BOSTON — Accepting the Mookie Betts trade has not been easy for many in Boston.
Most fans and media are refusing to believe there was no alternative solution. They think the Red Sox should’ve given Betts what he wanted.
But that’s where the problem lies. What does Betts actually want?
Nobody is looking to hear the real answer to that question. Even if they were, they wouldn’t be able to hear it over their own yelling and screaming about how cheap John Henry is, or how much it costs to buy a beer at Fenway.
“PAY MOOKIE WHATEVER HE WANTS,” they tweet with rage.
In recent days, that mindset has become somewhat delusional, with people actually thinking an injury snag in the trade return would force the Red Sox into reconsidering the three-team deal altogether.
Since the trade was reported, medical records of 21-year-old pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol have been questioned by the Red Sox, meaning there will be more added to Boston’s return. But the trade is not being voided.
A reasonable result of this medical delay would’ve been the Dodgers being given a window to negotiate a long-term extension with Betts. It would only make sense for all parties involved.
If LA and Betts came to an agreement during that window, then the Dodgers would be able to rest easy, knowing Betts wouldn’t be just a one-year rental. Also, the Red Sox would then be able to receive more in return from the Dodgers.
But here’s the deal. The Red Sox didn’t give the Dodgers a window to negotiate. Why? Well, back to the biggest question in all this: What does Betts want?
He wants to test free agency.
That doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy or that he hates the Red Sox. That doesn’t even mean he wanted to ever truly leave Boston. But if he stayed, he wanted the Sox to be the highest bidder.
Up until this week’s trade, the Red Sox were bidding against themselves. Not only is that a bad strategy for them, it’s also a bad strategy for Betts and his agent. And whether anybody wants to admit it, Betts and his agent do have a strategy.
Their strategy is to test free agency. That’s why the Dodgers are not being given a window to negotiate. If the Dodgers were given that window, then they’d find out exactly what the Red Sox already know: There will be no real negotiation until next winter — which might diminish the Red Sox’ return in the trade even more than it’s already been diminished.
Former Red Sox infielder and current WEEI radio host Lou Merloni recently reported that the Sox offered Betts a 10-year, $300 million deal. He also reported that Betts’ agent countered with a 12-year, $420 million deal, or, in other words, basically said to the Red Sox, “We’ll talk to you after the season.”
Betts and his agent can’t come out and say those exact words. Because, at the end of the day, the PR battle goes both ways.
I understand we live in a world where Red Sox ownership is evil and everything they do is to spite a fanbase that never gets to watch a winner (hopefully you can sense the sarcasm there). But as difficult as it is for the team to publicly explain why it’s parting ways with a five-tool star like Betts, it’s equally as difficult for Betts and his agent to publicly admit that they prefer to test free agency in the hopes of getting Mike Trout money from someone. And perhaps the only way to do that is to create an offseason bidding war between several big-market clubs.
Trout signed a 12-year, $430 million extension last winter, making him the highest paid athlete in the history of North American sports. Some have been screaming, “THAT’S THE MARKET,” when trying to talk themselves into believing Betts is worthy of his $420 million counter-offer.
However, the reality is, that’s not the market. Trout is an anomaly. The actual market for a star in Major League Baseball is an 8-10 year deal, worth a total of anywhere between Nolan Arenado’s $260 million and Bryce Harper’s $330 million. And that’s where the league would like it to stay.
To a man, some owners around the league are applauding the Red Sox for not giving into Betts’ $420 million demands, while the Players Association is privately chanting, “Let’s go Mookie,” all the way to the bank.
Also chanting for Betts is his representative’s new agency, “VC Sports Group.” Betts’ agent, Steve Veltman, is the co-founder of VC Sports Group, which opened its doors in 2018. Veltman had previously represented Betts as part of the agency “TLA Worldwide.” Veltman left the company in 2018 to launch VC Sports Group, and took several athletes — including Betts — with him.
Betts is VC Sports Group’s ultimate prize on a very short list of clients in the early stages of the company’s existence. Their only other big name — 30-year-old starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner — left a San Francisco Giants organization that he spent 11 seasons with, in order to become a free agent this winter and eventually sign a five-year, $85 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks in December.
Bumgarner’s lackluster deal came just after rival super agent Scott Boras completed negotiating $1 billion in MLB contracts for his clients this winter, which included Gerrit Cole’s $324 million, Stephen Strasburg’s $245 million, and Anthony Rendon’s $245 million. So there’s plenty of incentive for Veltman and VC Sports Group to take Betts to free agency, and try to capitalize on him being the poster boy of their new company — a company that, by the way, still doesn’t have a finished website.
Veltman isn’t a bad person for this. He’s just doing his job. He’d be crazy not to start a bidding war for Betts next winter. And Betts would be crazy not to try and maximize his contract in free agency, which doesn’t make him an evil person either.
Baseball is also a business. And that’s a smart business strategy. But it’s a strategy the Red Sox understand Veltman and Betts have, which is why the Dodgers aren’t being given a window to negotiate.
The Red Sox know that Betts wants to test free agency. And they’re not going to pay him, or anyone, a ridiculous amount of $420 million, regardless of how far below the luxury tax threshold they can get.
Trading Betts is hard to accept. I get it. And in a way, I’m with you. But it’s really the only option, given what Betts and his agent actually want.
Follow Danny on Twitter: @DannyPicard