The “inevitable” Mookie Betts trade and the Baby Bombers

Time to pay up.

Like many others, I simply cannot wrap my head around the idea of the Red Sox trading Mookie Betts. Sure, it’s going to make the Yankees’ lives a lot easier in the short-term. Still, I would be furious if I was in a Boston fan’s shoes. Boston hasn’t produced anyone of Mookie’s caliber in about two decades. He’s the face of the team and should be kept around for years to come, not shipped off in a money saving move in advance of his free agency.

Let’s fast forward a few years. Imagine that the Yankees have won title number 28 and perhaps even number 29. Now, imagine the idea of trading away Aaron Judge or Gleyber Torres thereafter. Not great, huh? Well, that’s what the Red Sox are in the midst of doing. And make no mistake, this isn’t a move to recoup some of Betts value before he departs in free agency. Even worse, it could be precedent setting for other big market clubs looking to line their pockets even more.

Like the Yankees, the Red Sox are one of the highest-valued sports teams in the world. In 2002, John Henry paid $380 million to purchase the Red Sox. Nowadays, the club is now worth approximately $3.2 billion per Forbes. Nice rainy day fund, huh? Clearly, that the Red Sox are going to trade Betts isn’t because of an inability to keep him. Rather, it’s an unwillingness to pay up. Sure, the two sides may be off by over $100 million in negotiations, but that shouldn’t make Boston go “aw, shucks”. But hey, when you hire a ex-Rays front office executive to run your team, this is what you’re gonna get.

So, back to the Yankees now that I got that rant out. If someone like Judge or Torres continue to perform (while being underpaid, I might add) before hitting free agency and the Yankees decided to trade them, I’d be livid.

Let’s take Judge, who’s under the Yankees’ control through 2022. He and the Bombers settled on an $8.5 million salary for 2020, his first pass through arbitration. That’s not too far off from what Betts got in his first eligible season. We know what Betts got in years two and three, and if we do some lazy math to project the same percentage increases on Judge’s 2020 salary, here’s what we get:

Arbitration YearMookie BettsAaron Judge
1$10.5M$8.5M
2$20.0M$16.2M*
3$27.0M$21.9M*

Those are big raises for sure, but merited and frankly underselling Judge’s abilities in his age 28 through 30 seasons. But more important than his arbitration earnings is how how the Yankees treat him thereafter. After paying a pittance for Judge’s services pre-free agency, the Yankees need to keep him around. Fortunately for the Steinbrenners, it should come at a lower price than Betts.

By the time Judge hits free agency, he’ll be approaching his age-31 season. Or, three years older than Betts will be when he hits the open market after this campaign. Even with inflation and growing contracts, it’s hard to imagine Judge topping Betts’s deal just because of age difference. Oh, and let’s not forget that the Yankees have a $4.6 billion valuation per Forbes, so the Yankees have no reason to trade Judge down the road.

Perhaps a better comp to Betts than Judge is Torres. Just like Betts, Gleyber will be entering his age-28 season when he’s a free agent. And if the ZiPS long-term projections tell us anything, he’s going to get paid. So, just imagine five years down the line when Torres has racked up multiple 40 home run seasons as a shortstop along with 25 WAR while *still* being just 28. For the Yankees not to pay him at that point would be infuriating.

Ultimately, I have to admit that I’m fearful of the Betts situation setting a precedent for other big market teams like the Yankees. I mean, I’ve previously complained about the Yankees not spending commensurate to revenues and team value, but the Bombers have never quite done anything like trading its best player in the prime of his career during a championship window. Moving Betts would be like the Yankees trading Derek Jeter instead of re-signing him to a $189 million extension a season before he became a free agent.

The owners have already won the “players are overpaid” battle in the public eye in spite of unconscionable behavior by management (trafficking of international amateurs, poverty-level pay of minor leaguers, outlandish prices for tickets, concessions, merchandise, etc.). Yet, far too often we see fans enraged with players for asking for their share of the pot, which simply enables something like a Betts trade to happen. Let’s just hope the Yankees do better when the time comes. Is that so much to ask?

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11 Comments

  1. Wire Fan

    Given the budget limitations, you have to wonder why they extended Sale last year. Would they rather have Sale or Betts long term? Sure there was no guarantee they could re-sign Betts had they not extended Sale, but it’s not like they got a discount on Sale.

