Last Friday, this website published an article I cheekily call “The Assassination of Mookie Betts by the Coward Ben Carsley.” You check it out now or just read to the end of this paragraph for a brief recap; Carsley, the editorial director here, polled its writers and Twitter followers to ask which player you’d start a franchise with: Xander Bogaerts or Mookie Betts? His poll revealed a tie, and then he cast his own, “deciding” vote for Bogaerts, one with which I disagree. Here’s why.
At first, I found the pro-Bogaerts side baffling until I talked with one of its most avid members: Twitter legend, Baseball Prospectus Classic author and Carsley’s Internet Life Partner, Craig Goldstein, whom I met in real life. (A quick, painfully sincere note before we get back to the argument: Goldstein is as smart, funny and pleasant in real life as you are a wackjob online. This is fairly inside baseball stuff, but if you’re reading this article, you’re already in here. Meeting Goldstein was proof that if you’re careful, the further you go, the better it is.)
Anyhow, Goldstein and Carsley recently ranked the AL East’s best players under 25 years old for dynasty fantasy baseball purposes, and both had Bogaerts No. 1. Carsley had Betts ranked third, and Goldstein has him second. Similarly, on their now bi-weekly There Is No Offseason (TINO) podcast, both said they’d rather have Bogaerts over Betts in fantasy baseball — again, it’s not quite what Carsley asked here last week, but it’s close enough for Internet work.
I mention that because, during the same TINO discussion, Bret Sayre, aka @dynastyguru, was made to atone for a bygone, reasonable-at-the-time suggestion that fantasy owners would have been well off to trade Betts for Texas’ one-time No. 1 overall prospect, Jurickson Profar, during the period last year that Betts was streaking and Profar was injured. Since that time, Betts has done little but play excellent baseball and Profar has gotten hurt again and such a deal seems inconceivable, but such are the ravages of time and chance.
The TINO crew — which is the trio of analysts above and Mauricio Rubio — was then asked to rate the wrongness of Sayre’s decision, given what we know now. They all said it was 4 out of 10, ranked by badness, with 10 being the least forgivable and 1 being the most. They were up front about the fact that they weren’t sure about what they could learn from it, but Goldstein made it clear, as they were finishing the discussion, that there might be something they could learn that hadn’t yet revealed itself.
Immediately thereafter is when they all said they’d take Bogaerts over Betts.
Rather than get into an apples to rotten apples discussion vis-a-vis Bogaerts and Profar, let’s take a look at the scouting reports for Betts and Bogaerts from this year’s BP Annual. It’s been a handful of games, compared to the timeframe we’re talking about, since the book was published, so I think these comments should hold up. Important facts about these: they are not complete snippets, but they are representative ones; also, they were written by Carsley
For Bogaerts, after a disappointing-ish first full season:
“While he’s hardly the first young player to be humbled by the game of baseball, Bogaerts left us with more questions than he answered. He’s still arguably the most important player in Boston’s organization, and his ceiling remains statue-outside-of-Fenway high. But it’s time to stop putting the cart before the horse, and let Bogaerts prove he can start every day for a first-division team before anointing him Garciaparra’s spiritual successor.”
And now for Betts:
“There must be something can’t do on a baseball diamond–pitch, catch, groundskeeping–but he hasn’t revealed his limitations yet. […] He is a potential franchise cornerstone because he has no weaknesses, and he plays with an understated swagger that tells you he knows how good he is. This is going to be a really, really fun career to watch.”
Based on that alone, which would you choose? You’d choose Betts. So why is the person that wrote all that saying the opposite? It’s not a rhetorical question, nor is it a hard one to answer. It’s that he plays shortstop. That’s what makes his ceiling so high, especially in a depressed offensive environment, and it’s fundamental to his value. Take it away and the entire equation changes, and we’ve seen it taken away from a good number of players, including the dude who was standing right behind Bogaerts in left field until he got hurt last night.
All of this brings me back to the semantics of the argument, such as it is. There’s no wrong answer, but given that we’re having it at all, I consider Betts the right one, right now. He’s at such a positional disadvantage, and made the majors and succeeded in them so fast, that I’m not I’m not about to look the gift horse in the mouth for one that may never show up. Bogaerts may yet end up like his No. 1 comp, Troy Tulowitzki — but before you get too excited, just know that his No. 2 comp is former 2B Melvin “B.J.” Upton.
That there? That is some “you win or you die” ish. Bogaerts may yet get his Braavosi statue, but I’m not gambling with my choice of franchise player. I’m choosing the guy with no weaknesses right now and taking my lumps if Bogaerts ends up better. To use a poker analogy, I’ll take my lead heading into the flop, and I still think it’s the smart money, even if it’s basically a toss-up. And thank the gods the Red Sox have them both.
Photo by Kim Klement/USA Today Sports Images