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Designing the Mookie Betts trade

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Do the Padres have enough to land MVP Boston outfielder?

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

At this time last year, an outfielder seemed like the last thing on the Padres organizational shopping list.

When the team broke camp in 2018, you might have even gone so far as to say that the Padres had a glut on the grass. Wil Myers was still withholding a possible 30/30 season with his rare blend of power and speed. Sluggers Hunter Renfroe and Franmil Reyes promised to hit 150 home runs in the outfield corners, while Manuel Margot would track down everything in center field while slashing a respectable batting line. Franchy Cordero and Travis Jankowski, two players who might start on a dozen big league teams, were downright luxuries to have.

Fast forward to this October, and things aren’t looking quite as flush in the San Diego outfield. Myers experienced tremendous struggles for much of 2019. Margot showed marginal improvement—including a career-high 8.6% walk rate—but a .691 OPS isn’t exactly the mark of a first-division regular. Renfroe improved defensively, but struck out in a career-high 31.2% of his plate appearances.

Franmil Reyes? While he was perhaps the most encouraging 2019 performer of the bunch, the big righty will be wearing a Cleveland uniform for the next several seasons after AJ Preller sent him packing in a trade for CF Taylor Trammell.

Trammell, it should be noted, likely won’t be ready until 2021 at the earliest.

So, where does that leave the team for 2020—the season in which their contention window is supposed to dramatically fly open?

If AJ Preller still has rapport with a Boston front office that recently ousted its top baseball man in Dave Dombrowski, he might consider taking a long look at a short term option. Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts only has one year left on his contract, but he could, for a variety of reasons, be the perfect get for San Diego this winter.

Context

Smart money is on Betts moving this offseason. For one, the 2018 American League MVP has shown little inclination to work out an extension with his Boston colleagues—and why would he? After amassing 37.2 fWAR in the first five seasons of his career (!), the outfielder promises to be the top free agent in the 2020-2021 class. Were he to blow out his knee on the first day of Spring Training 2020, Betts would still likely garner a sizable payday the following offseason. He and his representatives at VC Sports Group are wise to, in Betts’ words, “focus on the business part” of things and play out his sixth year.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are intent on getting under the luxury tax for 2020. Dombrowski’s win-now maneuvers during his time in Boston helped secure the team a World Series in 2018, but also left the farm with a barren farm and a bloated ledger. The club gave massive deals to pitchers David Price and Chris Sale, and extended shortstop Xander Bogaerts. J.D. Martinez may demand a raise this offseason. Uber-stud Rafael Devers will need to be locked up soon enough, and Andrew Benintendi is a nice guy to have around, too. Pitcher Nate Eovaldi and international bust Rusney Castillo could account for a combined cap hit of more than $30MM next year.

Point being: if the Sox truly want to get under the $208MM CBT line, trading Betts might be their most obvious recourse. The outfielder is expected to earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $28MM in his last trip through arbitration this offseason.

What Would Work For Boston

So, assuming you’ve been convinced that the unthinkable—a trade involving an MVP in his prime—could indeed happen, the question moves to how. In answering that question, I will risk committing the ultimate fanblog faux pas: actually considering what a rival team might need from the Padres.

In his analysis of a possible Betts trade, MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk drew a parallel to last offseason’s Paul Goldschmidt trade, which saw the Cardinals part with two top-100 youngsters, catcher Carson Kelly and pitcher Luke Weaver, in exchange for a top-shelf first baseman in the last year of his contract. That deal seems like a decent comp.

Assuming Boston is looking, first and foremost, for controllable assets, which areas of their roster are most in need of reinforcement? It’s unlikely that a club can truly get fair value for a player of Betts’ caliber, but Boston will still be looking to contend in 2020, considering that they are going to be paying $200MM even to field a Betts-less team.

Acquiring an outfield replacement seems like first priority for the Boston FO, which recently has been led by a group of four men including assistant GM Eddie Romero. The club probably wouldn’t want to turn over Betts’ at-bats to Sam Travis—but might Hunter Renfroe be a palatable RF replacement?

Renfroe isn’t a Mookie-grade player, but he offers suddenly considerable defensive value and a powerful bat that would probably surpass 40 home runs playing in Boston’s Fenway Park. Renfroe would come with four years of additional control, and is likely to draw an affordable salary (~$3MM) in his first trip through arb this winter.

