Red Sox fans are morose. Their team just traded away a young fan-favorite in the interest of money. Yeah, the Red Sox have more money than God, but they’re not interested in spending it this year, as they need to reset their competitive balance (“luxury”) tax status in order to not face increasingly stiff penalties from the MLB.
On one hand, I have a hard time feeling for Boston fans. Their team has been consistently competitive for over a decade now, and they can usually go buy whatever free agents they want. Its a good problem to have in that sense. Yeah, it sucks, they might be .500 this year, and they moved on from a fan favorite. But, they also have the ability to re-sign him when he hits free agency, or sign anyone else they need. Do you really think most small- and mid-market teams will even be in the Betts conversation when he hits free agency? Maybe the Padres, they’re crazy, but otherwise Betts will be almost guaranteed to play in one of four cities after this contract expires—Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, or Boston. It’s just how baseball works.
On the other hand, this proves that baseball’s luxury tax is finally working. The Cubs have been nearly silent in free agency this off season. Boston is actively shedding payroll. The Yankees, Dodgers, and Angels are still big spenders, but they each have a day of reckoning to come. For once, teams like Minnesota are in the conversation for baseball’s best free agents. With a more competitive financial balance comes a more competitive league, which is better for nearly everyone.
Still, I do have to feel bad for Red Sox fans. More than anything else, the way they are feeling today reminds me of the Johan Santana trade. The Twins developed Santana from a 21-year old Rule-5 pick to an absolute superstar, the level of which Minnesota has not really seen since. He won the Cy Young award twice in Minnesota, was a multiple-time all-star, and received MVP votes as a pitcher. In 2007 though, he was starting to get expensive, and the Twins needed to get what value they could, before he walked as a free agent. The package looked reasonable at the time: Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber, and Kevin Mulvey from the Mets. That didn’t make it not hurt. The financials of the Dome, and Carl Pohlad’s tight pockets conspired to take away the best player most of us had ever seen play in Minnesota. In a way, this trade was the beginning of the end for the dominant run of the 2000’s.
Santana wasn’t the only player lost to line the old man’s pockets, either. Torii Hunter was allowed to walk in his prime, and went to Anaheim. Name a favorite player from the 80’s through the 2000’s, and he probably left the team before he should have, had the pockets been open. Either that or they went blind before they got expensive. I don’t know if I could have handled Kirby in another uniform. Its easy for a Twins fan to relate to how Boston fans are feeling today. It’s also easy to laugh a little. They have World Series rings from 2004, 2007, 2013, and 2018; and several contenders during that span. We haven’t sniffed the second round of the playoffs in two decades. They traded away one popular player, we’ve seen if for years.
All that being said, I can’t be too hard on them. I know how they feel. It’s a difficult thing to see a fan-favorite, a guy in his prime, a guy you thought would be a part of the team forever playing in another uniform. Its even harder when “because money” is the reason. Mookie Betts did nothing wrong, he just got paid (and will be paid) what he deserves. The Sox fans did nothing wrong (okay, okay, at least in this one instance.) It’s just the business of baseball, and we’ve seen it more than most.
If you’re a Sox fan reading this, I promise, the hurt will fade over time. You’ll give Betts a standing ovation the next time he comes to town. You’ll still want to do well against the other 28 teams he’ll face, and you’ll never forget what he meant to your organization, but it will get better. You’ll find new exciting new players, you’ll make those moments again, and if you’re lucky, it won’t happen to them. We’ve lived that cycle, its not fun. Twins fans, be nice today. Jim Pohlad has turned out his pockets for now, but who knows when the next popular Twin will get too expensive, or decide to test the free agent market.