Oh, how the mighty have fallen. A franchise that two years ago this month sat alone on top of the baseball world following a 108-win regular season and a cruise to its fourth World Series title of the millennium is now a meme as its best player from that team tears it up in the postseason for his new team.
Of course, the franchise I’m referring to is the Boston Red Sox, and the player is one Markus Lynn Betts. You might know him better by his nickname Mookie. You know, just the best homegrown talent the Red Sox had since at least Wade Boggs. A top-three player in baseball. The kind of guy you pay $365 million and build your franchise around, not trade away in a salary dump in the prime of his career.
But what do I know? I’m just a young sports writer. I have no idea how to run a baseball team. Clearly, Boston’s front office knew what they were doing, and the team is doing fine without Mookie, right?
Wrong. The Red Sox finished with the fourth-worst record in baseball this year and the worst record for a Red Sox team in terms of winning percentage since 1965. I understand that Mookie wouldn’t have made that much of a difference this season, because the bulk of the problems were with the pitching staff. But maybe, if you have a guy like Mookie elevating your lineup, it actually entices the front office to do something about the atrocious pitching staff instead of just embracing the tank like they did this year.
But we’ll never know, because the Red Sox with their insanely rich ownership group decided to trade Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to the season in order to avoid paying him. You have to give them credit, though. They were able to get rid of half of David Price’s contract, and they got a couple of decent prospects in return in addition to Alex Verdugo, a guy who might one day be almost as good as Mookie Betts. Most importantly, they were able to get back under the ever-important luxury tax threshold. Woo-hoo! I can’t wait to see the 2020 Luxury Tax Champions banner whenever I’m able to go to Fenway Park again.
I mean what are we even talking about here? You had a guy whose number 50 would have been hanging on Fenway’s right-field pavilion with the retired numbers, a guy who would have had a Red Sox cap on his Hall-of-Fame plaque and a guy who would have been talked about in the same sentence as Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and David Ortiz when you talk about the best players in Red Sox history. And you trade that guy away to get under the luxury tax threshold?
This made no sense back in February when it happened, but it’s blowing up even more in Boston’s face now. Mookie seems to make a highlight every night for the Dodgers in this postseason, whether it’s robbing home runs like he did multiple times in the NLCS or stealing bases and hitting home runs like he did in Game 1 of the World Series.
The baseball community on social media has wasted no time in ridiculing the Red Sox for trading away such a dynamic player in his prime, and in my opinion, they deserve every bit of it.
The worst part is there’s actually a portion of the Red Sox fan base who thinks trading Mookie was a good move. Can you imagine? They claim that he isn’t worth the contract he got and that he wouldn’t have signed an extension in Boston anyways. That’s just BS to be honest. If the Red Sox offered him the same contract as the Dodgers (12 years/$365 million), he would have re-signed in a heartbeat. But the Sox supposedly capped their offer at $300 million and wouldn’t negotiate.
So the front office sold the story that the only way they could avoid him leaving for nothing was to trade him, and some people bought it. It’s a sad day when a franchise worth over $3 billion has to trade a generational talent for salary relief. The Red Sox hire Chaim Bloom and all of a sudden they become the Tampa Bay Rays in terms of frugalness.
I’m sure Bloom will build a solid team in the coming years like he did in Tampa, but there’s no way that team wouldn’t be better with Betts as the centerpiece. So every time he shows out on a national stage, it will be a brutal reminder of what the Red Sox missed out on by not paying the man.
I don’t think the Red Sox will ever live down that move, and a lot of people — myself included — lost respect for the franchise. The Red Sox are the laughing stock of baseball right now, and deservedly so.