“If the players all retired tomorrow, we would replace them, the game would go on; in three years it would make no difference whatsoever. The players are NOT the game, any more than the beer vendors are.”
– Bill James: Father of the Sabre Revolution and a former executive from Boston’s front office.
As a Yankee fan I’m ecstatic the Boston Red Sox traded Mookie Betts. When I think of Mookie Betts I think of him hitting an Aroldis Chapman slider into the left field seats in 2018. It was September and by then the division was out of reach already. All this did was tell me what I already knew – but really reinforcing it. The Red Sox were great and Mookie Betts was going to make our lives a living hell for a long time.
At least that’s the way it seemed. This winter rumors started going around that Mookie Betts was going to be traded. It’s really one of those unfathomable thoughts because if there is a team who should be able to keep one of their superstars, it should be the Red Sox. That didn’t happen though and now, Mookie will be putting on a Dodger jersey for the next year.
Trading Mookie really felt as if John Henry was not only handing over the AL East to the Yankees this year. He was doing it for 2020 and beyond. We all say that Gerrit Cole was one of the better deals the Yankees made since CC in 2009. Henry pretending to cry poverty might end up benefiting us just as much. Steamer projected Mookie to have a 5.9 fWAR this year and he’ll probably be putting numbers like that up for the foreseeable future.
I don’t know if we can give an outside owner pinstripes but I’m okay with doing that in Henry’s case. If the Yankees go on to own the AL East from this point forward and get rings from it, I’m okay with giving him a monument as well.
The deal with the Dodgers was so unnecessary considering the Red Sox are surrounded by money. The team could pretend they couldn’t pay Mookie Betts more than 10-years and $300 million but that would be a lie. With record revenues in MLB they’re one of the teams who has benefited most from the cash flowing in. The perception around baseball is the Yankees buy their way to wins. Well it’s 2020 now. It’s not just the Yankees. When you compare the pockets of the Yanks and Sox, all you have to do is use that meme where the two Spider-Mans point at each other in an alleyway.
The Red Sox are the third richest team ($3 billion according to Forbes) in MLB and their king, John Henry ($2.6 billion), is a billionaire who founded the Fenway Sports Group ($6.6 billion according to the Boston Globe.) FSG owns the Red Sox, the Liverpool Football Club ($1.3 billion according to Statista), Fenway Park and NESN ($650,000 million according to Statista).
Basically Henry is printing money with the Fenway Sports Group. With it his empire is benefiting from ticket sales, revenue from ads on NESN, and, on top of this, he has his hand in one of the more popular soccer clubs in the world. Henry also owns the Boston Globe (more than 100,000 digital subscribers according to Statista), so there’s that too. Pretending that this team needs to be as cost cautious as the Royals is false. Trading Mookie, one of the entities who helped grow this brand, all feels especially criminal when the team had the gall to announce that they were raising ticket prices this year.
An empire trading Mookie to save money is a black eye for baseball
While I’m ecstatic Boston pretended they needed to have a salary dump, as a Yankee fan, the part of me that’s human – the part that is responsible for rational thought and empathy – feels sad. Something about trading a generational talent who, let’s be honest, is a hell of a lot cooler and more marketable than Mike Trout, seems dirty.
If John Henry wants to clear up space in his budget of unlimited money, who is he going to replace Mookie Betts with? The reason you clear up money in the first place is to sign a Mookie Betts. With this in mind, the Betts trade has less to do with strategy in hopes of using Mookie’s salary to better the team and more to do with the time honored tale of the rich man.
That is to avoid paying his taxes. In the case King Henry and his Red Sox, it’s to avoid paying that luxury tax.
Don’t let the heroes go
Baseball has had a hard enough time growing the sport side-by-side with the NBA and the NFL. If one of the larger market teams won’t even foot the bill of somebody who has more than earned their market value, then what hope is there for this sport to grow anymore?
I know I’ve fallen into the doom and gloom category here but when I think of baseball growing up I think of my heroes. It’s the heroes that mean more than the jersey sometimes.
I think of the confidence Andy Pettitte had on the mound in a big game. I think of sitting beside a radio late at night and waiting for Barry Bonds to pass Hank Aaron. I think of one of my dad’s old employees sitting me down as a kid and telling me about Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series. He talked about it as if it just happened that week. That memory stuck with him all his life the way the memories of every great player I ever saw will stick with me.
For the kid who’s a Red Sox fan that fell in love with the sport in 2018, how do you explain to them that their favorite player left because the team needed to get under the luxury tax? How do you explain the Red Sox did this in order to potentially pay an accumulation of lesser players who end up having a similar WAR if you lump them together?
The thought of all this sounds so corporate and bland. The kid is going to find that answer to be lame and in turn he’ll probably begin to find the sport lame too.