Now that we’re past the fleeting hope that the deal would crumble and the Red Sox have gone and traded the marvelous Mookie Betts to the Dodgers (for real this time), I suppose we must come to the acceptance portion of the program.
I’m not suggesting there’s anything resembling grief in the Red Sox’ soulless, financially motivated decision — can we call it a mandate now that it’s done? — to trade the most complete, like near-perfect player they’ve developed in generations as he enters his age-27 season.
To suggest there’s anything to grieve about in baseball would be to reveal a woeful lack of perspective; baseball at its best is a satisfying shared experience, a sunny diversion from the frequent heaviness of life. Its effects should be only positive. I learned this lesson on Oct. 27, 2004, by the way.
But the seven stages of grief . . . well, they can feel familiar, in that much smaller way, when it comes to your sports teams letting you down. There was certainly denial at the beginning, when rumors percolated months ago that the Red Sox might deal Betts to get under the luxury-tax threshold. I’ve written at least a half-dozen columns about Betts’s status in recent months, and all of those were pocked with denial, anger, and bargaining.
But now it’s done. Mookie Betts is a Dodger. Promising Alex Verdugo comes over as his replacement in right field. And prospects Jeter Downs (a shortstop) and Connor Wong (catcher/infielder) arrive to bolster the Red Sox’ thin farm system.
I’ve already spent many words before the deed was done on what Betts has meant to the Sox and why trading him is such an unfortunate twist. I’ll spare you the full reiteration and just say this:
I think he was underappreciated by a lot of Red Sox fans. I think he was totally justified in asking for $420 million, presuming that he did, since it would be the second-highest total salary in a contract to Mike Trout’s $430 million, and Betts is the second-best player in baseball. I think it’s wise for the Red Sox to get under the tax threshold this season, but trading Betts should not have been the endgame before spring training even starts. I think it’s a sad day when one of the best players the Red Sox have ever had becomes someone else’s superstar. I think Jim Rice was telling the truth, and that Mookie told the truth to him.
And so, with the permanent caveat that it stinks that this happened, it’s the hour of acceptance. We’re moving on.
I’ll say this about the reworked version of this deal, compared with the original one that would have brought pitcher Brusdar Graterol from the Twins in a three-way deal:
I loathe it a little less.
Downs, who hit 24 homers and had an .888 OPS across two levels of the minors last year at age 20, is a legitimately excellent prospect who could end up being the Red Sox’ everyday second baseman in a year or two. He has said he emulates the player he is named after, and hey, that’s worked out pretty well for Xander Bogaerts, an unabashed Derek Jeter fan.
I much prefer getting Downs (and lottery ticket Wong) to Graterol, who already has had Tommy John surgery and dealt with shoulder issues last year. It sounds to me like his best-case scenario is a Dellin Betances type of career, though it is interesting that the Dodgers made a separate trade to acquire him. Guess they weren’t that worried about his medicals. I’m sure we’ll track his career from afar, what with his brief, weird place in Red Sox history.
I do think it is telling that the Dodgers went out of their way to make this deal work by upgrading it to include Downs. They must have considered the first version of it a total heist. Maybe they still do. I mean, they have Mookie Betts on their side now.
But giving up one year of Betts (since the Red Sox weren’t going to give him what he’s worth) for five years of Verdugo (who should be pretty similar to Andrew Benintendi), one excellent prospect (Downs), and one somewhat interesting one (Wong), plus that desired financial wiggle room, is a difficult job well done by chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom.
He’ll probably never face a more challenging decision (or, you know, mandate) in his tenure, and I think he did the best he could with this.
Trading Betts shouldn’t have been necessary. But the only people who matter — the ones that run the Red Sox — disagreed. He’s now a Red Sox great in the past tense.
It is so. And we move on.
See? I told you we’ve reached acceptance.
It might help if the new kid would change his name to Garciaparra Downs, though.