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.
Three different NL folks today predicted Betts-to-L.A. is “inevitable.” Consensus deal:Alex Verdugo, Inf Jeter Downs, pitcher, maybe A prospect. Think P is LH Caleb Ferguson, 95 MPH FB/CB guy, 113-39 K-BB in 93.1 IP, eventual starter. Got brushed off Gray— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) February 2, 2020
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 Year||Mookie Betts||Aaron Judge|
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?