Sidelines: this week in sports

I never thought I’d say this but I actually feel a little bad for Boston sports fans. I jest, of course, as that spoiled town has seen more success than any other sports city in the past 20 years. However the Mookie Betts trade is just an unforgivable, selfish decision that should forever haunt the organization.

Betts was the best position player the Sox have had since Ted Williams. Betts won an MVP in 2018, the same year he led the Sox to their fourth World Series title since 2004, has won four Gold Gloves, made four All-Star teams and won three Silver Sluggers in the past four seasons. According to ESPN, through his six seasons in the majors, Betts’ 42.0 WAR is seventh in MLB history, behind names like Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Jackie Robinson, Wade Boggs, Joe DiMaggio and the aforementioned Williams. Remember, the Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $25,000 once upon a time. Betts is not the Babe, of course, but the trades do come off as similar.

They traded him because ownership didn’t want to have to pay the luxury tax. Shameful. The hilarity in all of this (well it’s not so funny if you’re a Boston fan) is that John Henry, who has been the principal owner of the team since 2002, has a net worth of $2.7 billion. The Red Sox are currently estimated at $2.8 billion. Liverpool FC, the other pro sports team Henry owns, is worth roughly $1.35 billion. So to trade the best player you’ve ever had since the 1950s because your grossly rich owner wanted to save money is an awful thing to stomach as a fan.

What’s even more ironic is that this isn’t the Oakland A’s or the Tampa Bay Rays (well, Boston’s GM Chaim Bloom, who I think was once my grade-school hebrew teacher, was just brought over from the Rays in October). This is the Boston Red Sox, one of, maybe three teams in the league that has the history, location and aura around them that screams ‘big market’.

Now Betts was pretty adamant about wanting to hit free agency, and rightfully so. Safe to say he’s earned it. But all indications pointed to Betts wanting to remain in Boston. Imagine you’re a Red Sox fan: you’re in line at Dunkin’ when you see that your favourite team traded a once-in-a-generation player for 30 cents on the dollar and then expects you to continue to buy tickets and merch while following the team for 162 games. This really is an underlying issue that is not just a Red Sox thing but a baseball thing overall: most teams are not trying to win the World Series on a yearly basis.

Speaking of the return the Sox got, I think 30 cents on the dollar was a little generous. Much like the Boston-based movie The Town, this trade was an absolute robbery. After a four-day delay that saw a three-team trade between Boston, L.A. and Minnesota restructure the deal due to injury concerns, the Red Sox are left with Alex Verdugo, a 23-year-old outfielder who hit .294 in his first full season last year, as well as Jeter Downs, a shortstop prospect who came into 2020 as the No. 44 prospect on MLB.com’s Top-100 list.

Verdugo is a good player, although he did miss time last year with neck and back injuries which is not ideal if you’re 23 and already have spine problems, but is poised to be a very good major league outfielder. You know who’s a very very good major league outfielder who doesn’t need a chiropractic appointment every other day? Mookie Betts!

The Dodgers acquired Betts along with David Price from the Sox in exchange for Verdugo, Downs and lesser-known catching prospect Connor Wong. Price’s albatross of a contract that sees him earning $96 million over the next three years, was supposed to alleviate Boston’s books even more, although Boston will still be paying half of Price’s salary. The Sox do drop their 2020 payroll by over $40 million, effectively moving them below the luxury tax line. So mission accomplished, I guess.

The Dodgers also acquired Brusdar Graterol from Minnesota in exchange for Kenta Maeda. Graterol, who was initially supposed to be heading to Boston before his medical records caused Boston to reconsider, is an intriguing yet concerning player to say the least. He pitched 9.2 innings over 10 games last year for the Twins and has a fastball that can reach 102. He’s also just 21, which is good until you see that he’s already had Tommy John surgery and missed two months last year with a shoulder impingement. He’s also 6’1 and 265 pounds, which is, um, large, considering he weighed 180 when he signed as an international free agent in 2014.

At least Boston did a little bit better the second time around — for a second there it looked like they had traded a future Hall of Famer for a solid outfielder and a pitcher who’s out of shape and has a piece of his hamstring as his main elbow ligament. Verdugo, Downs and Wong is an alright return, but to trade Mookie Betts because your multi-billionaire owner wants to save money is a disgrace to Red Sox fans who have been paying his bills for years.

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