The whiff of the trade that sent Mookie Betts to the Dodgers came midway through what was supposed to be the Red Sox’s season of consolidation. With a World Series victory in their immediate past, they began their 2019 campaign with the promise of continued contention off a largely intact lineup. Unfortunately, they wound up underperforming for a variety of reasons — and, crucially, despite the efforts of the 2018 American League Most Valuable Player. With the repeater tax slated to add a whopping 50% to the defending champions‘ bill, ownership decided keeping him sans any guarantee of success was not worth the considerable cost.
Perhaps the Red Sox wouldn’t have dealt Betts were he willing to accept their extension terms of $300 million at 10 years. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in the mood to give them a significant discount; he felt, and rightly, that his counteroffer of $420 million for a dozen seasons better reflected his market value. And so they dealt him, with their plans all but set in stone as soon as they opted to hire Chaim Bloom as replacement for Dave Dombrowski last October. In stark contrast to the latter’s win-now-even-at-considerable-expense mindset, their new chief baseball officer hitherto made waves with the Rays for frugal spending predicated on advanced stats, albeit not necessarily with grand on-field intentions.
Granted, the Red Sox emerged from the deal having carved exactly the outcome they desired. In letting go of Betts and rotation regular David Price vice pitcher Brusdar Graterol and outfielder Alex Verdigo, they managed to get under the payroll cap and reset their luxury-levy clock while still staying respectable on paper. Then again, their situation arguably called for the continued courting of goodwill. They’re still reeling from the technology-aided cheating alleged to have helped them take the title; apart from a parting of ways with manager Alex Cora, they face a significant penalty from commissioner Rob Manfred. At the very least, they could have relied on the presence of one of the best players in franchise history to temper the fallout.
Instead, the Red Sox went for the quick win. Never mind the humongous increase in their market value. Forget that the fans deserve to cheer for something — anything, really — in the midst of the biggest scandal ever to rock them. Time was when they ventured to throw caution to the wind at every turn, accumulating notable names in a bid to be first among equals. These days, they’re clearly content to spend low and win small, even if it means diverting talent to the competition. In short, they’ve become the Rays, and the Dodgers are only too happy to reap the benefits of their pivot.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.