    So long as LA does not take Price’s contract too, this.is a good thing for the Yankees.

    • Wire Fan

      And just after I post this, Betts and Price headed to LA (no word yet on how much of Price’s contract Boston is eating). Damn.

  2. Kyle Litke

    Here’s the biggest issue, I think, with a Betts trade. You could make the case it’s the right move if the Red Sox were a 75 win team this year, even if they want to resign him. Just tell him “Hey, we love you, but a trade will improve the team long term, and we’re still going to try to bring you back”. If he’s unwilling to sign an extension then hey, it might work! But the Red Sox weren’t expected to be a 75 win team. They’re likely behind the Yankees and Astros, and perhaps the Twins, but truthfully they had a good chance to be at least the 4th best team in the AL. An excellent shot at one of the two Wild Card spots, but they’re going to trade their best player? Just to save a buck? It’d be like if instead of signing Cole this offseason, the Yankees had traded Judge or Severino instead because they didn’t want to pay him. As a Yankee fan I’d be pissed, and if I was a Red Sox fan i’d really be mad about the potential Betts trade. You’re a contending team! This year!

  3. While I agree for the most part with this post, there’s something that seems to be missing in the Mookie Betts impending trade coverage/discourse:

    I may have noticed this because of my proximity or true aversion to the Red Sox, but it’s become pretty apparent that Mookie may not WANT to re-sign in Boston. I understand “money talks” but barring a career ending injury nothing Betts does in 2020 will dramatically impact his earning potential. There have been grumblings and writing on the wall for years now, and it’s eventually going to come out once the trade is completed and leveler heads prevail. The media and BoSox organization historically has issued hit pieces and slammed players they soon expected to be out of town.

  4. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    They have to trade him, Derek. The Sox are like the Iowa caucuses, incredibly mismanaged and nobody knows what the hell is going on. Dombrowski put all his eggs into that one year to win the WS and got fired anyway. And now they are paying the price with these old, bloated contracts. They’re like we were 2013-2016 and we had to trade Chapman and Miller to rebuild. They have to do the same but don’t have a Chapman and Miller. Mookie is their only asset that people want. I remember when Mike wanted to trade the farm to try to win a WS in 2016 with that old decrepit wildcard team instead of building a dynasty like we had in the late 90’s. The Sox when the one and done route and now they’re paying the price. We are going the dynasty route and we’re set up for the next decade plus. I’d rather be us.

    • Ydoodle

      Maybe the Iowa caucus should ask for help from Russia, they seem to know how to get it done.

  5. Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have repeatedly indicated that they are trying to limit free agent spending specifically so that they will have room to extend their young core when the time comes. I’ve seen that sentiment ridiculed quite a bit, but I think there is merit to it. Like it or not, everyone is on a budget. We might think the Yankees budget is too small, but only Hal Steinbrenner gets the final say on that. When you start with the premise that a budget exists, it’s only logical to conclude that spending money on X means you might not be able to spend it on Y. The Yankees front office has done an exceptional job building this current iteration of the team so I am personally willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. However, if they end up letting homegrown superstars walk, it will definitely turn me off as a fan.

    I think what happened with the Red Sox is that they simply overextended themselves on their recent run. They made some questionable moves such as the Price and Sale contracts, which cost their GM his job and are now limiting their ability to extend Betts. It’s a shame, but if they know they don’t have the room in their budget to extend Betts, they absolutely do need to recoup some value in return for him rather than a compensation pick.

    • “Everyone is on a budget” means nothing. We need to know details like how much profit the team makes with its current payroll. I bet the Red Sox and Yankees make huge profits every year, and set their budgets to keep the profit flowing. These teams could probably double their current payrolls and still make a profit.

  6. The Original Drew

    I am 100% in agreement with the article, but let’s not forget that the Yankees let Robinson Cano walk in 2014 when they should have either paid him what he wanted or traded him in 2013. And at that time we were talking about the consensus best 2B in baseball by a wide margin.

    • Rob in CT

      They were right not to match/exceed Seattle’s bid, though.

  7. CountryClub

    I’ve been saying for years that I wouldn’t be surprised if judge is playing for someone else in ’23. His age and size will play against the yanks giving him a deal that runs into his late 30s. They wont trade him, though.

    Torres will be around a long time.

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