It is pretty wild to think that spring training will begin next week. The offseason has flown by. Admittedly, 95% of my sports focus was on the San Francisco 49ers and their incredibly fun season. Luckily, baseball went into hibernation after the winter meetings so my football craziness didn’t prevent me from missing anything significant. I guess MLB was waiting for my 49ers to choke a Super Bowl title away to kick back into full gear. I appreciate the much needed distraction. Here are some thoughts as I slowly recover from one of the worst sports moments of my life.
1. Challenging the Global View of The Betts Trade: We all had a pretty strong inkling this was going down, but it is still pretty mind blowing that it actually happened. Mookie is easily a top-five player in the league. There are clearly no baseball reasons for a premiere franchise like the Boston Red Sox to trade their franchise player. This was a financial decision made by one of the most profitable franchises in the league.
Boston’s offseason plan was crystal clear following two personnel moves. The Red Sox fired Dave Dombrowski this winter because team brass believed he overspent for a title. That reasoning is absurd, illogical and insulting. While all of these descriptions are true, Red Sox ownership decided it was time to move on. They turned to former Rays executive Chaim Bloom to steer the franchise towards financial austerity and prudence. Generally speaking, a team isn’t hiring a former Rays employee to go on a shopping spree. His directive was to get under the luxury tax. With the Betts/Price deal, Bloom was able to accomplish this in only a couple of months on the job.
There is no denying this trade was essentially a salary dump of one of the game’s best players, but don’t count me in the group that will proclaim this is bad for the game. This IS the game in 2020. The industry has been operating in this manner for years now. Outside of the Miami Marlins, with an ownership group that should’ve never been awarded the team, every major league franchise can afford big time contracts. The Rockies can afford Arenado. Cleveland can afford Lindor. The Red Sox can afford Betts. They just refuse to do it, because they can refuse to do it.
This is the current economic structure of the game. Unfortunately, the CBA gives teams the power to conduct business in this manner. I am a staunch player supporter. Until the public knows all of the owners’ financial information like we know the players’ contract details, the owners will always have some cover in their selfish decision making. Do I like this reality? No. Do I have to look at player movement decisions through this lens? Yes. The MLBPA has to do whatever it can to improve these labor situations for its members.
Even from an on-field perspective, it is hard to believe this is bad for the game. Mookie Betts landed with another behemoth. The Dodgers are every bit as valuable a franchise as Boston. Los Angeles has been the class of the National League for years. Many people have spent the last few offseasons trashing the Dodgers for not being aggressive. They’re finally aggressive and the dialogue focuses on Boston’s loss. The state of the game can’t be that dire when an elite team acquires an elite talent and plans to do everything they can to extend said player. It’s bad for the franchise who foolishly gave up on that great player.
If we include all of the participants in the transactions, we get an even clearer picture of how the game didn’t suffer from the Betts deal. The Minnesota Twins are a better team with Maeda. The Angels are a better team with Joc Pederson. It feels like a leap to lament the state of the game when three of the four participants in the deals improved their rosters.
We should also consider the player’s own agency when it comes to these deals. These trades are almost always viewed through the team’s perspective and rarely the player’s perspective. It is quite possible that Mookie Betts didn’t want to be a Red Sox long term. Or at the very least, he was going to be a career Red Sox only on his terms.
If we are to believe the reporting on Mookie’s future, he clearly wants to enter the market and help his fellow union members. Many of us clamor for the players to be more proactive with their careers. Mookie is doing just that. He fulfilled his six-year responsibility and he was solely going to serve his own interests moving forward. That would be the right attitude to have. This trade is clearly driven by financial reasons on the team’s behalf, but it is a possibility the player was making it clear he was prepared to move on.
At the end of the day, we are still going to watch the games. When March 26th rolls around, we’re all going to forget our laments of the business side of things and obsesses over every pitch, hit and managerial decision. Yes, there are clear issues in the industry that need to be resolved. The on field product remains strong. Ultimately, that is what will keep us going.
2. Thriving In The Details: The Yankees are the best team on paper. This still feels accurate even with Betts moving on to LA. The Yankees rotation projects to be elite. Their bullpen remains imposing. The projected lineup is devastating. While all of this is true, there is still room for roster improvement. I have long held onto the belief that championship teams win titles in the details. Yes, great teams need elite level players, good health, leadership, and fortune. They also maximize their roster spots with the best players available for the roles that need to be filled.
In particular, the primary back up middle infield role is one area that could use an upgrade. The Yankees are pretty shallow in that department. In letting Didi go to Philadelphia, the team chipped away at depth in a crucial area of the field. The decision also limits DJ Lemahieu’s versatility. This is fine if there was a proven and capable major leaguer to back up both second and short. They simply do not have that on the current roster and this seemingly works against the team’s approach to roster building.
The obvious in house candidates are Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada. There is nothing that I’ve seen from Tyler Wade’s offensive profile that suggests he could be an average player if Gleyber or DJLM goes down for an extended period of time. Baseball Savant rates him similarly to players like Garrett Hampson, Adam Engel and Phillip Ervin. FanGraphs projects him to slash .224/.289/.322. He did improve his plate discipline in 2019, but it’s not clear what he can contribute offensively. The glove is good. The speed is great, but even then the Yankees are a team reliant upon power and good baserunning isn’t predicated upon raw speed.
It is hard to project Estrada because he only had 69 PAs last season. He did have some nice moments filling in from time to time, but is there anything that we saw to suggest he could produce on a consistent basis? He doesn’t have eye popping minor league numbers either. If I had to choose between Estrada or Wade, I would lean towards Thairo because there is some more power in the bat. I wouldn’t feel great about either guy.
The Yankees spent $324 million dollars for Gerrit Cole. This is as clear a sign the team is going all in this season to win a championship. When you make a considerable investment like the Cole contract there shouldn’t be any what-ifs on the roster. Each player on the 26th man should be a competent major leaguer. Brock Holt would be a solid addition to the club. You know that he will make consistent baseball plays, will get on base and provide solid defense. You’re looking for reliable play from the back up position, not a learning curve. Holt can provide that better than Wade or Estrada.
3. No One Year Deals?: It is a little surprising that the Yankees haven’t played in the one year deal market. They signed a few minor league deals, but no short term major league contracts. Both Didi and Dellin signed for one year with the Phillies and Mets respectively. One can assume the money was a little too rich for the Yankees especially considering what they spent for Cole, but there were smart short term deals they could’ve pursued. Eric Thames, Jose Iglesias, Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Castro all signed for one year at relatively low money. All of them would have been solid additions to the roster.
It appears the Yankees are content with their in house options and will look to add before the trade deadline once they get a better feel for the team. It is always better to acquire talent with just money, but that isn’t totally how the Yankees operate.