The NBA trade deadline passed last Thursday. Initially, it looked to be drab, save for a four-team deal the day before that centered on Clint Capela and Robert Covington. More action blossomed eventually and saw a few All-Stars change addresses.

Most of the trade talk has swirled around the MLB deal involving Boston Red Sox superstar outfielder Mookie Betts and a bunch of other guys not nearly as good as Mookie Betts. It was initially a three-team deal that involved the Minnesota Twins, but due to concerns over the physical health of a pitching prospect, that has turned into a separate deal from the initial one proposed involving Boston and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Betts, 27, has been the best player not named Mike Trout over the last five years in the sport. He’s ranked 15th on the list of active WAR (wins above replacement) leaders, with Trout, ranked second, the only player higher on the list under the age of 31. 

In the NBA, trading a superstar like Betts often necessitates itself when a small-market team looks to recoup value in anticipation of a player’s impending free agency. And indeed, Betts had one year left on his deal with a big payday in sight. Boston owner John Henry had talked last season repeatedly about slashing payroll to get under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold, which cost the team almost $25 million the last several years. It was expected, if not known, his team would be spending less.

The Red Sox picked the wrong area to do it. They’re saying they picked the right time. Is there ever a right time to trade a generational superstar?

Boston offered Betts a 10-year, $300-million deal, and he countered with 12 years for north of $400 million. That would put him somewhere near Trout’s deal. Former MLB general manager Jim Bowden suggested in an article on The Athletic in December that a 10-year, $370 seemed reasonable. Maybe that’s where the two sides would have ended up had they made efforts to negotiate further.

I don’t suspect they did, though, at least from Boston’s standpoint. The Red Sox tax penalties would have increased, and the team additionally would have lost draft picks. There was all the incentive in the world to get under the tax threshold. Henry, for all his pandering about the Red Sox not being thought of “as a business,” has made a business move.

Henry, who paid $380 million in 2002 for a team now thought to be worth $3.2 billion, seems to be the owner of a money-printing institution: Boston’s revenue amounted to $516 million in 2018, and its operating income was $84 million.

Boston and MLB fans as a whole are not blind to the strategy. The Red Sox want to shed payroll and acquire prospects to help better position itself for the long term among the sports’ other giant spenders. As an objective bystander, it’s a bad move for optics of the team, and the sport. Red Sox fans are right to be livid. The team hasn’t been shy in admitting it may slightly raise ticket prices once again. Following a parting of ways with Alex Cora and several key players that remove Boston’s status as a World Series contender, that fan base, spoiled as it has been recently, deserves more.

This is not the way.

  • Need a sign that the true center is mostly worth little value in the NBA? My beloved Pistons traded 26-year-old Andre Drummond, the NBA’s leader in rebounding three of the last four seasons, to the Cavs at the last minute after other contenders balked. In return, they got back Brandon Knight (a player they never should have traded away years ago), John Henson and a second-round pick in 2023.
    The reactions on Twitter were pretty great. Detroit Free Press Sports said that they got “freedom” in the deal, while popular parody account @NotSportsCenter tweeted that the Pistons received a “corned beef sandwich, half a Diet Coke and a used sock worn by LeBron in 2015.” I wondered how well the corned beef sandwich boxes out opponents, and it’s a relatively serious question. Metrics showed that despite Drummond’s hearty rebounding numbers, the impact is marginal, at least on the defensive end. In fact, his backup, Aron Baynes, has been one of the league’s best at boxing out, minimizing offensive rebounds. More importantly, Drummond wants to test free agency this summer despite a whopping $28.8 million player option for 2020-21. That would make Drummond the NBA’s 23rd-highest-paid player (he’s 36th currently). The problem is that no team is winning an NBA Championship with Drummond as its best player, and in all likelihood, as its second-best, either. I suspect someone (perhaps Cleveland) will hand him a four- or five-year deal for more, but in today’s game, Drummond’s wages need to hover closer to $20 million than 30. 

Bryan can be followed on Twitter @BryanEversonMF.

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