When the Red Sox signed Rusney Castillo to a seven-year, $72 million deal a couple weeks ago, they made it clear as to who will be playing center field for the club next season and beyond. Castillo’s addition, along with the arrivals of Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig at the trade deadline, has left Boston with quite the crowded outfield and generated plenty of speculation regarding who will be shipped elsewhere for starting pitching help in 2015.
With only one year left on his contract, Shane Victorino appears to be a prime trade candidate. Former center fielder of the future Jackie Bradley might also be on the trading block given his extended struggles at the plate this season.
Mookie Betts, too, looks like he could be pushed out of the outfield picture before getting a chance to show Red Sox fans how talented he is over an extended period of time. Considering his remarkable season down in the minors, the 21-year-old Betts could undoubtedly help fetch a valuable player or two in return.
But is it in Boston’s best interest to trade Betts this winter? Should Ben Cherington really deal the one hitting prospect who has arrived from Pawtucket and made an impact for the big club this season?
Betts is no sure thing, of course. Over 107 career plate appearances, though, he has shown the qualities that made him such a revelation down in the minors—consistent bat-to-ball ability, speed, versatility in the field, and even some budding power despite his 5-foot-9 frame. He has hit .284/.358/.474 with four home runs, six doubles, four steals, and a 131 wRC+, while reaching base safely in 21 of 27 games.
Most importantly, Betts has shown an ability to command the strike zone in ways fellow rookies Bradley and Xander Bogaerts have not during their first full seasons in the majors. The Tennessee native has struck out just 13 times and walked on 10 occasions since arriving in the Show.
Betts’ minor league track record also indicates a consistent ability to get on base; he walked 61 times and struck out in just 50 plate appearances over 99 games at Double- and Triple-A earlier in 2014. During that stretch, he got on base at a .431 clip. Even as they impressed at the plate in the minors, Bradley and Bogaerts never showed Betts’ knack for controlling the zone. Bradley struck out 75 times and walked on 41 occasions, while posting a .374 OBP in 374 plate appearances at Pawtucket in 2013. Bogaerts compiled 95 strikeouts to 63 walks along with a .388 OBP over 515 plate appearances between stops in Portland and Pawtucket last year.
These aren’t completely fair comparisons. Bradley’s defense has always been his best attribute, and Bogaerts has the type of power (when he is hitting well) that allows for strikeouts.
Even still, the question remains: Why would the Red Sox trade the only one of their three most-prized, young position players who has shown the ability to excel in the majors?
This was a topic that Baseball America’s Ben Badler and Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal discussed on Twitter on Tuesday, with both wondering if Betts might not be a better option than Castillo. For his part, Badler, who likely knows more about Castillo than anyone else in the public realm, thinks Betts will be the better player long-term.
Betts’ potential value was cast further into the limelight when John Farrell placed him atop the Red Sox lineup Monday in Tampa Bay. Given all he brings to the table (most notably, speed and on-base ability), Betts does appear to be a good candidate to lead off for Boston as soon as next season. And, with all due respect to Brock Holt, he does provide the type of potent leadoff bat the Red Sox have lacked this season without Jacoby Ellsbury, something that was further underscored when Betts went 2-for-5 with a double, a run scored, and an RBI in Monday’s contest.
Swings like this, against an impressive young pitcher in Chris Archer, also help Mookie’s case:
Given Betts’ ability to make consistent contact and get on base, the Red Sox should try to find a place for him anywhere they can. He has already shown he can make an impact and provide value at the major league level in the present moment. The Red Sox, in other words, should be keeping players like Betts, not looking to trade them.
What the Red Sox ultimately do this offseason is far from settled, and any talk of trading Betts is pure speculation at this point. Still, a look at Boston’s crowded outfield and the glut of upper minors arms the club has makes a trade or two look more than likely.
Names like Giancarlo Stanton and Cole Hamels are sure to be at the forefront of any rumors, and those players would require a package of prospects and MLB-ready talent. The Red Sox certainly have the depth to trade away multiple pieces in return for veteran help. Including Betts in any potential deal, however, would be a mistake.