Mookie's dazzling postseason has some putting him ahead of Trout, rewriting Red Sox history... c'mon
The Dodgers opened the World Series by showing what it looks like when arguably the most talented, most complete team in baseball does everything extremely well. They had it all in an emphatic game one victory – starting pitching, two-out hitting, hitting with power, great defense, impact baserunning, good managing, and Mookie Betts.
I suppose I should address him as Mr. Betts. Very New York Times of me. After all, another column about Mr. Betts from The Athletic emerged today, and this one proclaimed Mr. Betts better than Mike Trout. The bowler has now surpassed the weatherman. The No. 1 player in baseball list now starts with the new LA star outfielder and not the guy down in the road in Anaheim.
All it took was a couple of World Series games, the second of which the Dodgers loss, and a few sensational catches while Betts also did a lot of the same things he’s been doing. He just did it in Dodger blue for a change. And then the writers went to work on the scripts.
Sure, Trout is just a year older than Betts and only has 157 more homers, 67 more steals, 288 more runs and 269 more RBI. He’s only ahead in career fWAR by 35.8 and bWAR by 29.2. In all seriousness, Betts was the better overall player during the shortened 2020 season. Moving forward, he could become the better player, although it would require a level of elite consistency he's yet to achieve. He wasn’t the better hitter in 2020, but he was the better overall player because of Trout’s puzzling decline defensively – he does play a more difficult position in center compared to Betts in right - and Betts’s better, more aggressive baserunning. Betts has also finished with a wRC+ above 149 just once. Trout has never finished below 164.
Here’s why these takes are happening: the Dodgers are one of the model franchises in baseball currently. Very smart, excellent people oversee the organization, and they scout, draft, develop, and acquire talent as well as anyone. Oh, they have a gigantic budget to use too, but they don’t really lean on that to the extreme of some other big-market franchises like a certain other one nearby. Because they’re smart about their money even if it means crying “poor” occasionally to get under the luxury tax. More on that devil in a moment.
The crosstown American League version of Major League Baseball recently fired its general manager and has failed to build a winning product around one of the best to ever play the game. And it keeps doing it over and over and over again. Its owner spends as much as anyone, and fancies himself a baseball man. Just ask Vernon Wells. But he strikes out there more than he homers. Just ask the three first-time general managers he fired; one of those guys is in Seattle constructing a sustainable winner.
Perhaps the real reason: Betts played his free agent hand aggressively and intently, which eventually resulted in a trade from a 2018 World Series champion to the possible 2020 version. Trout preferred the comfort and familiarity with his current professional bubble, and signed the massive, record-setting extension with his homegrown club, leaving millions – maybe a hundred million more – on the table.
Sure, the financial reward for Trout staying home is more than most people could ever dream of, and it’s difficult to place a value on comfort. But the hot takes, columns, and definitions of a player’s legacy give such move no reward. Not until the Angels put the right people in charge. And Trout’s clock is ticking while Betts is on the verge of delivering one of baseball’s darling franchises its first title since 1988. This is a complicated storyline for me to process. I own two baseball jerseys – Mike Trout and Mookie Betts (Red Sox). Ironically, I purchased a Betts jersey at the Fenway Park store during my honeymoon because I thought he’d be a lifer in Boston, and he was easily my favorite Boston player since Pedro. Whoops. A day later, Betts hit a homer on the first pitch he saw as I watched my first game at Fenway. My wife and I posed for a photo and sat down with an overpriced IPA in hand right as the crack off No. 50’s bat tickled my eardrums and ejected my body from my seat and back onto my feet. I'll never forget that moment.
As a Red Sox fan, I die a little inside when I see him do the dazzling #featsofmookie I watched him do in a Red Sox uniform. He impacts the game in so many areas beyond hitting, and it’s great to see more appreciate his elite athleticism, talent, and how a player can impact the game beyond the bat. But I hope history looks back on the Red Sox and Betts and tells the correct story. None of the make-believe Hollywood stuff. Yeah, that was a lazy connection, but I can’t help myself because right now the cheesy Curse of Mookie scripts are most popular. Talk about a lack of imagination. We’re not even two full years removed from Betts winning a World Series at Dodger Stadium as a member of the Red Sox. The funny thing about the 'Curse of Mookie' is every player who was crowned the new king of baseball ahead of Trout then flopped. Christian Yelich's 2020 says hello.
What’s more maddening, though, are the same people who covered the Betts/Red Sox negotiations attempting to rewrite history, attempting to tell a different story in the sequel than they told in the original. Dammit. Another forced Hollywood reference. Boston tried to extend Betts. Boston also crying poor privately while trying to convince the public luxury tax wasn’t an issue was stupid and pathetic. It’ll have to, as the baseball world says, wear that. But Boston did try to sign Betts, and a 12-year, $350-365 million extension reportedly wasn’t enough to get it done.
"Betts resisted one offer after another from the Red Sox knowing he was that player, knowing he could push the market… He wanted to be free. He is going to be free. His trade to the Dodgers amounts to a slight detour, but his destination remains the same." – wrote Ken Rosenthal in his February column at The Athletic. After the 2018 season, Betts reportedly wanted 12 years, $420 million (note: he was absolutely worth it then). So, Boston feared, with reason, he’d walk if it wouldn’t meet that price and made the trade. Then, the pandemic happened. Betts’s outlook changed. The Dodgers got it done. And Boston sports radio has a content piece for 10 years’ worth of hot takes. The columns this week: Rosenthal: Transcendent Mookie proves the Red Sox made a huge mistake trading him Should the Red Sox have traded a homegrown, generational talent in the prime of his career? Hell no. Did the Red Sox think he wouldn’t re-sign for what they were offering, which was close to what he ended up receiving? Yes. Did the Dodgers benefit from Betts accepting $115 million in deferred money - the MLB Players Union values his deal at $306 million - and a dramatic change in his extension price brought on by the pandemic? Absolutely. But those important facts aren’t making the script, even though they were in the original. "Of course, these things always look clearer in hindsight. Virtually no one in the game anticipated the Betts deal, and the news sent shock waves throughout the industry. Extensions often are announced before Opening Day, but Opening Day normally does not take place July 23 amid a national economic crisis. Rival executives, taken aback by the size of Betts’ contract, speculated that he and the Dodgers must have had an agreement before the game shut down in mid-March. Sources in both camps said such was not the case, explaining that while negotiations took place in spring training, they resumed only in the past week. "... Betts further eased the team’s burden by deferring $115 million of his $365 million, according to a source,” wrote Rosenthal in his column when Betts signed his extension. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, the cost of putting Betts’ first World Series ring on his finger was steep in the same way the Angels keep operating – too much money in the wrong places. And in a cruel twist the price of a championship led Boston to reluctantly wave goodbye at Betts, the other hand tightly clinching a wallet overflowing with hundreds. Still, to imply or write the Red Sox essentially let Betts walk without an effort and ignore the Dodgers capitalizing in a surprising way because of the pandemic is steering readers towards a fairy tale. The guy who operated the Red Sox when Mookie won his franchise-altering, extremely expensive ring? Well, he’s now thought to be the guy who is going to try to deliver Trout his. And if Dave Dombrowski didn't do what he was brought to Boston to do in the same way he's operated elsewhere, we're probbaly not having this conversation.
This won’t be the last season Mookie and Trout cross paths, and it certainly won’t be the last time the Red Sox decision is revisited. Just make sure you read the right script.
Photos courtesy AP Images