Walking Through a Potential Mookie Betts Trade

Making sense of Mookie Betts trade rumors can be a frustrating task. Betts is one of the best players in baseball, perhaps second-best to only Mike Trout. Every single team in baseball should love to have Mookie Betts on their team. A club competing for a playoff spot is even more ideal, or a team whose playoff odds without Betts are just so-so, but that with him head well north of 50%. It would also be helpful if that team had plentiful financial resources and could easily absorb Betts’ expensive (but still a bargain given the production) $27 million salary next season. The Boston Red Sox are basically the perfect for Mookie Betts, but they might trade him anyway.

Back in November, Ben Clemens made the case for the Red Sox keeping Betts, while I recently did a pro/con list for ESPN weighing the merits of trading four different stars, including Betts. Clemens focused on the baseball logic of the move, which revolves around getting worse now by trading Betts but improving in the future with the addition of prospects. Clemens shot through that argument by showing that Boston’s playoff chances over the next four seasons were actually worse by trading Betts for prospects. As a practical matter, Clemens compared a potential Betts deal to Paul Goldschmidt’s trade to the Cardinals a year ago. There are a few differences that we’ll get to later, but let’s first focus on their similarities using a rumored trade package.

Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune discussed the possibility of a Betts trade to the Padres, citing that the team was prepared to part with “two young major leaguers and at least one prospect” to get Betts to San Diego. As for the major leaguers:

The Padres, the sources said, are willing to include outfielder Manuel Margot or Josh Naylor and starting pitcher Cal Quantrill or Joey Lucchesi in the deal.

This is actually a pretty solid starting point to compare with the trade that brought Goldschmidt to St. Louis. On the pitching side, Luke Weaver and Lucchesi are roughly equivalent as average projected starters. Lucchesi has a slightly better track record in the majors but also is a year closer to free agency. Quantrill has more control but was a lesser prospect and is projected to be below average this season.

On the position player side, Margot and Naylor don’t add a ton of value to the deal. Margot is young and has potential, but he is already into arbitration and projects to be below average this season. A somewhat similar player by age and production to Nomar Mazara, the latter was traded for Steele Walker, a 40+ FV prospect earlier this winter. Naylor was a 50 a year ago, but he is stuck at first base, struggled in half a season in the majors, and projects as a close to average bat with a poor glove at first base, making him another below-average player. Value-wise, that’s probably in the range of Andy Young, plus the draft pick the Diamondbacks received in the Goldschmidt deal.

That leaves the prospect. Assuming top pitching prospects MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño are unavailable (with the same likely true for last year’s first-rounder, CJ Abrams), we’re left with a group of 50 FV players available for trade. One possibility in that group is Luis Campusano, as mentioned by Dennis Lin. Further dovetailing with the Goldschmidt trade, the Diamondbacks received a similarly valued Carson Kelly, though he was no longer eligible for prospect lists at the time.

So let’s say that with Joey Lucchesi, Manuel Margot, and Luis Campusano, we’ve constructed a trade for Mookie Betts that matches up well with Paul Goldschmidt’s trade a year ago. Great, right? Wrong. This deal is actually awful for couple reasons. First, this trade doesn’t work because Betts is way better than Goldschmidt. When I recently surveyed the FanGraphs crowd, Betts was far and away the top choice in present value of the potentially available stars, and he was determined to have greater value than players with more team control, like Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado. Last year, Goldschmidt was projected for a roughly four-win campaign, while Betts is forecast for 6.6 WAR this season. That makes Betts 60% better than Goldschmidt. Betts’ salary is $12.5 million higher than Goldschmidt’s last year, but even factoring that in, Betts’ value should be something like 45% higher that what it took to land Goldschmidt a year ago. The Cardinals-Diamondbacks swap wasn’t some sort of heist, either. It was a fair trade and there is nothing about Betts, his salary, or his projection (matching his 2019 total) to make us think a trade involving him shouldn’t also be fair. It gets worse, though.

As part of this hypothetical trade, the Red Sox were being asked to take on at least part Wil Myers’ contract as well. The Padres currently owe Myers $61 million over the next three years, which includes a $1 million buyout on a $20 million option. Myers is currently a one-win player, the type of player teams are paying less and less for on the free agent market. The contract is at least $40 million under water compared to what teams would pay a free agent. According to Acee, the Red Sox wanted the Padres to assume half of the contract, while San Diego only wanted to pay half of that. A wrinkle to Myers’ contract is that it only counts for close to $14 million against the competitive balance tax, which matters for Boston but not for San Diego. If the Padres pick up $30 million, then Myers’ contract only counts for about $4 million against the luxury tax. The Myers contract wrinkle is a red herring.

