By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
The real problem, in retrospect, was not the trading of Mookie Betts. The problem, ultimately, is that the Red Sox put themselves in a position where they had no other alternatives, which is really an inexcusable sin for an organization valued last spring at an estimated $3.2 billion.
And so, when Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe described the Betts deal as an “organizational failure” last week, he couldn’t have been more accurate. And that point was illustrated again yesterday when Tom Werner, during the team owners’ annual State-of-the-Sox spring address, fumbled and stumbled and ultimately had no answer for a question most recently posed by Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal and that the Red Sox still haven't answered honestly.
McAdam’s question: if the Red Sox knew they had to be under the luxury tax threshold as far back as the fall of 2018, why did ownership “green-light” the combined $213 million signings ($43 million annually in luxury tax) of Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi, two pitchers with histories of breaking down?
Werner’s response, verbatim: “Well, you … (nervous chuckle) … uh … are you saying … well, first of all, we made those decision on those pitchers before these, these conversations. As we’ve said, we were hopef- ….”
McAdam interrupts here and points out that, last fall, owner John Henry (seated next to Werner yesterday) indicated the Red Sox had known “for more than a year” that they would have to be under the threshold (also known as the CBT) in 2020. Just as noteworthy is that Henry yesterday agreed with McAdam as McAdam spoke, confirming his remarks with a simple, “Right.”
Just to clarify, the Red Sox knew long before signing Sale and Eovaldi that they were headed for a significant cut in payroll, but they signed the pitchers anyway. (This actually gets worse, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)
“But we’ve also said, Sean, that [getting under the threshold] was a goal, not a mandate. We have been under the CBT some of our years, we’ve been over the CBT in some of our years. And the more important issue for us is, `What is it that we can do to make the Red Sox strong in 2020, 2021, 2022?’ These decisions, I’m … you know … uh … there are lots of hypotheticals here. We are pleased with the value that we got back, uh, from the Dodgers … uh … we might not be having this discussion … we might, have, have … uh … proceeded under different sort of scenarios, but we are where we are based on the proposal that, uh, we … uh … agreed to.”
Translation: Blah, blah, blah … blah, blah, blah … blah, blah, blah.
Look, admittedly, transcribing anyone verbatim often (and usually) makes him or her look foolish. So let’s not get on Werner for that part of it. But what we’re obviously trying to illustrate here is Werner’s unwillingness to acknowledge the obvious, which is simply this:
The Red Sox screwed up. Royally. They mismanaged their assets, from their payroll to their farm system. As a result, their inability to sign Betts collided with their payrolls issues, which left them with little choice but to trade their best player when the walls started closing in.
Now, here’s the part where the story gets worse.
As McAdam noted, the injury/durability histories of Sale and Eovaldi make the decision to re-sign them bad enough. But what’s even worse is that the Sox allowed Dave Dombrowski to do so. After the 2018 World Series, according to what Henry has told us, there was a disconnect between the owners and Dombrowski on the long-term direction of the franchise. Dombrowski was entering the final stages of his contract and wanted a contract extension, yet ownership deprived him of one. And yet, for some entirely inexplicable reason, the Red Sox then allowed what amounted to a lame-duck general manager to spend $213 million of their money.
Good heavens. Talk about dysfunction.
Today, in the words of a famous football coach, it all is what it is. But you get the idea. On the one hand, the Sox didn’t want to commit to Dombrowski. On the other, they then allowed Dombrowski to commit to Sale and Eovaldi. And then, at last year’s trading deadline, the Sox prevented Dombrowski from trading away any valued prospects (fact) or, presumably, Betts (speculation). The players pretty much tanked immediately thereafter. Dombrowski was fired within weeks.
In the end, the Red Sox ended up stumbling all over themselves before, during and after the Betts deal, which brings perhaps this ownership’s repeated and biggest flaw into focus: accountability. Instead of trying to tap-dance yesterday, what if Werner had just said something like the following? Well, Sean, without getting into too many particulars, we really don’t have anyone to blame but ourselves. We’ve made a lot of decisions over the past couple of years to put us in the spot we’re in, which is hardly ideal. The Red Sox, as an organization, have access to a wide range of organizational resources and we’ve pretty exhausted them all. If we’re smart, we’ll examine why.
Instead, they dodged, albeit with a few exceptions, from president Sam Kennedy acknowledging that the luxury tax was part of the reason to trade Betts and acknowledging that the Red Sox have taken a step back, to owner John Henry succinctly stating the following near the end of his opening statement yesterday.
“It’s not the system’s fault that the Red Sox ended up in this position,” Henry said.
No, it isn’t.
That fault would belong to them Red Sox themselves, which is really all anyone wanted to hear yesterday.