Would the Minnesota Twins make sense as a trade partner with the Boston Red Sox in a deal for superstar Mookie Betts?
The Twins find themselves in a position with options this winter, considering the following:
They should have a lot of money left to spend, and I’m expecting that they’ll go beyond last season’s opening day payroll if it’s required to build the best roster.
They won 101 games and have a significant part of that team set to return in 2020.
They have a handful of stars that won’t be expensive this season.
They’ve built a respected farm system with players that have star potential like Alex Kirilloff and Royce Lewis.
There are great free agents available, and plenty of teams that won’t be willing to pay the ante to play poker at those tables.
And there are clubs at a different kind of crossroards – the kind that forces you to decide if you’re going to build around Matthew Boyd or Whit Merrifield or Mookie Betts, or if you’ll run the other direction and play for the future.
If Boston is determined to dismantle the expensive World Series-winning creation of Dave Dombrowski, then trading Betts could be a logically aggressive first step. Keith Law laid out a good, succinct argument for trading Betts this winter for ESPN.
Basically, the roster is expensive and to get much better on the mound they’ll be in that cost territory that makes some executives and business owners shudder: Luxury Tax.
Could Boston go hire two good mid-rotation starters, give up a couple draft picks and carry $40 million more in salary and run out a competitive team ready to win a World Series? It would seem so, yes.
Could one make the case they should turbocharge a rebuild by dealing Betts, laying in the weeds for a year or two as expensive contracts melt off the books, let the Yankees, Rays (and Blue Jays) have some fun for a bit and try to come back stronger and on more stable footing? You wouldn’t like it if you were a Red Sox fan but there’s some logic there.
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What could the Red Sox command in a trade? The short answer is actually a question – what will the market provide?
The longer answer includes a solution to what got them here in the first place, they need more pitching and there are only so many times you can go buy a starter for $145 million or $217 million and hope he raises an entire staff, like they already have tried with David Price and Chris Sale. (If you wanted to get really tricky you might handcuff Price to Betts and then drastically cut the asking price in trade talks.)
Let’s explore this path just for fun from a Twins perspective. Mookie Betts would make them a better team in 2020. Then he’d be a free agent. What would you be willing to pay to take that one year Kawhi-Leonard-joyride with Betts?
What will you have to pay Betts in 2020? (Let’s rephrase: What would you get to pay Betts in 2020 for the privilege of having him onboard as your new best player?) He’s in the final season of arbitration and I don’t know exactly what he’ll make. But I’m guessing he’ll top the previous record set by Josh Donaldson a couple years ago, so let’s just call it $25 million. If it’s $28 million, the analysis here won’t materially change.
What will he produce? This is a great unknowable and both the Twins and the Red Sox will have a better guess than I will. Betts is 27 years old and for four or five years he’s been one of the best players in baseball. He firmly cemented himself in that category with his MVP 2018 season, in which the brilliant outfielder hit .346/.438/.640 and was by himself worth more than 10.0 Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs. Let’s account for the risk of injury and adjustment to a new park and all that fun stuff and just pick a number. Can we just say he’s a 7-win player next year? Anybody outraged on either side of that?
We wouldn’t just say +7 wins for the Twins here. Since any Betts playing time would come at the expense of a good player, we’d just account for the difference. And are we then assuming that Minnesota would move on from either Byron Buxton or Eddie Rosario in that trade or in a subsequent deal? The reason I wouldn’t include Max Kepler there is because I think it’d be bad for business to sign a guy to a very affordable contract extension, watch him have a breakout season and then turn and shop him one year into the agreement. Business is business, but that’d be a bad look in my view.
The upshot is that I assume the outfield defense and team speed would improve (unless Buxton is gone), and the Twins would again be in the conversation for best defensive outfield in baseball. They’d also have a corner outfielder with a 10-WAR season on his résumé and a new best player on their team. It’s hard to know exactly how many games they’d win in 2020 but they’d be a consensus favorite to win the A.L. Central.
If you subscribe to the notion that MLB superstars are underpaid like I do, then we’re looking for tens of millions of dollars in surplus value for the Red Sox to make this trade work. You get to that number by including a top-shelf pitching prospect like Brusdar Graterol, Jordan Balazovic or Jhoan Duran. Depending which one(s) you pick or they pick, we’d expand the prospect package from there. But it feels like a logical starting point.
You might be tempted to throw a Major Leaguer in the trade, but I’m curious how Boston’s new baseball boss Chaim Bloom would approach this. The Twins, as the new Rays North™, will have a better idea about that. Rhetorical question worth some more thought: Would any team trading a player as good as Mookie Betts realistically ask for win-now players back? If your goal is to win in 2020 wouldn’t you just keep Betts?