Let’s be clear about this: Mookie Betts is likely going to be playing for the Red Sox next season. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that multiple MLB executives believe it’s unlikely that Boston will actually trade him, and it makes sense. He is, after all, one of the best players in baseball, and the Red Sox will ostensibly be trying to win next season. A great way to give yourself the best chance to win is to not trade your best player.
But there are still arguments for trading Betts, from the Red Sox’s reported desire to get their payroll (currently projected to be in the $220 million range by Cot’s Baseball Contracts) below the $208 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold, to Betts’ free agency at the end of the year, to new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom’s need to boost up a somewhat depleted farm system. Even if you just get him for one year, getting Betts on your team is a way to instantly improve your team in a dramatic fashion.
For the record: We remain on record guessing that he’ll stay in Boston. But Boston isn’t included in these rankings: You can’t trade a guy to yourself, after all.
If you’re looking for a good team that’s tired of falling short in the postseason and might be willing to give up some of its future for a massive immediate boost, the Dodgers are your prime candidate. They have a deep farm system, they have some extreme urgency for 2020 and they even have openings in the outfield. And if Betts turns out to love Los Angeles, the Dodgers have the finances to keep him around. It’s up in the air how much of that farm system the prudent Dodgers might give up for just one year of Betts, but this sure does make a lot of theoretical sense.
Atlanta is unlikely to sign Betts long-term. It doesn’t have the sort of ownership group known for dishing out massive Bryce Harper-esque deals. But for one year? For one year, Betts could be precisely what the Braves are looking for. Sure, they brought back Nick Markakis, but they still have room in their outfield, and they showed last year with the Josh Donaldson deal that they are willing to fit guys in for one year and potentially let them go on their way. They have one of the best farm systems in baseball; trading for one year of Betts wouldn’t even make a dent. Can you imagine a lineup that starts with Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Betts and Freddie Freeman? Yikes.
The Padres have a ton of young talent, both in the Minors and on the big league roster, but it hasn’t yet translated into wins. And there are rumblings that ownership is looking for results sooner rather than later. Enter Betts, who would instantly upgrade everything in San Diego. The Padres need something to jolt them into contention, and they have the farm system to make it happen. It feels like some sort of big move is on the horizon for the Padres this winter. Maybe this is it.
The Mets traded away a lot of their top prospects for last year’s win-now deals, so the cupboard is a little bit bare. But not entirely, and this is the sort of move a team that lives for the moment might just be crazy enough to try to pull off. Trading from the team’s rotation would seem to be the wrong move, but would they send, say, J.D. Davis or Jeff McNeil to bring in Betts for a year? The Mets are living like there’s no tomorrow, which means you might as well double down at this point and bring in the ultimate rental.
Chalk this one up for desperation. The Phillies brought in Joe Girardi to kick-start a team that has spent a ton of money but still has the fifth-longest postseason drought in baseball. The Phillies need to win, and they need to win now. So what’s more win-now than bringing in an MVP for just one season? The Phillies might not have the strongest farm system in the game, but if the Red Sox do decide they need to trade Betts, one year could end up providing less value than they expect, potentially allowing the Phillies to slip in. How fun would a Harper/Betts/Andrew McCutchen outfield be? Three MVPs! The Phillies will need the price to fall pretty low, though.
6. White Sox
The White Sox have to be considered in any possible deal; the Yasmani Grandal signing showed that they’re ready and willing to take the next step to be contenders. They’ve got plenty of help (and trade chips) on the farm, and bringing in Betts would make them legitimate contenders in what is becoming a wide open division. The downside is that it might cost them No. 3 overall prospect Luis Robert to get it done, but perhaps they could swing the deal with one of their other elite prospects, such as first baseman Andrew Vaughn or second baseman Nick Madrigal. Betts could be a transition into the next era of White Sox contention. And he’d look terrific in the uniform.
Speaking of the Phillies’ desperation, this could be a last-ditch effort for the Angels to help out Mike Trout if, say, the Gerrit Cole plan doesn’t work out. The Angels’ farm system is starting to improve, and while you wouldn’t want to give up top prospect Jo Adell or anything, if you can package something together for Betts, Trout would have the best teammate he’s ever had. (As would Betts.) For years, it has been said that all you need to do when you have Mike Trout is to put an average team around him; he’s the perfect starting point. Now imagine Trout and Betts as your starting point.
The Cardinals do make a certain amount of sense, with a lot of young players in the outfield but few ready to step up and secure a starting position in 2020. Betts would electrify an offense whose weaknesses were painfully apparent in the National League Championship Series, and the Cardinals could package together some big league-ready players for the Red Sox. (Potential Yadier Molina replacement Andrew Knizner could probably start for Boston at catcher right now.) And while the Cardinals are generally more cautious than bold, there is a recent history of them trading for high-profile players a year from free agency, recently doing so with Jason Heyward prior to the 2015 season and Paul Goldschmidt last winter. Goldy, unlike Heyward, signed an extension, something Betts is unlikely to do.
A’s: The Matt Holliday rental-or-trade strategy.
Reds. They’ve shown a willingness to look at one-year possibilities.
Twins: Betts could be a fit, similar to the Braves' situation.
Yankees: Well, it’s funny to think about, anyway.