As of late December, the Red Sox reportedly weren’t “actively shopping” right fielder Mookie Betts, even though the superstar has frequented trade rumors this winter. Two weeks later, it seems the team does indeed plan to retain Betts, at least for now. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said this week the Red Sox expect to open 2020 with Betts on their roster, as Rob Bradford of WEEI relays.
“That’s really been my expectation all along,” said Bloom. “I think big picture, and this applies to everything, we’re not doing our jobs if we’re not open to anything that improves our chances to compete as successfully and as often as possible over the course of the next decade. That has kind of been our guiding principle as we have accessed interest in any of our players. But you do that with the expectation that they will be here. And that will certainly be the case with Mookie.”
Even if Betts does stick with Boston into the season, this year’s Opening Day could go down as his last with the franchise. The 27-year-old former MVP is entering his final season of team control, and he’ll likely reel in one of the richest free-agent contracts in baseball history if he gets to the market next winter. Betts has, of course, made it known on multiple occasions that he’s interested in shopping his services around the majors.
For now, despite the turmoil surrounding the organization – which just fired manager Alex Cora – Boston’s roster does look talented enough to push for a playoff spot in 2020. The Red Sox seem intent on doing just that after a down 2019, though it would be exceedingly difficult without their best player, Betts, on the roster. At the same time, trading Betts would presumably restock their pool of young talent to some degree. It may also be the most realistic path for the club to shave off a significant amount of money from its payroll – if that’s part of the plan.
Betts is due to rake in an arbitration-record $27MM this year, while the Red Sox are projected to begin the season with a $237MM competitive balance tax payroll. Losing Betts’ salary would obviously make it far more realistic for Boston to get under the $208MM threshold – a number it’s on track to surpass for the third straight season. Surpassing the mark for a third consecutive year would subject the Red Sox to a 50 percent tax on overages next winter, but it’s highly debatable whether that should be a major concern for deep-pocketed owner John Henry.
Team brass did indicate in September that they’d like to get under the line, though Henry insisted last week that the club’s more focused on competing than slashing payroll. Bloom, meanwhile, said Wednesday that “the goal to get under the CBT is not an end in itself,” adding, “We will attempt to do it in a way that’s consistent with that larger goal.”
Whether Betts will wind up as part of Boston’s long-term picture remains to be seen. If we’re to believe Bloom, though, it appears Betts will stay put for at least the time being.