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Saturday, October 19, 2019

How the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets Could Be Perfect Partners on a Mookie Betts Trade

As I have previously written, under no circumstances should the Boston Red Sox trade Mookie Betts this offseason. However, if the team is as dedicated to getting their payroll under the luxury tax as they claim to be and the 2018’s departure is inevitable, there’s one team in particular, that might be a perfect trade partner—the New York Mets.

Betts, coming off a season where he made $20 million, will only see that figure rise in 2020—before hitting free agency in 2021. Despite the likelihood of him signing a massive contract once he becomes a free agent, he figure to be highly coveted if he is made available this offseason. Given the current financial state of the team and the bleak outlook of their farm system, which is widely considered to be bereft of top-flight young talent, the Red Sox would need to receive a package of prospects and/or affordable young talent if they were to pull the trigger on a deal. Enter the Mets, who have some pieces that could be an intriguing match for Boston.

There is no guarantee that Betts will re-sign with whichever team he is playing on in 2020. Any trade made has to be done under the assumption that it’s a one-year rental with the chance to indoctrinate him into new team culture to make a run at signing him long-term.
The Mets narrowly missed out on the 2019 playoffs with a team led by young hitters like Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil, and a solid starting pitching staff headlined by the superb Jacob deGrom. Adding Betts could go a long way to rounding out their lineup and making them a valid postseason threat in 2020.

In particular, there are two players that Boston should target if the Mets let it be known they want to do the dance. The first is 24-year-old first baseman Dominic Smith. Long a top prospect, he has never been able to seize a starting spot in New York. Alonso and his 53 home runs this season means there is only room for him off the bench or in a corner outfield position, where he is not well suited.

Smith is actually a solid defensive first baseman, who has hit for power and average in the minors. He disappointed in stints at the major league level in 2017 and 2018, but flashed his potential this in 2019, producing an .881 OPS and 134 OPS+ in 89 games (197 plate appearances). He is not eligible for free agency until 2025 and could become an immediate starter in Boston, where veteran 34-year-old free agent Mitch Moreland is likely to not return.

If Smith, a three-time top-100 Baseball America prospect, produces in a starting role anywhere close to how he did this year, he would be an excellent complement to a young Boston infield that already boasts stars like shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers. He’s young, inexpensive and a potential impact left-handed bat, which would play very well in cozy Fenway Park. He checks a lot of boxes of what a team trading their best player would want as part of the return.

A second player the Red Sox could target from the Mets is closer Edwin Diaz.  After a stellar 2018 that saw him post 57 saves and a 1.96 ERA with the Seattle Mariners, he was dealt to the Mets and promptly imploded. The right hander, who possesses a wicked slider and an upper-90s fastball, was wild and extremely homer prone this past season. In 66 games, he saved 26 games and struck out 15.4 batters per nine innings, but he also had a 5.59 ERA, gave up 15 gopher balls in just 58 innings, while walking 22.

Still just 25, and not eligible for free agency until 2023, the right-handed Diaz is an excellent reclamation project, who could slide into a the closer role in Boston, which has not been right since the departure of Craig Kimbrel following the 2018 campaign.

Diaz threw harder than ever in 2019, according to FanGraphs. His struggles after three excellent seasons to start his career are therefore more attributable to approach rather than health or decline. With Boston desperately needing an upgrade in their bullpen that had a 4.40 ERA this season, prying away a reliever so young, affordable and full of potential would be a coup.

It remains to be seen specifically what the Red Sox might be seeking in a trade for Betts. New York is not a great fit if they are hoping for major league-ready top-flight minor league talent. The trade that brought Diaz to the Mets made a major dent in their system with disappointing returns. However, a package starting with Smith and Diaz might well get Boston’s attention because of how it would present an opportunity to fill some major holes. Perhaps some not-yet-ready youngsters on the New York farm could help sweeten and round out a deal as lottery tickets. Of course, if the Mets were able to then re-sign Betts long-term, it would go a long way towards erasing the bad taste they have of losing out on the last big trade plunge they took.

In an ideal world, Betts will spend the remainder of his career in Boston. Unfortunately, finances may force one of the best players in the game out of town. If that happens, the team should try to leverage their misfortune in the present into a deal that could help them in the long term. The team with the players who can help them accomplish that the best is the Mets. 

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