For the second-straight winter, they face the proposition of one of their key bats hitting free agency in Anthony Rendon. Though the Nationals would love to bring him back, it’s never that simple with free agents, let alone ones with Scott Boras as their agent.
If Rendon departs, the Nats would need to find another fearsome bat from somewhere or risk having a lineup that won’t have enough firepower to get back into the playoffs in 2020.
Though the free agent options are limited, there are plenty of superstar names being mentioned as potential trade candidates. Francisco Lindor and Kris Bryant have both been mentioned frequently, but perhaps the most enticing of all is Mookie Betts.
For many, it doesn’t need to be said just how dynamic a player Betts is, but let’s have a refresher.
With the bat, he sports an impressive .301/.374/.519 career slash line to go with 139 home runs and 126 stolen bases in just 794 games. In the field, he’s a four-time Gold Glove winner with a 10.5 career dWAR, according to Baseball-Reference.
You could make a serious argument that Betts might be the best player in baseball not named Mike Trout. Since his debut in 2014, Betts is second in baseball in WAR at 37.2 behind only Trout’s quite frankly ridiculous 52.5, according to FanGraphs.
The 2018 American League MVP is already a fixture in the rumor cycle this offseason, but it’s fair to wonder why the Boston Red Sox might consider trading one of the best players in the game.
“No one wants to trade their franchise player, however, when your former President of baseball operations (Dave Dombrowski) backs you into a financial corner this is the type of move that has to be considered.
“Nearly $80 million is tied up in the contracts of David Price, Chris Sale, and Nathan Eovaldi, none of which we can confidently say will be healthy and good in 2020.
“As a result, the Red Sox are expected to be about $19 million above the first Luxury Tax threshold and they still need a first baseman, a second baseman, a fifth starter, and bullpen help.”
According to MLBTradeRumors, Betts is due to make $27.7 million in his final year of arbitration in 2020, so a trade would likely help get them under the luxury tax threshold.
It’s not just the financial implication for 2020 that may lead to the Red Sox trading Betts. There’s also the fact that inking him to an extension gets more unlikely by the day...
“The other thing complicating this for the Red Sox is substantive rumors circulating that Mookie Betts does not want to be here long-term. He has been open with the team about not being willing to explore an extension, leaving the team with little choice but to explore the market and see what he’s worth.”
As tough as it is to swallow trading a legitimate star in Betts, given their adamance to try and get under the luxury tax threshold, as well as the fact the Red Sox roster needs plenty of work for them to vault themselves back into contention, it might make sense to pull the trigger.
So, if the Red Sox are indeed going to try to move Betts, what might it take? Jake weighed in again on this, with his view of what Boston will likely look for in a Betts trade...
“Cost-controlled big leaguers or prospects. The bottom line is that it might not cost you as much as you’d think.
“Everyone keeps going back to the Paul Goldschmidt deal to get an idea about what kind of package he could fetch. Mookie is better than Goldy, but he also costs more and comes with only one year of control. There are a few avenues I think they could explore:
“1 - Trading Mookie and attaching a pitcher whose contract they want to get out of to him, e.g. David Price. This would lessen the prospect package going back, but that could be palatable due to the financial freedom it would open up.
“2 - Trading Mookie to a team he’d be willing to work out an extension with. A place like Atlanta might be one he’d be willing to explore signing an extension with. If this is the case a combo of cost-controlled major leaguers and prospects could be on the way back.
“3 - Lastly and probably most likely they could trade him to a team trying to go all in this year and get back a package of mid to high-level prospects likely in the upper minors.”
Though the first option is possible if Stephen Strasburg leaves, the Nats would definitely be wary of taking on the contracts of either David Price, Chris Sale, or Nathan Eovaldi. All of them have underperformed since signing their respective deals, leaving too much risk.
Option two would be dependent on Betts wanting to negotiate a long-term contract with the Nationals. Whether that would appeal to him is impossible to know from the outside, but given his reluctance to sign a deal with the Red Sox, it’s not something that can be counted on.
That leaves option three. This doesn’t preclude some sort of extension being agreed to at any point, or him returning in free agency, but it’s the most likely avenue for a deal to happen.
We asked Jake what a package for Betts might look like and this is what we came up with...
Mookie Betts for Adam Eaton, Luis Garcia, Wil Crowe, and Jackson Rutledge
Obviously, if Betts were to come to D.C. then it would bump Adam Eaton out of a starting spot in right field. That made him an obvious, low-cost candidate to go to the Red Sox in this trade to plug that gap for them at nearly $20 million less than Betts will cost.
The centerpiece of the deal prospect-wise is Luis Garcia. The 19-year-old infielder cracked several Top 100 lists last season with an above-average hit-tool, glove, and arm, which helped him get to Double-A where he was the youngest qualified hitter at that level.
Though he might not have an impact at the major league level until 2021 at the earliest, with Dustin Pedroia nearing retirement, the Red Sox are eager for a long-term solution at second base. Garcia would definitely fit that mold.
The trade package is then rounded out with two of the Nationals’ top pitching prospects.
Rutledge was the most recent first-round pick for the Nats, taken 17th overall in the 2019 draft. Though giving him up would be a tough one to swallow given his impressive upside, he would provide a high-end pitching talent the Red Sox system desperately craves.
On the other hand, while Crowe may not quite have the same upside as Rutledge, he should make his big league debut in 2020. That profile would definitely appeal to a team that’s trying to sort out the back of their rotation behind their highly-paid starters.
Crowe and Rutledge would instantly become the best two pitchers in Boston’s system and both would have the chance to be in the big league rotation within a couple of seasons.
It’s noteworthy that Carter Kieboom may not be needed in this deal. He’s seen as a big part of the team’s imminent future, perhaps taking over as the everyday second or third baseman in 2020.
If, in reality, the Red Sox do ask for Kieboom, then that may end the conversation given how Betts could easily just be a rental. But if they don’t, then the Nats should certainly listen.
The argument against this is that it is a lot to give up for just one year of Betts, no matter how great that year could be. It would also be an all-in-type move for 2020, when there’s plenty of young talent on the team that could allow the Nationals to compete long time.
However, unless offensive upgrades are made at a few positions on the diamond, it would seem unlikely that the Nats would be able to boast a lineup deep enough to compete again.
Trading for Betts would be a huge splash for the Nationals and a great way to give their lineup a jolt should Rendon end up wearing a different uniform for the first time in his career.
When a former MVP is being dangled out there, it’s almost impossible not to sniff around.