St. Louis Cardinals: Could this Mookie Betts trade actually work?
By Matt Graves
While the St. Louis Cardinals look at potential impact trades this winter, ESPN guessed at what a package for Mookie Betts would look like. Is the trade realistic? Should the team do it?
In the last two offseasons, the St. Louis Cardinals acquired sluggers to fill the middle of the lineup. Marcell Ozuna in 2018, Paul Goldschmidt in 2019. We have to give props to John Mozeliak for acquiring these two, EVEN THOUGH neither have been quite what they were advertised as in their time in St. Louis.
Goldschmidt obviously has a few years to give the Cardinals the production he was acquired for, but Ozuna was at least a little bit of a flop. Now with Ozuna more than likely gone, will John Mozeliak make it three years in a row with a huge acquisition?
On Wednesday morning, David Schoenfield, a senior writer at ESPN, wrote about one blockbuster for each team this winter and the Cardinals trade was especially intriguing.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you should know the name Mookie Betts. The Boston Red Sox right fielder is just 26 years old and is a four-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner and one-time MVP winner.
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Betts has no history of injury, and since he has been a regular in 2015, he’s been among the best players in the American League. For as good as Paul Goldschmidt had been when the Cardinals acquired him last winter, Betts has been even better.
Betts hits for average, he steals bases, he hits for power, he walks, and he is the best defensive right fielder in the AL. Betts is the epitome of a five-tool player and he is just entering his prime. The only problem is that he is under contract for just one more year.
The trade that Schoenfield suggested was as follows:
At first glance, this trade looks a little light on the Cardinals’ end, so the easy answer is a resounding yes. The poll has agreed so far, but what would the Cardinals really be giving up?
Tommy Edman had an amazing year, but it was just that; one year. In his entire minor league career, Edman didn’t slug even close to what he did in about half of a season with the Cardinals this year. I love Edman just like everyone else, but there are questions there and you aren’t getting the best right fielder in the AL for nothing.
Randy Arozarena has plenty of potential, but with Betts coming back to the Cardinals, letting go of one of the team’s 1499589438 outfield prospects (especially not the most valuable one) would be fine.
Jose Martinez had a down year in 2019 and while his defense has improved, he’s still a DH at heart.
Brett Cecil is a bad contract and losing him will hurt nobody.
Nathan Eovaldi in return with Betts shows what the Red Sox main goal is in moving Mookie Betts: cut salary.
As a team that has been over the luxury tax threshold for a while, the Red Sox have said they want to change that in 2020. Mookie Betts is going to make around $27M in arbitration this year and Nathan Eovaldi is making $17M a year for the next three years.
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Eovaldi is being paid like Miles Mikolas but in 2019, he didn’t pitch like him. Likely a candidate for starting pitching depth or a bullpen role, Eovaldi had a 5.99 ERA in 2019 spending about half his time as a starter. Eovaldi was amazing during the Red Sox World Series run in 2018 and was rewarded with his current contract, but it looks like bad money after 2019.
Eovaldi is not valuable, but taking on his contract lowers the price of Betts, so it’s necessary.
Betts as a rental is really the biggest reason why I think fans wouldn’t want to make this trade, but at the end of the day, it’s Mookie freaking Betts. He immediately would come in and raise the level of the lineup around him and be the perfect partner for Paul Goldschmidt.
The biggest realistic obstacle to making this trade is something that’s been chronicled a lot this offseason by myself. The Cardinals’ payroll situation.
If this trade was made, the Cardinals would be giving up about $10.5M in contracts but taking on about $43M. Add that to their current $152.6M payroll and at puts the team’s payroll right around $200M. This deal would get the Red Sox under the luxury tax threshold but would take a big signoff from the DeWitt family on that $200M check.
Given that the team has said they want to keep payroll around the $157.5M payroll they had in 2019, a $40M jump is a big ask. Getting Mookie Betts would be huge, but I am not sure if the owners would swallow all that cash.
Again, Mookie Betts immediately puts the Cardinals’ offense on a level they haven’t been at since they had Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, but it’s not going to come cheap. I like the deal that Schoenfield came up with, it just may be hard to actually make happen.
The rental problem could be fixed if the Cardinals signed Betts long term, but I think those are financial waters the team may not be ready to dip their toes into. The Cardinals already have a top-10 payroll in the MLB and fans love to complain that they don’t spend any money, but that’s competitive and I understand why they don’t want to raise that.
Raising payroll even $10M is a big step by itself, let alone $40M. I don’t think it’ll happen as much as we all want it to.
If this deal were to happen, the bench and outfield roster clog would be helped for sure. Betts can play left field too and he would give the team flexibility with how to play the outfield. This would also be a big bet on Matt Carpenter bouncing back as, without Edman in the picture, Carp is the only MLB third baseman the team would have.
It’s fun to dream, and there are certainly other packages that could work, but this trade is a win-win for the Red Sox and the Cardinals, even if the financials would be strained on the Cardinals side. If you think giving up Tommy Edman is too much, please go watch some of Mookie Betts’ highlights and reconsider. Be happy the Cardinals could acquire the best right fielder in the league without giving up either of their top two prospects.