In a recent piece for The Athletic, Jim Bowden did what many baseball fans and media do this time of year. He speculated about a blockbuster trade.
As the Red Sox look to potentially restructure their club and trim payroll this offseason under new Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, outfielder Mookie Betts is rumored to be on the trade block. In his article, Bowden took a stab at naming three potential landing spots.
Along with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves, the St. Louis Cardinals were on the list.
On paper, the Cardinals would be a tremendous fit for the 27-year-old former American League MVP. Even with a rebound effort from Dexter Fowler, St. Louis still ranked in the bottom half of the league in production from its center fielders and right fielders this past season.
As a whole, the Cardinals offense ranked 21st in OPS and 19th in runs scored across MLB. The addition of Paul Goldschmidt helped St. Louis reach the postseason again, but it didn’t land its lineup among the more productive ones in the league. It’d be easy to argue that Mookie Betts would change that.
Betts followed up his 2018 MVP campaign with a .295/.391/.524 batting line in 2019, leading the major leagues in runs scored (135) for the second straight season. Defensively, he spent the majority of the year in right field, where he compiled an excellent plus-15 Defensive Runs Saved Above Average. One of the most talented position players in the sport, Betts would make an immediate impact wherever he lands.
Given his contract status, that’s pretty much what he’d need to do if he’s going to be worth the price the Red Sox are sure to ask in exchange for his services.
Betts is due to hit free agency following the 2020 season, which is the main reason the Red Sox would consider trading him in the first place (though they should probably just pay the man and build their future around him, instead). In his final year of salary arbitration, Betts could earn in the neighborhood of $28 million for the upcoming season. If Boston doesn’t believe it can afford Betts on a long-term extension, it’s possible they move him for younger, controllable talent this winter rather than pay him for one more season before seeing him walk as a free agent.
While it would stand to reason that the Red Sox would request a king’s ransom from teams trying to pry Betts away, Boston would also have to be realistic about its expectations given Betts’ status as a one-year rental. It’s the reason these kinds of trades are often so difficult to execute, unless the team with the expiring control of its star player is dead-set in its desire to move on.
That’s where the Cardinals matched up with the Arizona Diamondbacks on the Paul Goldschmidt trade last December. St. Louis had a glaring need for an impact bat, and Arizona wasn’t sure a high-dollar extension for its franchise face was best for the long-term health of the organization.
For Goldschmidt, the D-backs got a quality starting pitcher in Luke Weaver and a potential starting catcher in Carson Kelly. St. Louis had the luxury of depth at both positions and felt it worthwhile to cash in some of that depth for the type of proven commodity it sorely lacked. The Cardinals also had the payroll flexibility that the Diamondbacks felt they did not, and inked Goldschmidt to a five-year pact before he ever played a game for St. Louis. So far, it’s fair to say the trade has panned out reasonably well for both sides.
On the heels of that move one year ago, though, it’s hard to envision the Cardinals being willing to repeat the same trick when it comes to Betts.
Bowden speculated that the Cardinals would be unwilling to part with young talent like Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman, all of which makes sense given the team’s track record of protecting elite prospects and its public commentary on such matters. Flaherty and Hudson represent the present and future core of the starting rotation. Carlson should arrive in the big leagues at some point in 2020; Gorman is a touted former first-round pick still a few years away.
St. Louis’ reluctance to include any and all of these names for a possible rental makes perfect sense.
Instead, Bowden suggested the Cardinals could offer outfielder Randy Arozarena, catcher Andrew Knizner and 21-year-old infield prospect Elehuris Montero to entice the Red Sox into sending Betts to St. Louis. While it’s likely in general that the Cardinals would be more agreeable to parting with the players in this group, the Red Sox would similarly prefer the names in the aforementioned tier of untouchables. It’s that give-and-take conversation that could leave Boston looking elsewhere for a trade partner for an elite-caliber player like Betts.
And that’s all assuming the Cardinals would make a genuine effort to pursue Betts in the first place.
As mentioned previously, Betts’ fit for the Redbirds is obvious. But considering the money the Cardinals have already committed to Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter, Miles Mikolas and Dexter Fowler, it seems unlikely they’d be looking to add a mega-contract, regardless of how well the player who signs it might fit within their roster.
Poll time. This one’s not my creation, but Jim Bowden’s in his Athletic article. Wonder if Cardinals fans would be for it.
Would you trade Randy Arozarena, Andrew Knizner and Elehuris Montero for Mookie Betts (free agent after 2020)?
3,616 votes•Final results
1:14 AM – Nov 14, 2019
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The Cardinals felt comfortable with Goldschmidt as their grand expenditure last spring because of his age; the first baseman in his early thirties signed his extension for just five years. Like Bryce Harper last offseason, the younger Betts will likely seek a longer contract to take full advantage of his big chance to take a bite from the free-agent apple.
Not to mention, we’ve already heard hints from the team this offseason suggesting it’s not planning any drastic increases to the payroll.
“You know, our payroll this last year I think was sixth in Major League Baseball,” Cardinals chairman and majority owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said earlier this month at the team’s end-of-season press conference. “Our revenue was eleventh. And I think this coming year it will be similar category as it was last year, which is a pretty robust payroll given where we stand revenue-wise.”
Therein lies the catch-22 of a Mookie Betts pursuit by St. Louis. The Cardinals don’t like to trade young talent for superstar rentals unless they intend to pursue a long-term extension, as we’ve seen in the past with both Goldschmidt and Matt Holliday. And though there’s certainly an argument to be made that the Cardinals could afford to add Betts to their payroll, it seems like one to which team ownership would not be particularly receptive.
It’s fun to imagine what the Cardinals lineup might look like with Betts added near the top of it—and if there’s ever a time of year to do it, this is the one. Unfortunately, when you weigh everything it would take to get a deal done, the likelihood of the Cardinals doing it all is rather low.