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MLB Trade Rumors: Buzz Surrounding Mookie Betts and Top Players Available

Martin FennContributor IDecember 7, 2019

Boston Red Sox's Mookie Betts reacts after his RBI single during the third inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Boston, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

New Boston Red Sox general manager Chaim Bloom finds himself in a pickle this offseason.

After missing the playoffs in 2019 while also having the highest payroll in baseball, owner John Henry is demanding that Bloom help get the club closer to the Competitive Balance Tax threshold.

Aside from the huge contracts already owed to the likes of David Price, Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts, Bloom's task only got tougher when designated hitter J.D. Martinez opted in for the 2020 season at the cost of $23.75 million.

Baseball Reference estimates Boston's payroll at $227.2 million, so they clearly need to shed payroll in order to avoid any sort of penalty. 

Mookie Betts is estimated to receive $27.7 million in his final year of arbitration before becoming a free agent after the 2020 season. Naturally, the salary (in addition to prior statements) have created a lot of chatter about whether Boston would trade Betts this winter.

Here is the latest on Betts and Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte, who might be a hot commodity in the coming weeks.

      

Red Sox Unlikely to Trade Mookie Betts

Although the Red Sox would likely hope to either trade Betts and acquire future assets rather than risk him playing out the final year of his contract, he will probably be on the roster come Opening Day.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports reported that opposing executives doubt that the Red Sox will trade Betts this winter: "Rival clubs remain highly skeptical the Red Sox will trade Mookie Betts this winter, saying Boston's return would be too low. Teams interested in him can simply wait until he's a free agent next winter, saving the $27-$30 million in 2020 without giving up any prospects in a deal."

The Red Sox would obviously want to sell high on Betts. Per FanGraphs, he has the highest fWAR of anyone not named Mike Trout since 2015, and he ranked ninth in fWAR in 2019 despite a decline in production from his 2018 AL MVP campaign. Betts is a legitimate five-tool player who has also won four consecutive Gold Glove awards in right field, and he would be a building block for any franchise.

However, there are not many teams willing to sacrifice their top prospects for a one-year rental. Betts' impending free agency makes things challenging, mostly because there are no guarantees that he would re-sign with any particular club. The Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres seem like logical trade partners because of the outfield needs and the prospect capital, but it would be a massive leap of faith.

Instead, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that the Red Sox are trying to deal one of their high-priced starters. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Bloom is more likely to seek out extension talks with Betts' camp than find a reasonable trade offer.

     

Pirates Want Catching Prospect in Exchange for Marte

The Pittsburgh Pirates are another team in transition, having purged most of their front office while bringing former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington in to run baseball operation.

One of their most valuable players is Starling Marte, who slashed .295/.342/.503 with 23 homers and 25 steals but is worth just $11.5 million this season, with a club option in 2020.

Jon Heyman reported that while Marte is "said to be available," the Pirates have not been able to gain a ton of traction in trade talks. Heyman also noted that the Pirates would like a top catching prospect in return.

Will the Pirates find a suitable offer for Starling Marte?
Will the Pirates find a suitable offer for Starling Marte?John Hefti/Associated Press

The San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays did business in exchanging outfielders Tommy Pham and Hunter Renfrow (plus a slew of prospects) on Thursday, and it seems as though most teams are more keen to acquire outfield assets via trade rather than free agency.

As for catching prospects, there are not a ton of teams that might fit Pittsburgh's needs as a rebuilding club. The Padres and Rays have top backstops (Francisco Mejia and Ronaldo Hernandez) in their system, but neither of those teams has a need at center field.

The Chicago Cubs are in need of help in center, but there is no telling whether they would part with Miguel Amaya, particularly considering the rumors surrounding Willson Contreras.

Nevertheless, the Pirates will most likely be active in the next couple of weeks as they look to begin their rebuild in earnest.

       

All stats obtained via Baseball Reference and all contract information via Spotrac unless otherwise noted.