The season is barely over and the stove is HOT. Heck, the season isn’t even over for everyone. The playoffs BEGIN tonight. But on Monday, the day after the regular season ended, there were a few storylines of note and if you squint and try to connect the dots, they could lead to the Cincinnati Reds landing Mookie Betts. Hear me out.
The big story of the day on Monday was that the Boston Red Sox were planning on cutting payroll, and doing so significantly. Now, as insane as it is that they of all teams are looking to trim payroll, that’s their plan. And that means that they are going to be moving some very good players. One of those players could possibly be outfielder Mookie Betts, who made $20M in arbitration in 2019 and will be eligible for one final year of arbitration in 2020 before entering free agency.
That last sentence is why the Red Sox would consider moving him. He’s going to make a hefty salary (that he will absolutely be worth), and he’s only got one year remaining until free agency. He may not be the only player they look to move. And he may not even be among the players that they look to move – but it makes sense that they could at least explore those options.
For the Reds, well Jon Heyman said late last night that Cincinnati was going to be in the market for a center fielder.
Mets and Reds this winter will both be in the market for a CF
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) October 1, 2019
The asking price for a guy like Mookie Betts should and will be high. In 2018 he was the American League MVP. During the 2016 season he finished second in the MVP voting. This season he isn’t going to be quite that high, but he hit .295/.391/.524 with 16 steals, 97 walks, 101 strikeouts, and he posted 6.6 WAR – good for 9th in the Major Leagues.
Dating back to the 2015 season only one player has been better than Mookie Betts. Mike Trout. That’s it. And frankly, no one is close to Betts besides him. His 35.4 WAR easily outpaces that by a group of six players who are in the 27-28 WAR range between 3rd to 8th place on the list.
For the Red Sox, Mookie Betts has mostly played in the corner. But he’s spent time in center during his career, and he’s even been there at times in the last few years, too. He’s still got above-average to plus speed and moving back to center should be no issue at all. For the Reds it would clearly be no issue – this is the same team that felt it was fine to put Jesse Winker in center field.
What about Nick Senzel?
Surely you knew the question had to be asked about Nick Senzel if the Reds are going to be in the market for a center fielder, right? It’s a valid question. In his first year as a center fielder in 2019 he held his own. When he was healthy he started nearly every day in center for the Reds. But his season ended early because he wasn’t healthy. He injured his shoulder and had to have surgery to repair a labrum tear in September.
If the Reds can’t find a center fielder in the offseason, then as long as he’s healthy, Nick Senzel can return to the position. But that’s one of the things that makes him so valuable – he can play just about anywhere. He came up at third base in the minors before switching to second base in his final season at the Triple-A level. If needed, he could move to either corner spot in the outfield. There are many options for where he could play and that allows the Reds to explore all kinds of options on the market to try and improve their team.
What would it take to land Mookie Betts?
The price tag for Mookie Betts won’t be cheap. Even with the Red Sox looking to shed payroll, he’s among the best players on the planet. Even with just one season before free agency, he’s an absolute difference maker. Teams will be making offers to bring him in. Players like him don’t just become available.
The Reds have gone through plenty of prospects via trades in the last year. Taylor Trammell, Shed Long, Josiah Gray, Jeter Downs – all gone. The farm system isn’t as loaded as it was a year ago. But the farm system isn’t bare, either. The depth isn’t quite there, but at the top there’s still plenty of value. Every team in baseball would love to acquire Hunter Greene, even if he’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery. 2018 and 2019 1st round picks Nick Lodolo and Jonathan India are Top 100 prospects. 2015 1st round pick Tyler Stephenson should be ready to step up to Triple-A to begin next year and is a Top 100 prospect. Jose Garcia may be the highest riser of the system from 2019.
The Reds may not have that Top 15 or Top 25 prospect that some other teams do. But they’ve got more than a few guys that are well regarded to work with. And that is only if we assume that the Red Sox are interested in just prospects. Perhaps the Reds could send over some Major League value on top of a prospect or two? The Reds bullpen certainly has more than a few guys that are quite valuable who could potentially draw some interest.
One thing is for sure: Whatever the price is, it’s not going to be small. It would be painful for the Cincinnati front office to make the call on the right offer. But they’ve probably got the pieces to get the deal done if they are willing to truly “go for it” and pay the price.
Bob Castellini isn’t getting any younger. And Trevor Bauer wasn’t acquired just to compete for 83 wins in 2020. The Reds seem to be making moves to compete now. It didn’t quite work out as they had hoped in 2019 for different reasons. But that didn’t stop them from making a move at the deadline for 2020, either. The plan to go for it next season still seems to be there. Landing a Mookie Betts caliber player would drastically tip the scales towards competing. Are the Reds willing to pay the price to do it – both in terms of acquisition cost and in expanding the payroll? We’ll find out.