What a year 2019 was in New England sports! As we move into the New Year, join NESN.com in looking ahead to the top five storylines for 2020.
The Boston Red Sox are staring a franchise-altering decision directly in the face.
Mike Trout undeniably has been the best player in Major League Baseball since his rookie season in 2012, but Mookie Betts arguably has been the second-best since his own arrival to The Show in 2015. As such, Betts is well positioned to earn a very lucrative contract in free agency next winter, and the Boston Red Sox therefore must decide in the coming months whether to meet his demands, let him walk or trade the superstar right fielder before he reaches the open market.
The third path once seemed unthinkable given Betts? excellent production over the past five seasons, during which he?s earned four All-Star selections, four Gold Glove Awards, three Silver Slugger Awards, an MVP Award and a World Series ring. Only Trout has a higher WAR (44.2) than Betts (35.4) since the beginning of 2015, according to FanGraphs, and the latter remains very much in the prime of his career as he enters his age-27 campaign.
The Red Sox find themselves in a financial crunch, however, as they look to trim payroll this offseason to avoid the steep penalties that come with surpassing the $208 million luxury tax threshold. And Betts, who earned $20 million in 2019, is projected to earn almost $28 million in salary arbitration in 2020, according to MLB Trade Rumors.
Further complicating matters is Betts? apparent desire to test free agency. The Red Sox, who are coming off a disappointing title defense in 2019, are left to ponder whether they?re better off swallowing hard and trading away a generational talent, as the alternative would require Boston to risk losing Betts for nothing more than draft pick compensation should he decide to sign elsewhere next offseason.
The Red Sox have made it clear they?d like to keep Betts in Boston for the foreseeable future, and so far this offseason, there?s been little to suggest they?re seriously shopping their best all-around player. It?s quite possible they?ll slash payroll elsewhere, enter 2020 with Betts in tow and reevaluate the situation closer to the trade deadline, when Boston will have a better idea as to whether it?s a legitimate contender or heading toward a second straight year without postseason baseball.
For now, Betts? future remains the elephant in the room for new Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, who will need to be creative in bolstering Boston?s roster if the club has any chance of competing with the New York Yankees in the American League East this season. The wide range of outcomes makes it a truly fascinating narrative to watch as we enter the new year.
All told, Mookie Watch — and by extension, Bloom?s first significant movement as the Red Sox?s new head of baseball operations — ranks No. 2 on our top five Boston sports storylines for 2020.