By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
We got 5 1/2 years of Mookie Betts in Boston.
A .301 average, 139 home runs and 126 steals. Four All-Star appearances. Four Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers. A summer of “there’s this kid named Mookie hitting like .400 up in Portland.” An MVP campaign that culminated in a World Series parade.
For the analytically inclined, Betts compiled 42 WAR, which Chaim Bloom should know is 14th in team history, behind a raft of Hall of Famers and others who played well over a decade here.
Betts logged 3,629 plate appearances, which John Henry and Red Sox ownership should know is about 100 more than Fred Lynn, the last homegrown Boston outfielder to win the MVP and move to California before the age of 30.
And that’s it. Your favorite player, who happens to double as one of the best in the game right now, is gone - his Red Sox career a short story rather than the epic novel it could have been.
And for what? A tax-free holiday?
This brand of fiscal restraint is almost unprecedented. The last time a presumed contender traded an MVP in his prime was in 1975 when A's owner Charlie O. Finley, with his team fresh off an ALCS appearance, shipped "Mr. October" Reggie Jackson to the Orioles.
Relax your definition of “contender,” and the 1981 Red Sox pop up, famously bungling a free agent offer to Lynn (as well as Carlton Fisk) before dealing him to the Angels for 50 cents on the dollar.
Since then, bad teams have moved franchise players. Competitive teams (including the Sox, with Mo Vaughn in 1998) have lost them via free agency. But Henry & Co. just put themselves in the same sentence with Charlie O. and Haywood Sullivan.
It's embarrassing. This is the Red Sox, who according toForbes are the 12th-most valuable sports franchise in the world at $3.2 billion.
More than that, it’s sad. Let the Rays construct their roster in a makeshift robotics lab, coldly swapping out parts, never letting fans get attached to anything more than the cat with the backwards hat that plays on the video board.
Mookie Betts was the face of the team, someone a generation of young Red Sox supporters could follow from grade school through high school graduation. It's a basic premise of sports: fans make emotional investments in players and believe in personalities. The same investment and belief is what made David Ortiz such a compelling figure in this city.
Even if you take the Red Sox at face value and believe winning is the bottom line, you can admit that swapping players in and out of a spreadsheet isn’t as fun as a commitment to a cause. Past Boston teams had that. But the Red Sox of the last decade have waffled between big spending and balancing the books, championship runs and summers spent in the basement - a lack of continuity the common thread.
Perhaps that's how you win in today's game. I know deep down that long-term contracts usually don’t work out. Look at the guys the Sox punted on in the past: Ellsbury, Garciaparra, the aforementioned Vaughn. Just six and a half years and three top executives ago, Ben Cherington made a commitment to Dustin Pedroia that fell short of expectations.
But they also balked at a deal for Jon Lester, 17 months before breaking the bank for David Price. Lester has gone 80-45 with a 3.45 ERA with the A's and Cubs since the Red Sox shipped him out.
With the team's popularity already flagging, one has to wonder how the Boston brain trust expects fans to react to this move. Just how much does the average New Englander care to invest in a team without Mookie Betts - emotionally or financially?
After Lynn and Fisk left, Steve Wulf wrote in Sports Illustrated, “the fans don’t know if the Sox are being unraveled or darned.”
Maybe it was a smart baseball move. Maybe the Sox will retool in a couple of years around Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and some Dodger castoffs. Maybe this is for the best.
Doesn’t mean we have to like it.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. You can follow him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.