The biggest reason for the Boston Red Sox trading Mookie Betts this past offseason — luxury tax implications aside — was his looming free agency.
The Red Sox had been unable to sign the superstar outfielder to a long-term contract extension, and thus the possibility existed that he’d leave after the 2020 season, with Boston receiving nothing more than draft pick compensation.
So, in swooped the Los Angeles Dodgers, who acquired Betts and David Price from the Red Sox in exchange for Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong. It appeared even in wake of the blockbuster that Betts was steadfast on testing the open market, but the Dodgers ultimately made the four-time All-Star an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Betts and the Dodgers last week agreed to a 12-year, $365 million contract extension that’ll keep the 2018 American League MVP in Los Angeles through 2032. He’s in line to earn $375 million in salary moving forward, if you add in the (prorated) $10 million he’s slated to earn this season.
That’s a lot of dough, and it’s unclear whether the coronavirus pandemic and its potential impact on free agency this offseason (and beyond) altered the numbers tossed around in negotiations. (Boston traded Betts in February, about a month before COVID-19 started messing with sports.)
But Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was asked point-blank Thursday during an appearance on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show” whether he would have signed Betts to those terms if given the opportunity.
“I don’t think that’s an easy question to answer, in part because I think every organization is in different circumstances,” Bloom said. “We talked about it, obviously, at the time we made the deal. Our thought process in making the deal wasn’t really a function of me coming in here and feeling any differently about the player or the person. You guys know, and I think everybody knows, you can see it as an opponent, he’s a great player, he’s an even better person. Nor is it us coming out and saying, ‘Hey, we can’t afford to do X, Y and Z.’ I think it’s really a question of saying, ‘We know we need to get this organization to a point where we have a sustainable roster that can compete not just for a year or two but year in and year out over a long period of time. What’s the best path for doing that?’ And that was the mindset we took for any decision. It wasn’t necessarily something that was just focused on Mookie.
“Obviously, when the Dodgers came after him and the value we had on the table for him, it was something we needed to look in the mirror and say, ‘What’s in our best interest here? Is this something that is going to help us more in that bigger-picture goal? When we zoom out and we look at this — looking ahead five, 10 years — and we look back on that time, do we think we put ourselves in a better position to win as much as possible over that time by making this trade?’ It was really hard emotionally, but we thought it was the right thing. It’s hard for me to sit here right now and look at it through the lens of what they were looking at. We were taking into account what were the decisions that we had at that moment in time, and where are we as an organization and what is going to set us up the best.”
As Bloom alluded to, context is important. While both the Red Sox and Dodgers traditionally are big spenders, Los Angeles was much better positioned to absorb such a lucrative contract based on its luxury tax situation and the rest of its roster, which currently features several key contributors playing for relatively short money.
We don’t know the specifics of Boston’s negotiations with Betts, but it’s hard to imagine the Red Sox committing $365 million immediately upon bringing in Bloom, who’s tasked with building up the organization’s farm system and making prudent personnel decisions in the hopes of establishing a sustainable contender.
Bloom acknowledged Thursday he wasn’t really expecting the Dodgers to sign Betts when they did, particularly because of everything that’s going on with the COVID-19 pandemic and its dramatic effect on the 2020 MLB season. But it was fairly obvious Los Angeles made the trade in February with an eye toward keeping Betts long-term, whereas Boston made the trade well aware it was dealing away one of the best players in baseball and consequently starting a new chapter in franchise history.
So really, nothing has changed in light of Betts’ new deal, except we won’t have an offseason filled with speculation as to whether the Red Sox might try to bring him back. The “what if” game sure is fascinating, though, and it’ll likely be years before we can make any definitive determinations on the Betts trade and the gargantuan contract he’s since signed with the Dodgers.