Mookie Betts had to go.

Proven over and over again during recent seasons, the former Boston Red Sox outfielder and 2018 American League Most Valuable Player had zero interest in signing a long-term contract to remain the organization’s keystone piece for the next decade or more. His contract demands, reportedly for $420 million over 12 years, would have made him one of only two MLB players to ever break the $400 million barrier.

There are plenty of reasons for the Red Sox not to have willingly ponied up that kind of money. History tells us that, despite modern players keeping themselves in better shape than ever, the team would carry the back half of that contract like an albatross. While you can get a dollars-laden team like the Dodgers to eat much of David Price’s contract in a trade, getting someone to take a declining player approaching his late 30s off your hands for even half of the proposed Betts’ contract’s average annual value is, as they say, a horse of a different color.

Betts wasn’t going to stay in Boston. The Red Sox weren’t going to mortgage their future flexibility to keep him at Fenway Park.

So, Mookie Betts had to go.

Just not now. Not like this.

Betts knew this day was coming. The Red Sox knew this day was coming. Even as fans, deep down inside, you knew this was coming.

So why did Boston’s ownership and management have no plan for when — or how — it would finally happen?

Why trade away your best all-around player a week removed from the start of spring training? Why offload such a unique talent before you’ve even named a manager? Why, in the face of the video cheating scandal rocking MLB in which your team sits right in the middle of it all, would you pull a move to trade Mookie Betts to another team when you need all the positive interest in your on-field product you can muster?

There are no satisfactory answers to any of these questions.

The Red Sox had three options, and they chose the least desirable of all of them.

The other two choices were far superior. They could hold onto Betts until the trade deadline this summer, and if the team has fallen out of contention, ship him off to the highest — and most desperate — bidder. Or, they could have simply played out the year and let him walk away at the end.

There are those who say that letting him go at the end of the year means he walks away “for nothing.” It’s a convenient narrative these days, suggesting a professional sports team gets “nothing” from having a full season of a talented, game-changing player of Betts’ abilities. But a .300 hitter, a 30-home run guy, a Gold Glove-winning outfielder is not “nothing.”

A pair of prospects, one of whom is having trouble passing a physical to simply make the trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers this week official, could well turn out to be the “nothing” in this scenario.

If time has proven us anything, it’s that there’s nobody more motivated than an All-Star caliber player in the heart of a team’s lineup during a contract year. The player has all the incentive in the world to perform at a high level — perhaps the highest level he’s ever performed at — with such a lucrative payday looming on the horizon. It’s an audition, and in an individual sport masked as a team game as baseball certainly is, it’s a beneficial one for all parties.

There’s also the matter of the Boston Red Sox crying poverty.

Fenway Park’s ticket prices are among the most expensive in MLB (fifth according to a 2019 study). The concessions are pricey, too, the seats are uncomfortable, parking is a disaster, and the Red Sox still suffer publicly from the retirement of longtime face of the franchise David Ortiz in 2016.

Nobody wants to hear the Red Sox bemoan fiscal responsibility. It’s a disconnect that can’t be tidied up. While nearly $40 million per year in salary to a single player isn’t a good baseball decision, certainly the fraction of that ($27 million owed Betts in 2020) for one of the game’s three best players is fair market value.

Now, the Red Sox are left without a franchise right fielder.

Now, the team’s fans are disenchanted with an offseason as ugly as any in recent memory.

Now, Mookie Betts is gone and the organization is no better off for it.

Mookie Betts had to go.

Just not like this.

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