their team’s best players before they hit free agency and avoid the fallout by having an assistant hold their phone. John Henry showed them the way and they have largely followed. The Nationals trading Juan Soto is not as egregious as the Sox trading Babe Ruth, but that’s the only comparison I can make—it’s worse than the Betts deal—which means there’s no way to top this one. The market has to slow at least a little bit, especially as a steadily cultivated backlash grows across the sport.

All that said, the best way to win in Major League Baseball is to spend a lot of money. The second-best way to win is build a great farm system... and then spend a lot of money. The Red Sox are plainly focused on the second one at the expense of the first, at least for now. In some ways I get it. The Padres are currently the platonic ideal of how to run a baseball franchise in a small market, which they started through the draft—they have been absurdly good drafters—and a willingness to shell out when the chickens came home to roost. They had eggs for days, and they are putting them in the basket for the next two or three years. As Eck would say, it’s a beautiful thing.

So when I get angry at Chaim Bloom, as I do several times a week like any other well-adjusted adult, it’s not because a properly done rebuild will fail. I understand that it will work. The major difference between Boston’s restructuring and the Houston and San Diego rebuilds is that the latter two started from nothing. Boston took a core of Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers and intentionally threw it away. And here I would like to preemptively both applaud and throw some cold water on the 2021 Red Sox, who were one of the most likable teams of my lifetime. Given the success I’ve seen in the last 20 years, they might be the most fun non-champion team I can remember or imagine.

And yet I never expected them to win it all, or even beat the Astros. Not once. They always had to get better this year, but they overperformed last year, which put them in a bind. I don’t remember what I wrote exactly about the 2022 season before it started but I remember writing that the year they’re having is inevitable. I am not some great soothsayer: Last year hit at the 95th percentile. I do not agree with Bloom’s methods all the time, but, like him, I understand numbers. They just had to come down.

My main argument against the Betts trade was, and is, essentially, that the team was good enough to compete for titles annually with him in the lineup, given competent management, so trading him could not possibly make sense. That’s more or less what Maitreyi Anantharaman said about yesterday’s Juan Soto trade at Defector, and they’re right. Trading superstars isn’t just shitty, it’s bad business for which the Sox owners ultimately gave them permission.

It would have happened anyway (someone else would have pulled the trigger eventually) but it happened this way (Henry did), and now we’re nearing five years out from the 2018 title relatively aimless and complacent. Things will change, that’s for sure. The problem is that now is happening now, and it didn’t have to happen like this. As George Steinbrenner said when he clowned Henry in sniping A-Rod because the Sox ultimately didn’t want to pay his full salary:

Unlike the Yankees, he chose not to go the extra distance for his fans in Boston. It is understandable, but wrong that he would try to deflect the accountability for his mistakes on to others and to a system for which he voted in favor. It is time to get on with life and forget the sour grapes.

This is what it all comes down to and ever will. It is a pissing contest between billionaires. You can do it the hard way or you can do it the easy way, and the Sox are choosing to do it the hard way. This approach has many supporters, as I know from the Twitters, but I obviously think it’s missing the forest for the trees. The rarest commodity in baseball is talent, but the Sox ultimately decided money was more important. Which is why Eric Hosmer and his minimum-salary contract are now in Boston. And there was much rejoicing?