So after all these years speculating on Mike Trout's future in Anaheim before he signed his whopper deal last spring, it turns out we should have been focused on Mookie Betts and Boston instead.
One year until free agency or no, can you believe it?
The Red Sox—the Old Money, Jewel Franchise, Hardball Hub Bostonians—just traded the second-best player in the game. Willingly. Preemptively. Before the first bottle of sunblock has been cracked open for pitchers and catchers.
Granted, if a player is disinclined to sign long-term, no matter who he is, star or schmuck, you can't exactly force a deal. So yes, from a cold-blooded, emotionless, ledger-sheet vantage point, dealing Betts and lefty David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers to unload a gazillion dollars on a February night, ah, well, makes, um, sense.
But come on now. Really? Boston, of all franchises, gives up before the season even starts up?
The deal, which also included an assist from the Minnesota Twins, sends Betts, Price and cash to the Dodgers in exchange for outfielder Alex Verdugo and hard-throwing, right-handed pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol (from Minnesota), with right-hander Kenta Maeda going to the Twins, as reported by ESPN's Jeff Passan and Kiley McDaniel. In a separate deal, the Dodgers also sent outfielder Joc Pederson and minor league outfielder Andy Pages to the Angels for infielder Luis Rengifo.
It was at once both a blockbuster and a head-scratcher, and it will send aftershocks throughout the summer.
The Dodgers, who declined to go the extra step in the past to acquire October-changers from Justin Verlander to Gerrit Cole, become absolute prohibitive favorites to win the National League (+150) and have every reason to believe they can finally haul in the World Series title that has eluded them since 1988. (Presumably, this time, the trash cans of October will remain silent.)
Meantime, Boston's long slow-dancing of Mookie out of town made the Iowa caucus seem brief and orderly by comparison. Owner John Henry spilled his plan to duck under the competitive balance tax threshold for 2020 last September, then awkwardly attempted to walk it back by saying it was a suggestion, not a mandate, while wondering why everyone around town suddenly had their double-knits in a bunch. But if it wasn't a mandate, it was one of those deals where your boss says he or she isn't ordering you to do this, but—wink, wink—it sure would be great if you did.
"It's not enough for Mookie," one industry source told B/R Tuesday evening. "But all that ownership wants is to take down payroll. That's all they care about.
"Verdugo's good, but to not get [Gavin] Lux, [right-hander] Josiah Gray or any of those guys, that's embarrassing. And to pay money. I have a lot of friends over there, but this is going to be really ugly. Rebuilding in Boston … ooof. Good luck."
Bottom line, the Red Sox and Dodgers met up like two lit souls before closing time for two base, naked-ambition reasons.
For the Dodgers, even if they fail to re-sign Betts, no matter. It's all about winning this year. Clearly, they're driven.
For the Red Sox, it was about slicing costs despite the fact that the Fenway Sports Group, since purchasing the club for $700 million 18 years ago, has ballooned into a sports conglomerate worth $6.6 billion that also owns the Premier League's Liverpool Football Club.
FSG's holdings place it third globally on the list of the world's largest sports conglomerates, according to the Boston Globe, behind only Kroenke Sports ($8.4 billion, owners of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams, NBA's Denver Nuggets, NHL's Colorado Avalanche and more) and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones ($6.9 billion).
Sources say the Red Sox became obsessed with unloading the final three years and $96 million on Price's deal at some point this winter, and any Betts trade was going to include the lefty. Though the Red Sox were in serious talks with the San Diego Padres, the fact that the Padres weren't going to take Price and also wanted to unload outfielder Wil Myers' remaining three years and $60 million pretty much made that a non-starter from the beginning.
It's as if after winning their fourth World Series title over 15 seasons in 2018, the Red Sox essentially threw up their hands and said, "We're good."
The firing of Dave Dombrowski, the club's president of baseball operations, last September just 11 months after he put together the most recent Red Sox championship club was astounding at the time. But from a distance, the shock has long since dissipated.
Dombrowski is a pedal-to-the-metal, spend-and-win-now executive who clearly wasn't on board with what was in store for Boston's fans this winter. And internally, things were already getting cheaper.
Most of the club's scouts and player development staff received "fake rings" in 2019, according to one source with direct knowledge, in the aftermath of the '18 World Series victory. The source said the club sent a letter with the ring stating something to the effect of "congratulations on the 2018 World Series; all of your hard work has paid off with a Tier 3 ring" that included "lab created" sapphires and rubies and cubic zirconium.
"The guys that scouted and developed Mookie Betts got a fake ring," the source said. "The guy that signed Mookie got a fake ring."
The hiring of Chaim Bloom from the Tampa Bay Rays to replace Dombrowski means the Red Sox will lean even harder on analytics now in lieu of spending big—or even good—money, and maybe it's what owners Henry and Tom Werner need to protect them from themselves. Because even if Betts wasn't eager to commit to Boston long-term, they've only got to look in the mirror to explain why Red Sox fans will be deprived of watching their own version of Mike Trout this summer.
Sure, the budget remains stretched with the contracts of pitchers Chris Sale (five years, $145 million) and Nathan Eovaldi (four years, $68 million), but Henry is the one who signed off when Dombrowski brought them to him.
As sunny as things will be in L.A. with Betts—how about him and Cody Bellinger as a one-two punch?—there is no way to spin this as anything other than an exceedingly dark day in Red Sox history. Since 2016, only one player in the game has a higher WAR than Betts' 33.8.
That would be Trout's 35.5.
Even if the New York Yankees were in a similar predicament, can you imagine them proactively trading, say, Aaron Judge?
The Red Sox still haven't even hired a manager after the Houston sign-stealing scandal claimed Alex Cora. Maybe they'll have one by the time spring camp starts next week. Maybe not.
But there sure isn't a reason to pay much for one. Not with that white flag flapping in the Fenway Park wind.
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.