Josh Naylor should also be a consideration. First base is currently held by the good-but-not-inspiring Mitch Moreland (99 career wRC+) in Boston, and Naylor could slot into the club’s plans either there or in the corner outfield in coming seasons. Naylor didn’t light the world on fire in his first MLB exposure in 2019, but an 89 wRC+ over 279 plate appearances really isn’t anything to sneeze at from a 22-year-old.

Boston, like all clubs, could use more pitching. Despite giving big deals to Sale and Price in recent years, 2019 saw the club handing starts to guys like Andrew Cashner and Jhoulys Chacin—not exactly the first resort of a contending club.

We know San Diego has a plethora of young arms—but which ones would AJ Preller be inclined to finally sacrifice?

We can assume that Mackenzie Gore is firmly untouchable in any deal for a one-year rental. Luis Patiño would also be a tough chip to lay down on the table. Could the Padres get away with not dealing one of those two possible Aces this offseason?

Adrian Morejon has the look of a “project”, despite his tantalizing potential. Michel Baez figures to be a relief arm, albeit a possibly dominant one, in the immediate future. Where else could the Padres draw from?

Eric Lauer may have slightly more value than Padre fans realize. Joey Lucchesi, meanwhile, has amassed a 9.29 K/9 rate and 4.14 ERA in his first 56 big league starts. Could they be enough to entice the Boston FO?

This thought exercise brings us to the case of one Kirby Yates.

Yates, like Betts, is a one-year rental. But, after a season that saw Boston fans rabid at their front office’s inability to acquire a true closer, Yates would represent an eminently marketable return in any deal for Betts.

Last offseason, closer Edwin Diaz (a player who, admittedly, offered considerably more control than Yates) was considered the ‘best closer in baseball’. In a trade with the Mets, Seattle GM Jerry DiPoto was able to use Diaz’s value to rid himself of the albatross of Robinson Cano’s contract—in addition to acquiring Jay Bruce, Jered Kelenic and Justin Dunn.

Elite closers have massive value, and Yates recorded an MLB-high 41 saves in 2019.

Potential Packages


Let’s take a look at three potential packages:

Package #1

San Diego Receives:
OF Mookie Betts

Boston Receives:
RP Kirby Yates
OF Hunter Renfroe
OF/1B Josh Naylor
RP/SP Luis Perdomo

Package #2


San Diego Receives:
OF Mookie Betts

Boston Receives:
SP Luis Patiño
OF Hunter Renfroe
OF Travis Jankowski

Package #3

San Diego Receives:
OF Mookie Betts

Boston Receives:
SP Joey Lucchesi
OF Hunter Renfroe
C Luis Campusano

There are merits, I think, to each package from Boston’s side. In the first package, they receive the best closer in baseball, who can help them in their quest to reclaim the AL East in 2020; they receive an outfielder in Renfroe who, had injuries not derailed his season, might have recorded 4.0 fWAR in 2019; Naylor could be mixed-and-matched for the next five years; Perdomo is on hand to provide long relief and spot starts, with a groundball profile that plays well in Fenway.

Package 2 nets the Red Sox a possible ace in Patiño, the #30-ranked prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline. Renfroe is still tasked with replacing Betts’ production (good luck, Hunter) and Travis Jankowski is a sweetener who could be used as a stop-gap in the event of Jackie Bradley Jr. departing for free agency in 2021.

Package 3 is also a tough sacrifice for San Diego. Joey Lucchesi has shown glimpses of dominance in his first two big league seasons, and should make 120 prime-year starts for Boston before reaching free agency before the 2024 season. Renfroe is still packing his bags, while the inclusion of catcher Luis Campusano gives the Red Sox a catcher of the future after being named the MVP of the California League as a 20-year-old. He will play in Double-A in 2020 at just 21 years of age—far, far ahead of schedule for a backstop.

All of these deals give the Red Sox something to offset Betts’ loss in 2020, while also offering additional control for future seasons. It must be admitted that all of these packages feel light without the inclusion of Gore, but one-year rentals are a tough consideration. In any event, there are a dozen other permutations that could facilitate a San Diego-Boston connection this winter. It looks like Betts will be on his way out—could Preller use him to pry open that contention window?

Poll

Which Betts package makes the most sense?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Package 1: Yates/Renfroe/Naylor/Perdomo
    (378 votes)
  • 14%
    Package 2: Patiño, Renfroe, Jankowski
    (179 votes)
  • 19%
    Package 3: Lucchesi, Renfroe, Campusano
    (234 votes)
  • 34%
    None of these: Dylan, please lay off the kombucha.
    (418 votes)
1209 votes total Vote Now