I’m a fan of the Detroit Tigers. Needless to say, it’s been a long few years.
I was there during the Cinderella season in 2006, when the Tigers won the AL Pennant just three years after completing one of the worst seasons in MLB history. I was there in 2010, when a strong Tigers team got Kung Fu Panda-ed in Game One of the World Series. I was there in 2013, when the best Tigers team in recent memory couldn’t overcome a #BostonStrong team fighting for the pride of their city. Even if I haven’t seen a World Series victory in my lifetime, I’ve had moments of joy that became memories I wouldn’t trade for the world.
I’ve also seen the downside of that hill. I’ve seen an elderly owner make win-now moves in the hope of extending his competitive window for one more shot at a title (need I remind you of the Eugenio Suarez for Alfredo Simon trade?). I’ve watched homegrown and adopted stars like Nick Castellanos, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Verlander traded away for peanuts. I’ve watched Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez leave in free agency for greener pastures and greener contracts. I’ve been stuck watching the ghosts of Miguel Cabrera and Jordan Zimmerman limp to disappointing seasons year after year.
And I would happily take five more years of tragicomic baseball in Detroit over what’s happening in Boston right now.
The number 50 should have been hanging in right field. Mookie Betts should have remained a homegrown star, a player that Boston fans could watch for years to come. Instead, the Red Sox cut bait a year before Betts hit free agency, sending the star center fielder to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-team deal. David Price will be joining Betts in the City of Angels, while Kenta Maeda is off to Minnesota. In return, the Red Sox added young outfielder Alex Verdugo from the Dodgers and fireballer Brusdar Graterol from the Twins. In a separate deal, the Dodgers traded Joc Pederson to the Angels in return for utility infielder Luis Rengifo.
Understand the balance of this. The Red Sox parted ways with the best player in his generation not named Mike Trout and a Cy Young winning pitcher in exchange for a solid outfield contributor and a reliever who’s only thrown 15 innings above Double-A ball. This wasn’t a trade. This was a rip-off.
The Red Sox conned their fans into thinking they cared about winning. In the balance between sport and business, John Henry showed he cares far more about the latter.
Sure, the Red Sox get under the competitive balance tax. Ask Boston fans how much they care that John Henry has a few extra million dollars in his pocket. Maybe he’ll use that “financial flexibility” from cutting payroll to make a run at a big free agent next season. Let’s see, who’s the top name on the market after the 2020 season?
Oh. Right. Mookie Betts.
The most egregious part of this deal is the timing. Betts is going to hit free agency next season, and perhaps the Red Sox felt he had one foot out the door and wanted to get something of value in return for their star rather than let him leave for nothing. But why couldn’t this have waited until closer to the trade deadline? Much of the core from the 2018 team that won 108 games and a World Series title remains in the clubhouse. If they were competitive by midsummer, the Red Sox could have loaded up for one more chance at a title; if they had fallen off the pace, they could have traded Mookie at the deadline, gotten under the luxury tax for 2021, and set on a path of reloading rather than rebuilding.
Instead, John Henry and new GM Chaim Bloom took the certainty of a mediocre season and a few extra dollars in their pockets rather than the chance, however small, of one more World Series.
Maybe the Red Sox wouldn’t have won a title with Mookie Betts this season. Maybe they would have missed out on a wildcard spot to the Rays, Angels, or Blue Jays. But holding on to Mookie Betts would have given their fans hope that the season could have ended in glory. And as a fan of a team with no hope for this season, even that glimmer of hope is worth keeping.