Whatever bad blood there was between the Red Sox and Cleveland Indians, it’s time to put it in the rearview mirror.
Call ’em baseball cousins now.
Fans of both teams can hug it out (when hugs are safe again, of course) after Thursday, when Cleveland fans saw their young, electric and once-in-a-generation talent get shipped out of town for cost-saving measures, a la the Red Sox just 11 months earlier.
Francisco Lindor, the 27-year-old shortstop who has been an All-Star and MVP candidate in each of his four full seasons in the big leagues, was traded to the New York Mets along with starter Carlos Carrasco for four prospects.
The prospect package, which includes Mets shortstop Amed Rosario, is being considered by industry experts as equal to the one the Red Sox landed for Mookie Betts and David Price from the Los Angeles Dodgers last February.
There are two key differences, however.
While the Indians also traded their superstar with just one year left of control, they’re doing it in the middle of a global pandemic that’s spooked MLB owners from committing to lucrative, long-term deals.
The Mets said they’ll try to sign Lindor long-term after the Indians failed to, just as the Dodgers did with Betts after the Red Sox couldn’t lock him up. But still, that the Indians landed a similar prospect package in an MLB landscape in which only two teams, the Mets and Padres, are showing a willingness to spend money and/or prospects, is either a testament to the Indians’ success or the Red Sox’ failures.
Both teams had made the mistake of making it quite obvious they weren’t going to sign either player long-term, thus limiting the leverage of their general manager.
The other key difference in these deals, and perhaps the most frustrating for fans of the Red Sox, is that these are two franchises on the opposite end of the economic spectrum.
The Red Sox consistently average about 36,000 fans per game, as they did in 2019, the last time fans were allowed in Fenway Park. The average cost was $167 per ticket in 2019, according to a study by Statista. The Indians average just 21,000 per game, despite Progressive Field’s capacity of 35,000. The average cost was $92 per ticket.
Which is all to say, why are the big-market Red Sox, valued at $3.3 billion by Forbes, operating in the same fashion as the small-market Indians, valued at $1.15 billion?
Obviously, the Sox made some choices in recent years that limited their flexibility ahead of 2020. Dave Dombrowski’s vision didn’t align with John Henry’s, but Henry let him spend freely anyway right until he canned Dombrowski during the 2019 season. What followed was a desperate attempt to get rid of Betts, their franchise player.
Henry has been right to say that spending more money doesn’t guarantee better results. Trading Betts wasn’t all about money, but it sure played a big role after several failed attempts to sign him long-term. Money helps.
As embarrassing as it is that the Indians now have an entire payroll of about $35 million, the equivalent of roughly one year of Price’s services, their fans can at least appreciate the honesty from the front office.
“At some point, things change and you have to transition. And we’re now doing that,” president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti told reporters on Thursday.
The Red Sox traded their franchise player, then told their fans they were still trying to compete for a World Series title. They made a few small-dollar signings (Kevin Pillar, Martin Perez, Jose Peraza, etc.), and a zillion waiver-wire pickups to feign competitiveness.
“We believed strongly enough in the talent level in this team as a whole to believe that we can still compete,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said at the press conference to announce the Betts deal.
It’s never a good feeling to be a fan of a sports team that trades its best player, particularly when it’s a young player, an exciting player and a player who brought life to the stadium in a way few players before him had done.
At least Indians fans understand it comes with the territory.
Red Sox fans might still be scratching their heads over the way Betts’ career unfolded. Even if it ends up being a good trade, even if it ends up being the right deal financially, one of the richest teams in sports let go of one of their best players in club history because of money.
Perhaps one day in the future, it’ll be easier to swallow. Thursday wasn’t one of those days.