As the Red Sox season mercifully nears its conclusion, a difficult decision looms on the horizon for the club and whoever it hires to assume the vacant general manager post. With a contract extension looking unlikely for all-world outfielder Mookie Betts, it looks like a “realistic possibility” that he will be traded this offseason, writes Christopher Smith of masslive.com.
With just one year of team control remaining before he could hit free agency, the Red Sox will have to weigh whether to deal Betts now for a haul of controllable players, or ride it out for another year and recoup a draft pick after extending the qualifying offer. It’s worth noting that such a momentous decision will surely be a topic of discussion in GM interviews, though ultimately the decision will likely be made by ownership.
For his part, Betts has given ample reason to believe that he intends to test the open market after the 2020 season, at which point the Red Sox could only receive draft pick compensation should he choose to sign elsewhere. Thus, if the organization wants to retain the most value in exchange for its best asset, trading Betts would be the way to go. Of course, Betts could still re-sign with the Red Sox after testing free agency, but the Red Sox certainly wouldn’t bank on that outcome.
Otherwise, the Red Sox could simply hang on to Betts and pencil him into the leadoff spot for another crack at the postseason. Assuming he leaves at the end of the year, the Sox would only collect a draft pick in this scenario, but if the team wants to maximize its chances of returning to the Fall Classic, Betts needs to be in the lineup. He’s unquestionably been one of the most productive players in baseball over the last few years, ranking second behind only Mike Trout in fWAR since 2016.
But with Red Sox ownership intent on cutting payroll to sneak under the luxury tax, now might be the time to cash in on Betts’s trade value. In his final arbitration season, Betts is a virtual lock to fetch a salary approaching $30MM. Last offseason, he reeled in a $20MM payday that established the benchmark for players in his service class. After another fantastic season, a similar uptick in pay would place him in the neighborhood of $30MM. It would be hard to reconcile such a hefty price for one player with a top-down mandate to shed payroll.
To be sure, there’s considerable money coming off the books with Rick Porcello and Pablo Sandoval’s contracts expiring (with the potential for more should J.D. Martinez opt out of his deal). However, that will be offset somewhat by extensions for Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts kicking in next year. Add in pay raises for arbitration-eligible players, and the Red Sox may already be approaching that tax number before any additional spending in the offseason. And with limited options to trim expenditures across the roster, Betts looks like a logical candidate to go.
Certainly, though, the Red Sox won’t force a deal if the price isn’t right. The club will surely insist on a handsome return for its MVP, and the trade market will have some sway in the team’s decision to pull the trigger on a deal. If Boston’s offers are underwhelming, there’s no pressure to trade Betts; keeping him around for another year can only help the team’s chances in 2020.
Interested teams will be wary that Betts may only be a one-year rental, and will therefore be hesitant to surrender promising youngsters who could benefit their club for years to come. It’s a risk, sure, but there are precious few opportunities to add a 26-year-old MVP in the prime of his career, and making such a move instantly boosts any team’s odds.