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Betts' Fenway Return Amidst NL MVP Push Is Yet Another Reminder of John Henry's Greatest Failure

It's a good time to be Markus Lynn Betts right about now. On the heels of being selected to his seventh All-Star Game, he's also well on track to getting All-MLB First-Team honors for the third time in four seasons. More so than that, Betts is in the middle of one of the more highly contested MVP battles in recent years out in the National League. Simply an excellent backdrop for his first games back at Fenway Park since September of 2019.

Rewinding to that season, the Red Sox settled on a $20,000,000 salary after nickel and diming Betts the previous two seasons. He was two seasons away from hitting the open market, and on March 20, he went on the record saying he expected nothing to happen until the 2020 offseason. Quite the odd situation since he was coming off an MVP season featuring 180 hits, 32 Home Runs, and an OPS over 1.000, but the Red Sox, specifically John Henry, and by extension Tom Warner and Sam Kennedy, had zero interest in paying him.

Betts had been, and continues to this day, being on the record saying he would have stayed in Boston had the Red Sox paid him fair market value. The Red Sox and their various propaganda arms, most notably the Boston Globe and NESN/WEEI, insist to this day that Betts was being unreasonable in negotiations. Specifically, a report that he was asking for a 12-year deal worth over $400,000,000. Betts in a recent interview with the Henry-owned newspaper, ironically enough, denied that the Red Sox ever came to hitting $300,000,000, as was initially reported by Lou Merloni. I tend not to side with the group that smeared Terry Francona on the way out personally.

Then, sure enough, the Red Sox brought in Chaim Bloom to run the ship and to facilitate a Betts trade, and the rest is history that has aged as badly as you would expect. Now, with Betts in the middle of a 1200-plus game career opening stretch that supersedes that of Barry Bonds, the 2018 AL MVP's homecoming serves as yet another reminder that this was a horrible trade that John Henry, not Bloom, should never be able to live down.

The Art of the Deal

One thing that is fair to note, Bloom was never going to get a fair return for reasons both in and out of his control. Trying to pawn off David Price's contract certainly didn't help things, but it's hard to get market value when the entire sport knew the Red Sox weren't paying Betts for months by then. It's also worth noting that the final deal wasn't the original agreement either. They were originally slated to get then Minnesota Twins No. 3 prospect Brusdar Graterol, but they weren't keen on a past UCL tear and shoulder issue. Welp, this year, the 24-year-old flamethrower has been money for the Dodgers. As a setup man, he's allowed just four earned runs since the beginning of June. I wouldn't say that decision has aged well, even with the Red Sox's bullpen in a relatively good spot.

Now onto the final return, Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong, who at the end of 2019 were the Dodgers' No. 1, 8, and 14 prospects, respectively. Downs only played 14 games for Boston at the Major League level before he was DFA'd. Wong has been fine this year, but more on him and the catcher position momentarily. Then there's Verdugo, who has been good for his tenure in Boston, but not without some notable bumps in the road, including a recent benching.

Circling back to Wong and Downs now, this has especially aged bad when you look at who was just two spots ahead of Downs on the Dodgers prospect list; Will Smith, who just got selected to his first All-Star Game this year, is tied for the third best WAR among catchers in all of baseball, and has a nearly perfect fielding percentage with just two errors to his name. It's hard to say if Smith's name was ever on the table, but in hindsight, you'd clearly go him over Wong, and if you end up getting a worse third prospect, then so be it.

If I were to ask any non-Red Sox or Dodgers fan if you rather have those three players or Betts, 100% of the picks would be the latter. Again, Bloom wasn't getting the maximum return, but that's simply a fact. They lost this trade and lost it badly. John Henry could not have put Chaim Bloom in a worse spot to kick things off in Boston. No matter who Fenway Sports Group hired, this trade would have happened.

Historic Pace

With Betts just around 1230 Major League games into his career, the folks over at the MLB Network wanted to show just how good Betts' career is kicking off in the grand scheme. What better way than by comparing him to one Barry Lamar Bonds over the same number of games he began his career on?

(TLDR; I don't care about Bonds and the roids. If they cared about the integrity of the game, Bud Selig wouldn't have turned a blind eye for the entire Steroid Era and would have been kicked out of the Hall of Fame by now. All the steroid guys should be in. Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.)

Furthermore, Betts is set to lead all position players in WAR outright for the third time in his career, a feat Bonds wouldn't achieve until 2001 (Bonds tied with Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997). Not to mention that Betts' career defensive WAR, not even a decade in, is better than Bonds' 13 best dWAR seasons put together, or Griffey's 12 best dWAR seasons (everything after is a negative rating for both). Also, by this time in both of the careers of the former, Griffey had nine Gold Gloves and six Silver Sluggers, while Bonds had five a piece. Betts, meanwhile, could end this year with seven Gold Gloves and six Silver Sluggers. I cannot stress enough that John Henry did not want to pay this man fair rate.

Turning Point

For many in Boston and the greater New England area, the Betts trade was the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of team interest locally. How the team handled Xander Bogaerts in his final year was also bad but the damage had been done. This is also despite an ALCS appearance after Betts had won a World Series in LA. The Red Sox were one of just six teams with decreased overall attendance as of early July. If that holds, it would mean declining ticket sales for the second year straight.

Despite being the only show in town during the peak of COVID-19 in 2020, local TV ratings on NESN ended up decreasing by over 50% in the immediate aftermath of the Betts trade and still a ways off from their 2019 number in 2021 despite being two games from a World Series birth. Was not able to find the TV numbers from 2022 or this year, but you'd have to imagine they aren't strong compared to the Bruins or Celtics, let alone the Patriots. Not only do the Red Sox no longer feel like a priority for Boston sports fans, but they're the clear-cut No. 4 team of the big four to a degree I haven't seen in my lifetime. All this stems back to John Henry not giving Betts, a guy universally beloved by Red Sox fans, the bag he rightfully deserved.

The point here is this, Henry refusing to pay a guy who is going to moonwalk into Cooperstown when he's on the ballot for the first time told Red Sox fans everything they needed to know, he is no longer committed to winning baseball games. Liverpool became his shiny new toy for a few years. Now it's probably the Pittsburgh Penguins, which he bought for over double the amount the Red Sox could have paid Betts. Then, down the line, it'll probably be the long-speculated NBA team that Fenway Sports Group partner LeBron James wants to help run when he decides to hang it up.

Even this year, Henry has been MIA in Boston for the most part after he was booed out of the building at the team's Winter Weekend event last year and at the NHL Winter Classic at Fenway (which he then later decided to lie on the record saying he was not booed, but given a standing ovation) when it sounded like the Sox were trying to cheap out on Rafael Devers. Conveniently enough, that mega extension was agreed to not even a full 48 hours after the Winter Classic. It's really funny how that worked out.

John Henry has an Estimated Net Worth of $4,000,000,000 for those keeping track

If you're going to Fenway this weekend, give Betts a good hand. He was only here for six seasons but was worth his weight in gold for the majority of that time, and wanted to stay here from opening to closing. Great player, and an even better person. It's genuinely criminal that his entire career isn't in a Red Sox uniform. But at least the billionaires running the show got to save a few bucks to jack up ticket prices for a fourth-place team again.

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