Red Sox didn’t have to trade Mookie Betts

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2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts is no longer a member of the Boston Red Sox. The club reportedly agreed tonight to send him and David Price to the Dodgers as part of a three-team trade that also included the Twins.

Betts spent six glorious seasons in Boston, becoming one of the best outfielders in the game. Between 2014-19, he hit .301/.374/.519 with 229 doubles, 139 home runs, 470 RBI, 613 runs scored, and 126 stolen bases. He won four Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, the aforementioned MVP Award, and helped the Red Sox win the 2018 World Series.

The Red Sox disappointed in 2019, however, finishing in third place in the AL East with an 84-78 record. The club fired president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski — who helped build the championship-winning club — in September, signaling a change of course for the organization. Once concerned with packing the roster chock full of talented stars, the Red Sox became concerned with self-imposed austerity.

According to Cot’s Contracts, the Red Sox exceeded the competitive balance tax threshold in both 2018 and ’19, and were in danger of doing so again this year. A team exceeding the CBT pays a 20 percent tax on the overage. A team exceeding it in a second consecutive year faces a 30 percent tax and a third consecutive year results in a 50 percent tax. If a team exceeds the CBT by $20 to $40 million, they face an additional 12 percent surtax. Above $40 million results in a 42.5 percent rate if it has happened for the first time and 45 percent if it happens in a consecutive year. Only teams that exceed the CBT threshold by $40 million lose Rule 4 draft picks.

The Red Sox, per Cot’s, stood at about $228 million. The CBT threshold this year is $208 million, which means the Red Sox exceeded by about $20 million. The Red Sox were looking at a 50 percent tax on that $20 million overage ($10 million) plus the 12 percent surtax ($2.4 million). That’s a $12.4 million penalty. If the club really wanted to avoid that surtax, they could’ve done nothing and just not signed, say, José Peraza (one year, $2.85 million). Instead, the club slammed shut its window of contention by trading two of its best players. The club cleared Betts’ $27 million salary for 2020 as well as Price, whose salary as it pertains to the CBT (average annual value) is $25.6 million through 2024. The Red Sox payroll is now below $180 million.

According to Forbes, the Red Sox are valued at $3.2 billion. The franchise has increased in value every year since 2010 and its operating income these last three years were its highest in the decade. The Red Sox ranked in the top 10 in attendance every year in the 2010’s. This is not a ballclub struggling to make ends meet.

Red Sox fans now have to deal with losing their star player and a decent starting pitcher. Hopefully the return was worth it! Actually, the Red Sox only got outfielder Alex Verdugo and reliever Brusdar Graterol. That’s it. In rumors leading up to tonight’s trade, some combination of the Dodgers’ top prospects like Gavin Lux (MLB Pipeline No. 1 in Dodgers’ system), Dustin May (No. 2), and Jeter Downs (No. 5) were expected to be involved. The Red Sox got none of them. This is not to say that Verdugo and Graterol aren’t good, but the return is light if you’re a Red Sox fan. The return is great if you’re concerned with balancing the Red Sox ledger, since the Dodgers agreed to take on a hefty portion of Price’s remaining salary.

And there lies the disconnect, emblematic of this era of austerity baseball. The fan experience has taken a back seat because that stream of revenue (tickets, concessions, et. al.) no longer holds as much importance for many MLB teams. Teams used to be motivated to build perennial contenders to attract fans to the ballpark. Instead, with TV deals, revenue sharing, and ancillary business ventures, front offices are free to do the bare minimum to maximize profits.

The Red Sox disappointed last year because many of their players regressed towards the mean (including Betts), but they were still good enough to win 84 games. A modest regression in the other direction plus an upgrade or two via free agency has them right back in the thick of things with the Yankees and Rays in the AL East. Instead, the Red Sox seem content with a sub-.500 season.

Betts, of course, was going to test free agency after the season anyway, so the Red Sox got what they could while they could. He and the Red Sox briefly discussed a contract extension, with the club reportedly offering a 10-year, $300 million contract extension. Betts turned it down. Considering that Bryce Harper fetched 13 years and $330 million from the Phillies and Manny Machado signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres, as well as the fact that Betts would be hitting free agency two years later, it makes sense that he would turn down the offer. Mike Trout would later ink a 12-year, $426.5 million contract extension with the Angels, resetting the standard for elite outfielders. Additionally, starter Gerrit Cole signed a nine-year, $324 million deal with the Yankees. The offer was large enough to be considered a legitimate offer, but low enough for the Red Sox to know Betts would turn it down. There was never any intention for the Red Sox to retain Betts, and that’s a real shame for Red Sox fans and for the sport at large.

