The massive deal sending Mookie Betts to the Dodgers isn’t quite official yet, held up by potential injury concerns about one of the players involved, but it has already caused quite a bit of punditry.
One of those pundits is Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal, and his take is one that could make baseball executives take pause.
Since the WSJ is behind a paywall, I’ll summarize. Gay looks at the deal from the perspective of a friend’s seven-year-old son:
A friend texted on Wednesday morning:
Do you understand the Mookie Betts trade? Trying to explain it to Gavin. Worried he might start drinking.
Some context here: Gavin is a new baseball fan. He’s seven years old.
But Gavin’s not alone in his bafflement—and his drinking, which is hopefully contained to organic juice boxes—over what the Boston Red Sox are doing here, trading a generational superstar in the prime of his career for…well, let’s just say the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers for something aggressively less than that.
The seven-year-olds of the world are the people baseball ought to be courting. They are wide-eyed and like to think of their favorite baseball players as heroes.
Maybe that’s too simple a way to view baseball players in the year 2020, but I still think Major League Baseball must be cognizant of this. The Red Sox, in engineering this deal for the specific purpose of getting under the first luxury tax level, have sent out the message that they care more about profit than winning. The Cubs haven’t been as explicit in stating their desire to get under the $208 million level as Red Sox owner John Henry was in the link above, but their actions this offseason have indicated they’re on the same track the Red Sox are.
Jason Gay sums up the effects of the Betts trade:
Businesses make hard decisions all the time, and more than anything else, sports is a business.
But baseball needs to be careful here. Baseball—and every sport in this situation—needs to think about the Gavins out there, bewildered as their parents talk about free agency, the hazard of long-term deals and the luxury tax threshold. Because that’s not what a kid sees. A kid (or really, anyone who loves baseball at an emotional level) sees Mookie Betts—a truly special talent, a recent MVP, as shiny and well-rounded player as the Red Sox have ever developed—no longer playing for the only club he’s ever played for. And it hurts. It stinks. It’s confusing to fans, and bad for the game.
He’s right. There’s nothing wrong with baseball teams making money — they are, as Gay writes, a business. But baseball is also a business different than any other. You don’t have emotional loyalty to, say, your breakfast cereal the way you do to your favorite baseball team. That loyalty to your team is often passed down from generation to generation and you have an attachment to the ballclub that’s hard to describe to outsiders.
As Cubs fans who suffered through 108 championship-less years (well, no one alive suffered through all of those, but you get my point), that loyalty was tested many times. Why would we suffer through decades of 90-loss seasons? Because caring about the Cubs was ingrained within each and every one of us, all of us coming to this place in different ways, but feeling it just the same. If your breakfast cereal was lousy for that long, you’d change cereals. It’s not so easy with the love of a baseball team.
And those feelings would be the same for any of us, or any seven-year-olds just learning about the Cubs and baseball, if Kris Bryant were traded. Sure, if he is, I would expect Theo Epstein & Co. to bring the best possible value back to the Cubs, and most likely they would still be a very good team, a contender, and life would go on without KB.
I can’t possibly conclude this article better than Jason Gay wrapped his up, so I’ll give him the last word:
Baseball will go on, of course. Mookie Betts will be OK—he’s been traded to a motivated contender, and it won’t be shocking to see him thrive for the Dodgers in the playoffs next year. Likewise, it’s hard to feel bad for Boston, a city soaked in championships for two decades now.
I just feel bad for Gavin—and all the Gavins out there—getting a cruel lesson in the way sports actually work.