CLEVELAND, Ohio — Trading Mookie Betts wasn’t an easy thing to do for Boston GM Chaim Bloom. If you’re Chris Antonetti, a fellow executive’s torment, while not pleasant, can offer a lesson on when the Indians should consider trading Francisco Lindor.
No new GM wants his first big trade to be remembered for shipping the franchise’s best player elsewhere because of money concerns. That’s exactly where Bloom, who left the Rays to replace departed Dave Dombrowski in Boston, finds himself.
Besides, it was just physically hard to trade Betts. News of the deal broke on Feb. 4; six days later it is thought to be official, but no announcements have been made. The deal had to be remade over and over because Boston soured on Minnesota reliever Brudsar Graterol because of health concerns.
Another mitigating factor to the stalled trade was the reaction of the Boston media and fans to the initial return for Betts. Let’s just say it was not good.
In the end, the Boston-Minnesota portion of the deal was scuttled, but the Dodgers jumped in and took Graterol, a 2020 competitive-balance draft pick and a minor leaguer from the Twins. They sent Minnesota right-hander Kenta Maeda and $10 million. The Red Sox, meanwhile, sent the Dodgers Betts, right-hander David Price and $48 million to pay half of the $96 million Price is owed over the next three years. Boston received outfielder Alex Verdugo, shortstop Jeter Downs and catcher Connor Wong from LA.
A companion deal that had the Dodgers shipping outfielder Joc Pederson, right-hander Russ Stripling and prospect Andy Pages to the Angels for infielder Luis Rengifo fell through as well.
Boston’s return will hardly quiet the Fenway Faithful. Since when do the mighty Red Sox have to worry about cutting payroll to stay below the $208 million luxury tax? But it is a better outcome than the first version of the deal which had Verdugo and Graterol going to the Red Sox.
Betts will be a free agent at the end of this season. The Red Sox tried to sign him, offering him a reported $300 million deal, but he was determined to find his true value on the free-agent market.
The Indians are in a similar spot with Lindor. He won’t be a free agent until after the 2021 season, and it’s clear that he will be playing for another team after 2021, if not sooner.
Antonetti has said several times that the Indians could ride Lindor into free agency, make him a qualifying offer and collect a high draft pick when he signs with another team after 2021. Or they could trade him anytime before the July 31 deadline, next offseason or start the process again in 2021.
The Red Sox’s deal for Betts shows that the Indians could still get a solid return for Lindor by trading him after this season. It depends on how well the Indians play. If they’re in contention at the trade deadline, ownership has shown that it will add to the roster for a playoff push. Trading Lindor at that point would make little sense.
The Red Sox made the Betts deal out of duress. Any team interested in Betts as a one-year rental had to take Price and his three-year deal because of Boston’s desire to get under the luxury tax. It reduced the Red Sox’s return for Betts and Price because the Dodgers were taking on half of Price’s contract.
Still, the Red Sox acquired Verdugo, who should replace Betts in right field; and Downs, who could be Boston’s second baseman in a year or two. Wong profiles as a backup catcher.
When the Indians trade Lindor, they’re not going to have to tie a player with a dead-weight contract to him. They’ve never been close to the luxury cap and have few players on multiyear deals. They should be able to maximize their return on Lindor no matter when they deal him.
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