Ah, the three wise men of the baseball trade offseason. Or something like that.
Given the collective baseball world’s level of certainty that the Boston Red Sox would be happy to part with star outfielder Mookie Betts in an effort to get under the luxury tax next year, you might consider being jarred by the lack of rumor activity on that front so far this offseason. Usually, when a big name is likely to be traded, that’s one of the dominating rumor conversations we see in November.
But the desirability of trading Betts ran up hard against the realities of doing so. Specifically, the market for one year of a very good player at $28 million – in an era where so many clubs are terrified of the luxury tax cap because reasons – is extremely limited. Every team would love to have Mookie Betts, but precious few would love to have him at that price and also give up a huge return in trade. Thus, you wind up with offers (if there have been any) that probably don’t even equal what the Diamondbacks got for a single year of Paul Goldschmidt last year – and that was not necessarily an overly sexy return.
“To be sure, if Betts were a free agent now, and wanted only a one-year deal for 2020, he’d get a whole lot more than $27.7 million. He might even top $40 or $45 million for a single season. But in the trade calculus, his huge salary (relatively speaking) in arbitration is going to seriously diminish his value.
Consider that Paul Goldschmidt made only $14.5 million in his final year before free agency, and when he was traded to the Cardinals, the Diamondbacks received two young players who weren’t locks to become even low-ceiling big league contributors (Luke Weaver and Carson Kelly) and a guy who barely made the Dbacks top 30 prospects this year (Andy Young).
Goldschmidt is not Betts, so don’t mistake me there. But he was a consistently very strong 5+ WAR performer, and he was going to make some $13 million *less* than Betts will. If a very good prospect is worth $8 to $10 million, it’s not hard to see how the ultimate packages might compare.”
And, the thinking goes, if the Red Sox can’t get a reasonable package for Betts, perhaps they just suck it up and go over the tax one more year? Or desperately try to trade from elsewhere on the roster?
Well, it turns out that it isn’t just speculation from outside baseball – even those inside the game are having trouble seeing the Red Sox finding a suitable deal for Betts.
Jesse Rogers spoke with 15 executives and insiders to check their pulse on a range of offseason issues, and it makes for a great read here.
The one area that will most jump out at you is the question on which of the big three trade candidates this offseason – Betts, Kris Bryant, and Francisco Lindor – will actually wind up dealt. The 15 votes were split almost evenly between Bryant (7) and Lindor (8) … without a single vote for Betts. Moreover, at least one of the execs who voted for Lindor over Bryant did so only because of the current cloud of Bryant’s service time grievance. That is to say, if and when that issue is resolved in the coming weeks, it’s possible the expectations will change.
In the end, it’s simply interesting to know that there is so little expectation within the game that Betts will be dealt, and that is, in turn, a reminder of what can happen if you consider trying to shop a superstar who has just one very expensive arbitration year of control left. That’s why the Cubs are listening on Bryant now (either because he’ll have two years of control left, or, if he wins his grievance, one cheap year of control), and the Indians are listening on Lindor now, lest they also be left with little options next year *if they wanted to consider a move.*
For the Red Sox, they likely will have to enter the season with Betts on the roster (poor them!), and if they are not competitive, you might see Betts – like Manny Machado was a couple years ago – a big rental trade target for contenders.