Yes, trading Betts and getting Myers for under $4 million plus Margot’s salary gets Boston a Jackie Bradley Jr. giveaway (they have Margot to take his spot!) from getting under the competitive balance tax next year. However, they still have to pay Myers $30 million over the next three seasons, which lessens or completely negates the cost savings of getting under the competitive balance tax, and ignores that trading Betts and Bradley without taking on any other salaries gets the Red Sox under the tax without additional financial obligations. While the Padres might want to pay just $15 million of Myers’ future salary, if they could get Betts for the player package listed above and pay down half of Myers’ deal, they would be getting an absolute bargain. That offer is considerably less than what the Cardinals sent for Goldschmidt, and Betts is much better.

The above is based on reports and my own conjecture, but it just doesn’t look like potential offers for Betts come anywhere near his actual value. That’s not to say we are so far off that we couldn’t build a fairer deal. If we were to take the situation above, the Padres would either need to include another prospect in the back end of the top 100 (50 FV) or take Myers out and include a couple of prospects in the 45 or 45+ FV range. Or, in a situation that clearly won’t happen, the Red Sox could offset the lack of value for Betts and taking on part of Myers’ deal by including David Price.

The Padres are not Betts’ only potential suitors. In his piece on the Betts situation, Ken Rosenthal mentions the Dodgers, and Alex Speier has done the same. After top options Gavin Lux and Dustin May, the Dodgers have a host of solid prospects, and a pair of those players might be enough for Betts. While Rosenthal reports that Price is not currently part of the discussions with the Dodgers or Padres, if the offers for Betts aren’t great, combining him and Price and taking on a contract like Myers’, A.J. Pollock’s (a name mentioned by Speier), or Justin Upton’s might net the Red Sox the most cash savings, which seems to be the main goal given their willingness to deal Betts at all.

If the Red Sox do nothing, they likely have a 95-win team that should make the playoffs and has a real shot at the division at a cost of around $250 million, including the competitive balance tax. If they trade Betts and then move Bradley, they’ll probably have an 88-90 win team with a decent shot at the Wild Card at a cost of around $205 million. They’ll also have a couple more decent, but not-super-high-end, prospects. Maybe there’s a fair deal out there that gets the Red Sox what they want, but so far the reports aren’t close to offering what Betts is worth. His trade value is going to be limited somewhat by his pending free agency and his relatively high salary, but that’s all the more reason for the Red Sox to keep him as opposed to taking the best available offer.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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4 years ago

Its my understanding that any team whom trades for Mookie before the season would then lose a draft pick as Mookie is likely to reject the qualifying offer as he wants to be a free agent. That brings down his valve by several million no?

4 years ago
Reply to  Doesta

Am I missing something here? They’d gain a supplemental pick if he rejected the QO and signed elsewhere. Which should raise his value.

4 years ago
Reply to  Doesta

Quite the opposite in fact. Acquiring him before the season is tantamount to also getting a draft pick. Acquiring him in season would eliminate the ability to extend a QO and therefore eliminate the draft pick compensation.

4 years ago
Reply to  Doesta


The team trading for him would get the draft pick. That enhances his value.

4 years ago
Reply to  Doesta

No. In fact, they’d GAIN a draft pick if they trade for him before the season. Following the season, he will reject the QO and then sign with another team. That THIRD team will forfeit a draft pick TO the team that trades for him now.

For example. Red Sox trade Mookie to Dodgers today. At the end of the 2020 season, the Dodgers make Mookie a QO, which Mookie rejects. Mookie signs with the White Sox. The White Sox forfeit a draft pick, and the Dodgers gain a pick for losing a player to whom they made a Qualifying Offer.

The fact that whoever trades for Mookie now can make him a QO in a year actually enhances his value to that team, and mitigates some of the pain that he’ll likely walk after they trade for him.

4 years ago
Reply to  Doesta

Thanks all, I had it backwards.

4 years ago
Reply to  Doesta

Good lord, this place has become a cesspool.