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Potential Betts-to-Padres deal coming into focus

@AJCassavell
January 29, 2020

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres and Red Sox are still actively engaged in trade talks regarding Mookie Betts, according to sources. On the surface, a Betts-to-San Diego deal makes sense for both sides. The Padres are desperately searching for a big bat to shore up their offense and their outfield.

SAN DIEGO -- The Padres and Red Sox are still actively engaged in trade talks regarding Mookie Betts, according to sources.

On the surface, a Betts-to-San Diego deal makes sense for both sides. The Padres are desperately searching for a big bat to shore up their offense and their outfield. The Red Sox, meanwhile, would like to get under the luxury-tax threshold, and they'd like to extract long-term value for one of the game's best players.

Betts trade may be more likely than ever

But while this rumor has persisted for the better part of January, it's still merely a rumor. So what's the latest on the Padres' interest in Betts? Here's what we know:

A deal seems to be building momentum

That doesn't mean it's going to happen -- or even that it's likely. The odds still seem stacked against it. But there's a growing belief that the Red Sox and Padres have the same basic objectives in mind, meaning there's at least a path for a trade to take place.

If the Red Sox are looking to duck below the luxury-tax threshold, then trading Betts -- who is owed $27 million next season -- gives them an avenue to do so. They'd also be able to extract some value from Betts before he inevitably hits the free-agent market in search of a nine-figure deal next winter.

The Padres, meanwhile, have explored a number of trades for impact bats this winter. Aside from the Tommy Pham deal, nothing came to fruition. That's mostly been a product of high asking prices set by teams with leverage. Things might be different for the Red Sox, who would almost certainly need to trade Betts before the season to extract maximum value from him.

The principles of a trade are in place, but ...

Betts is arguably the game's best right fielder, and he's easily one of the five most valuable players in the sport. But the Padres' front office is acutely aware that dealing for the 2018 American League MVP would only give them one year of production.

With the bigger picture in mind, they've ruled out top-tier prospects like MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patiño and CJ Abrams -- and possibly others -- from inclusion in a Betts deal. But according to sources, both sides feel the Padres' deep system boasts a second tier of prospects and young Major Leaguers who could work in a deal.

The sticking point might be Wil Myers, the seven-year big leaguer who is also part of these trade discussions. Myers has three years and $61 million remaining on his contract, and if he went to Boston, the Padres would need to eat a chunk of that salary. Just how much? Well, that's part of the issue.

In any case, that discussion gives us a fairly clear picture of what the Padres' package for Betts might look like: a prospect or two (say, catcher Luis Campusano and/or lefty Adrian Morejon), a controllable big league piece or two (say, Josh Naylor and/or Joey Lucchesi) and Myers plus cash.

Is it Mookie or bust for the Padres?

It's starting to feel that way. Starling Marte is off the board. The asking price on Francisco Lindor was far higher than what the Padres are willing to pay. There aren't any other impact bats the organization feels could thrust the Padres directly into contention this year.

That leaves, well, Betts or no one.

If the Padres don't land Betts, there's still a chance they field a solid outfield in 2020. Pham is an instant boost, and their four young lefty bats -- Naylor, Trent Grisham, Franchy Cordero and Taylor Trammell -- have potential to become everyday pieces.

Then again, there's one surefire way to solidify the outfield for 2020, and it involves trading for the second-best player in baseball (per WAR) over the past five seasons.

This is about 2020

From the outside, it's easy to look at the Padres as a team set up to contend in 2021 and beyond. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack will still be on their rookie contracts, while Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Pham are in their prime. Throw in the arrival of pitching prospects Gore and Patiño, and that's a strong foundation.

But general manager A.J. Preller, it seems, isn't all that interested in 2021 right now. Coming off a 92-loss season, he wants to flip the script and contend in '20. That's probably partially due to some internal pressure to win now. But it's more a product of the need for standards to change.

It's been 10 years since the Padres finished above .500, and there's a strong desire to stop looking to "next year" as the year things turn around. Adding Mookie Betts would inarguably be about winning this year in San Diego.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.