Thanks to an agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association on coronavirus-related adjustments, Mookie Betts will be a free agent next winter, regardless of whether there is a 2020 baseball season.
In other words, it’s possible that Betts, who was traded from Boston to Los Angeles in a terribly cynical deal that had almost zero baseball justification, might never play a game for the Dodgers, while the Red Sox get a bigger bailout than Boeing.
Betts has had five seasons of six or more WAR through his age-26 campaign. The only players with more are Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Rickey Henderson, Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, and Tris Speaker, as well as future plaque model Mike Trout. While the 2018 American League MVP still has enough prime years left that losing the 2020 season wouldn’t figure to take him off the path to Cooperstown, the universe rewarding the Red Sox for dumping him feels like the cosmic opposite of eight decades of futility after selling off Babe Ruth amid another pandemic (that also was unrelated to a historically stupid baseball move).
There’s nothing anyone can do about it, but the Dodgers made an admirable deal to trade Jeter Downs, Alex Verdugo, and Connor Wong for Betts and David Price. They were trying, earnestly, to win their first World Series since 1988 after coming oh, so close against a bunch of cheaters in 2017 and, let’s be honest, 2018.
One consolation for the Dodgers is that even if this season doesn’t get played, they are one of a very small group of teams that will still be able to afford Betts. They’re also one of a very small group of teams that could offer him, as a free agent, a pretty much annual chance to win a title. Another silver lining for L.A. is that Price should be primed for a resurgence after leaving a division where he constantly faces a Yankees team that bludgeoned him, and arriving at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers still should be a good team for years to come regardless if Betts ever suits up for them outside of Cactus League action. And every trade for a star player going into his last year before free agency comes with significant health risk. It’s just that, usually, the risk is that some unfortunate fate befalls the player in that season, not the entire population of Earth.
The potential for the Red Sox coming out of this with a sense of being justified in further lining John Henry’s pockets rather than fielding the best possible team is a gross concept to consider, and just one more reason to hope that somehow, at some point, it is safe enough for a 2020 MLB season to happen.