The regular season concluded on Sunday, and with it most of the league has nothing to look forward to until the offseason begins. One fan base who might be dreading the winter belongs to the Boston Red Sox, the same group who celebrated a World Series title less than a year ago. Now, the Red Sox are beginning a general manager search while their h J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts:
Can Sox afford Martinez and Betts? Kennedy: ‘There is a way ... but it will be difficult’— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) September 30, 2019
The Red Sox do intend to continue extension talks with Betts, who is entering his final season of team control, but let's be clear: it's not a great sign when one of the richest franchises in professional sports is essentially conceding they can't keep both of their best players because they want to reset a trifling luxury tax penalty.
As such, the question of where Betts will play in 2020 is (somehow) is one with an uncertain answer. We are nothing if not messy and speculative, so we decided to rank all 30 teams in order of perceived likelihood that they're the one who will be paying Betts next spring.
A few caveats before we get to the list: 1) obviously this is educated guesswork rather than labwork; and 2) we are including the Red Sox in this exercise, because we're not convinced Betts is a goner, or will be playing elsewhere at the beginning of next season.
With those guidelines noted, let's get to the fun.
Rebuilding teams without the end of the tunnel in sight
30. Kansas City Royals
29. Miami Marlins
28. Baltimore Orioles
27. Detroit Tigers
This is basically the the "deep rebuild" bloc. It wouldn't seem likely that any of them to pony up what would be required talent- and money-wise to acquire and keep Betts -- why, then they might have to justify the acquisition by continuing to pump resources into their team in an attempt to win as many games as they can, and nobody wants that. (We're being somewhat sarcastic here, but really, there's almost no chance Betts lands on these four teams.)
Rivals, not friends
26. New York Yankees
25. Toronto Blue Jays
24. Tampa Bay Rays
Next is the rest of the American League East. We have a hard time imagining the Red Sox trading with a division rival unless said rival did something silly -- the Rays including teen sensation Wander Franco; the Yankees parting with Gleyber Torres and Aaron Judge; or the Blue Jays saying "Here, take Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Nate Pearson." You get it.
Disappointing and unlikely
23. Pittsburgh Pirates
22. Colorado Rockies
21. Seattle Mariners
20. Los Angeles Angels
Here are four teams coming off poor seasons who have various motivations. The Pirates would like to not spend money; the Rockies do spend money when required, but are hard to pin down a lot of the time; the Mariners are in a rebuild and their owner would probably prefer to just see how the Jarred Kelenic-Julio Rodriguez era plays out rather than drop what it would take to keep Betts in the pacific northwest; and the Angels -- well, they have the financial means, but they're the rare team who has a potential All-Star caliber outfielder waiting in the wings, in Jo Adell. If the Angels are going to make a splash this winter, it's probably on Gerrit Cole.
Cash rules everything, even acquiring Mookie
19. New York Mets
18. Cincinnati Reds
17. Washington Nationals
16. Milwaukee Brewers
14. Oakland Athletics
This collection of teams could (and likely will) compete for a postseason berth next season. We're putting them around the middle because it's difficult to foresee them acquiring Betts for various reasons -- most of it money, but some of it based on their current teams (the Nationals, for example, have a quality starting outfield in place for next season already). Maybe Cleveland, Oakland, or Milwaukee would swing for the fences, or perhaps Cincinnati would see Betts as the finishing touch on its return to contention -- we just don't think it's all too likely.
Maybe, but probably not
13. Chicago Cubs
12. San Francisco Giants
11. Texas Rangers
10. Philadelphia Phillies
9. San Diego Padres
8. Minnesota Twins
More plausible contenders, but this time they're unlikely for other reasons. The Cubs and Giants are potentially embarking upon transitional periods -- with there being no telling what that'll look like for either side at this point. (To be fair, the Giants did seem sincere in their pursuit of Bryce Harper, so perhaps they'd be a more serious suitor for Betts than we realize.) The Padres should probably save digging into their warchest for that long sought after ace. The Phillies wouldn't seem to have the prospects to make a deal. The Rangers have a new ballpark opening, yet probably would prefer a third baseman. And the Twins -- well, does it seem likely they'd trade Byron Buxton (or whomever) for Betts? Nah.
Agents of chaos
7. Chicago White Sox
6. Arizona Diamondbacks
Here are our two agents of chaos leading into the top five. The White Sox know they need to make a leap, and cashing in some of their prospects to acquire a legitimate MVP candidate would be one way to do that. Would Jerry Reinsdorf, who didn't pony up for Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, be willing to cut the check for Betts? Probably not -- that's why they're here instead of in the top five. As for Arizona, it worked hard this year to rebuild its farm system and to clear payroll flexibility. Splurging on Betts would undo some of those efforts, but c'mon -- it's Mookie Betts, for cripes sake. The front office and coaching staff being familiar with Betts would seem like a plus. We think it's unlikely all the same, it does make for some fun daydreaming though.
Now, to the top five
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are loaded with talent, but how often does the opportunity arise to acquire an MVP-caliber player? Should Los Angeles fall short in its pursuit of a World Series title, perhaps Friedman would feel compelled to make a bold move -- swapping out some of his depth for Betts. (Probably not, though, given Friedman has historically preferred a discipline approach when it comes to team building.)
4. Houston Astros
Jeff Luhnow is nothing if not an opportunist. Hence a Houston rotation featuring Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke -- all big-name veterans acquired in trades. The Astros have significant cash coming off their books over the next two winters, and will need some outfield help anyway as George Springer, Josh Reddick, and Michael Brantley hit free agency. Nabbing then re-signing Betts would make a lot of sense.
3. St. Louis Cardinals
Ditto for the Cardinals, who have pulled off similar blockbusters in the past -- be it for Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds, or even Paul Goldschmidt last winter. St. Louis would have to part with some of the young talent on its big-league roster -- the package would likely include either Harrison Bader or Tyler O'Neill -- but that's okay when someone like Betts is coming back.
2. Atlanta Braves
The Braves have an outstanding young core and some more help on the way, in the form of outfield prospect Cristian Pache and various young arms. So why Betts? Because the Braves have the unenviable task of topping the Dodgers in the NL, and that necessitates making bold moves. The fact the Braves have Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies under contract for trifling sums means they could conceivably take on a huge salary and make it work. If Alex Anthopoulos and crew are open to the idea, then Betts is about as good as it gets.
1. Boston Red Sox
As previously mentioned, we're having a hard time accepting that the Red Sox will trade Betts. It just, frankly, doesn't make a ton of sense for them. Until it happens, we're going to assume Betts will open next season as part of Boston's roster.