Astros owner Jim Crane says MLB ‘explicitly exonerated’ him

Jim Crane
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Even during a pandemic, the Astros can’t seem to avoid putting their foot in their mouth. Per The Athletic’s Daniel Kaplan, Astros owner Jim Crane claimed in a legal filing on Monday that Major League Baseball “explicitly exonerated” him in the club’s 2017 sign-stealing scandal that resulted in a now-tainted championship.

Crane is named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by former pitcher Mike Bolsinger, whose last appearance in the majors was on August 4, 2017 against the Astros. He faced eight batters, allowing four runs on four hits and three walks in one-third of an inning. Bolsinger accused the Astros of unfair business practices, negligence, and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations arising out of the sign-stealing scandal. Bolsinger is seeking damages for himself as well as for the Astros to forfeit the nearly $31 million in bonuses earned from winning the championship in 2017, asking for the money to be reallocated to children’s charities and retired players in need of financial assistance.

Commissioner Rob Manfred did not use the word “exonerated” in his report on the league’s investigation into the Astros’ cheating scheme. Manfred did, however, write, “At the outset, I also can say our investigation revealed absolutely no evidence that Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, was aware of any of the conduct described in this report. Crane is extraordinarily troubled and upset by the conduct of members of his organization, fully supported my investigation, and provided unfettered access to any and all information requested.”

Saying that the league found “no evidence” that Crane was involved and patting Crane on the back for not obstructing the investigation is not the same was “explicitly exonerating” him. The Athletic asked MLB if it agreed with Crane’s characterization of the report. Rather than agreeing with Crane, the league simply said, “All of our comments about the investigation are included in the report.”

This isn’t the first legal filing in which the Astros made a questionable claim. Recently, Astros lawyers claimed the organization expressed “sincere apologies and remorse for the events described in the report by the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.”

In Monday’s filing, Astros lawyers swung at Bolsinger, citing his poor pitching performance overall in 2017. They wrote, “Plaintiff wants to have a California judge and jury literally call ball and strikes, and award him money damages based on rank conjecture about what might have happened to him in Houston on August 4, 2017 due to alleged rules violations he speculates may have occurred that day.”

Astros lawyers also questioned the frequency of the club’s cheating and its impact, writing, “Major League Baseball (‘MLB’) investigated alleged rule violations by the Astros related to sign-stealing, resulting in a January 13, 2020 report in which the Commissioner of Baseball expressly found that ‘it is impossible to determine whether the (Astros’) conduct actually impacted the results on the field. The MLB did not conclude that sign-stealing violations occurred in every game or even most at-bats in the 2017 season.”

Astros fan Tony Adams, who analyzed every home game during the 2017 regular season and posted the results on SignStealingScandal.com, found that there were 54 “bangs” on August 4 when Bolsinger pitched against the Astros. That was the highest total among all Astros home games that season. Bolsinger entered in the middle of the fourth inning, first facing Yuli Gurriel. Adams found three bangs — all on curve balls — in a plate appearance that ended in a walk. Adams found four more bangs — all on breaking balls — in a Brian McCann at-bat later that inning that also ended in a walk. Bolsinger then gave up a single to Tyler White, with trash can banging on a cut fastball and a curve. The next batter, Jake Marisnick, singled as well, hearing bangs on a cutter and a curve. Bolsinger finally got out of the inning when Bregman swung at a first-pitch curve (yes, there was a trash can bang for that) and flied out.

Importantly, Bolsinger’s lawyer notes that Crane’s motion makes MLB eligible for discovery. It is already eligible for discovery in New York federal court where the league is a defendant in a lawsuit brought by daily fantasy sports contestants. Bolsinger’s lawsuit is brought out of California state court. The Astros want Bolsinger’s lawsuit dismissed or at least moved to Texas.

Because the Astros can’t seem to stop making headlines for all the wrong reasons, this whole situation figures to get even more wild as time goes on. Due to discovery, we may end up learning even more about the Astros’ cheating ways than the league may have let on in their report on their investigation.