It pains me to write this, it really does. But before you come at me with flaming pitchforks, just hear me out.
Mookie Betts has turned into one of the better centerfielders in all of baseball. At 23-years-old, the sky is the limit for Betts, as most of us have probably realized by now. On the season, in 70 games, Mookie Betts is batting .288 with 15 home runs, 51 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases. Betts is under contract until 2018, where he will be arbitration eligible and will not be a free agent until 2021. For me, a good comparison for Mookie Betts is Pittsburgh Pirates all star outfielder Andrew McCutchen. Mccutchen burst onto the scene in 2009 at the age of 22, similarly to Mookie Betts. In eight years of MLB service, McCutchen has a career .294 batting average, with an average of 20 home runs, 73 RBIs and 20 stolen bases per season. Betts may have a little bit more power than McCutchen, which will only make him more valuable to the Red Sox or any team he plays for in the future.
So, why on earth would you trade a player that will be in the All Star Game multiple times, and maybe even threaten for a batting title or two?
Over the Winter Meetings, Peter Gammons was informed by a Marlins official that the Red Sox and Marlins had preliminary discussions about a deal involving Jose Fernandez:
"We thought we might be able to piece something together with the Red Sox," said a Marlins official. "With ERod (Eduardo Rodriguez), Mookie Betts, Christian Vazquez, Yoan Moncada and another pitcher I thought we had something that might work."
At the time, many thought that this deal was preposterous, myself included. And to be honest, many would still hang up the phone before this conversation was even started. However, a pitcher like Jose Fernandez does not come around every day. While Fernandez did have Tommy John surgery earlier in his career, how many pitchers come back from this surgery throwing harder and being more effective? Additionally, Tommy John surgery is not what it used to be. Many players have the surgery and come back to be just as effective pre-Tommy John.
In 2009, then Washington Nationals rookie Jordan Zimmerman underwent Tommy John surgery to repair his right elbow. With concerns about his future, Zimmerman came back and put together all star seasons, including a 2014 campaign where he posted career-bests in ERA (2.66) and strikeouts (182). After signing a five-year, $110 million with the Detroit Tigers this offseason, Zimmerman has posted a 9-3 record with a 3.24 ERA, cementing himself as one of the better pitchers in the American League..
Just in case you don't believe me, I will give you one more example, and its a good one: Stephen Strasburg. In 2009, Strasburg was taken #1 overall in the MLB Draft. Strasburg was putting together a dominant freshman campaign (12 starts, 2.91 ERA, 92 K in 68 innings), but was removed from a start in late August after feeling discomfort in his elbow. Strasburg would undergo Tommy John Surgery and come back to be one of the best pitchers in all of baseball.
So, sorry about the long tangent, but Tommy John surgery is not a concern for me anymore. There are very few examples of a pitcher undergoing Tommy John surgery twice, or even coming back to be not effective nowadays. Since coming back from surgery, Fernandez has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. In 24 games pitched between 2015 and 2016, Fernandez is 15-4 with a 2.72 ERA, while striking out 179 batters in 145.1 innings. With two and a half more seasons of control, the Red Sox will essentially have three shots at a World Series if they acquire Fernandez before the 2016 Trade Deadline.
While I would ideally love to keep Betts in a deal involving Fernandez, I do not think giving up a bunch of top prospects will be enough for a guy like him. Giving up four and a half years of Mookie Betts and five and a half years of Yoan Moncada, among others things, is not ideal, but Red Sox fans need to realize the situation that this franchise is in. The Red Sox have a legitimate shot to propel themselves into the conversation of World Series contenders, if they are not already, because of the openness of the American League. The Red Sox have one of the best young offenses in all of baseball, and will continue to mash the cover off of the baseball even if they trade Mookie Betts.
Star outfielders can be found almost anywhere. Whether it is signing a big time free agent outfielder or developing a player like Mookie Betts, it seems as if the Red Sox can develop positional players at will. Jacoby Ellsbury, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Josh Reddick are just some of the all star-worthy outfielders that the Red Sox have been able to develop. However, the Red Sox have had an incredibly difficult time drafting and developing elite pitching. Aside from Jon Lester, in the past 10 years, Clay Buchholz is probably the best player to come through the Red Sox's farm system.
Furthermore, take a look at the free agent pitching classes for the next couple of years. The best pitcher on the free agent side of things may be Clay Freakin' Buchholz. So, if the Red Sox don't trade Mookie Betts or elite prospects for a pitcher like Jose Fernandez this year, they will be stuck with a mediocre pitching staff for years to come. I understand that Mookie Betts is a homegrown player and fans have an attachment to him, but at the end of the day it is going to come down to trading Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts IF you want an elite pitcher in return. Because of the revolving door at shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra, and the Derek Jeter comparisons that Xander Bogaerts has gained, this is an easy decision.
I won't be upset if the Red Sox hang on to Mookie Betts, and I am not advocating for them to be openly shopping Betts for an elite starter. He is a hell of a player that will help this team win game after game for years to come. However, the Red Sox need pitching and, by all accounts, it seems as if Jose Fernandez is available. If the Red Sox can get Sonny Gray or a pitcher of his caliber without giving up Mookie Betts or Xander Bogaerts, I will be just as happy as if they acquired Jose Fernandez.
This may just be me, but I would rather base a team around pitching rather than outfielders. I was completely wrong on Mookie Betts when he first came onto the scene with the Red Sox. I did not think he was going to have enough power to stick around, and I could not have been more wrong. However, pitching wins championships. Pedro and Schilling. Beckett and Lester. Lester and Lackey. Price and...Buchholz? No thanks.