Mookie Betts’ mega-deal with Dodgers guts Red Sox faithful: ‘He’s never coming back’
Mookie Betts’ name is shouted with wide smiles in Los Angeles these days, a superstar transplant of hopeful renown who has conjured promise in the present and optimism for the future.
In Boston, the departed son is spoken of through gritted teeth, his recollections now only a reminder of dashed desires and broken dreams.
So deep is the wound this winter’s trade between the Dodgers and Red Sox left in the heart of New England, pain felt anew when Betts signed a 12-year extension on Wednesday to stay in L.A. for what feels like forever.
“When he was first traded, there was a lot of anger,” said Julian McWilliams, who covers the Red Sox for the Boston Globe. “Yesterday … it put some finality to it. He’s never coming back here.”
Months after Betts’ departure, many Red Sox fans, who for the first time will see someone else in his right field spot during the team’s season opener Friday, are still in disbelief the former MVP is actually gone.
“Mookie is a once-in-a-generation baseball talent,” Boston Herald columnist and noted Red Sox fan Bill Speros, whose “Obnoxious Boston Fan” Twitter account boasts more than 15,000 followers, said via email. “The Red Sox made a once-in-a-generation mistake in trading him and in failing to lock him down long term when they had the opportunity.”
The Dodgers placed Clayton Kershaw, their opening day starter, on the injured list with back stiffness hours before taking the field. Rookie Dustin May will start.
There was no masking the motives behind the decision. Sixteen months after defeating the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series, Boston sent them its most valuable asset — and its newest local hero — in a conspicuous cash-saving move, which also included pitcher David Price, that helped the club get its bloated payroll below MLB’s luxury-tax threshold.
Red Sox President and Chief Executive Sam Kennedy told reporters Thursday he felt “disappointment” but also “closure” after seeing Betts agree to his Dodgers extension. “It’s obviously hard to see Mookie Betts sign a long-term deal somewhere else,” Kennedy added. “We wish him well and we now move on as a group.”
Boston fans aren’t nearly as placid.
“I am Carlton Fisk-left-Boston-because-they-mailed-his-contract-late pissed,” Speros said, referencing one of the many infamous personnel mishaps that littered the franchise’s history before their four World Series titles this century.
Added McWilliams: “There’s going to be this constant bitterness. Boston fans are relentless.”
The new Dodgers owners said in 2012 they’d rebuild quickly, replenish the farm system, build a sustainable winner, and invest in the right player. They are 4 for 4.
Adding to the frustration is that Betts, didn’t even reach free agency. Instead his $365-million extension was more lucrative, but not drastically so, than the reportedly $300 million Red Sox offer Betts rejected following the 2018 World Series victory.
Draped in Dodgers blue during the extension announcement Wednesday, Betts didn’t deny the possibility that he might still be in Boston if the Red Sox offered him something closer to what the Dodgers did.
“I think that’s a valid question,” Betts said before reiterating his excitement to be in Los Angeles for potentially “the rest of my career.”
Speros and McWilliams have seen some Red Sox fans try to talk themselves out of regret, making hollow claims that the team will be better in the long-run for saving the money, or that Betts never truly wanted to remain in Boston anyway.
Yet, local interest in the outfielder has remained so significant that McWilliams traveled to Betts’ introductory news conference in Los Angeles following the February trade, spent time early in spring training at the Dodgers’ facility in Arizona and has been wrapped up this week evaluating Red Sox Nation’s reaction to Betts’ new deal.
“It’s not like they traded him to the Minnesota Twins where he was definitely going to be a rental for a year,” McWilliams said. “They traded him to the Dodgers, another historical team with such a rich history. [Red Sox fans are] going to have to see this guy excel for all these years to come.”
Speros put things more bluntly.
“The ‘luxury-tax’ excuse,” he said, “will torment the Red Sox for decades.”
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