Mookie Betts gives us another reason to bemoan ill-fated Red Sox trade

Mookie Betts gives us another reason to bemoan ill-fated Red Sox trade originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Through some combination of smarts, luck, and cents, the Red Sox have fielded three generational players over the last 25 years.

The first was Pedro Martinez, acquired from the Expos in a stroke of genius by general manager Dan Duquette, who recognized that Montreal couldn't afford the reigning Cy Young Award winner long-term. The Red Sox immediately signed him to a record $75 million extension.

The next was David Ortiz, plucked off waivers by Theo Epstein, who merely expected him to compete for time at first base, not to become a Hall of Famer and franchise icon. Sometimes it's OK to get a little lucky.

The last was Markus Lynn Betts, an undersized second baseman who went by the name Mookie, whom they selected in the fifth round of the 2011 MLB Draft. The Red Sox projected Betts to hit for average with athleticism. They instead watched him develop into a Gold Glove right fielder, batting champ, MVP, and World Series winner. The torch had been passed.

(Some great players left off our list: Nomar Garciaparra and Dustin Pedroia because of injuries; Manny Ramirez for multiple PED transgressions; Jon Lester and Xander Bogaerts for not quite hitting that lofty standard.)

In Betts, the Red Sox had everything you could've asked for in a superstar – talent, humility, personality, drive. When they traded him to the Dodgers four years ago this month, some of us (raises hand) considered it a difficult but necessary move to better position the team moving forward; they couldn't risk losing him for nothing in free agency, and they could pour his $300 million into the rest of the roster. (Winces.)

Others wailed the Red Sox would rue the day they traded their best player largely to facilitate a David Price salary dump. These fans would never forgive ownership for cheaping out on the team's best homegrown player since Pedroia, Garciaparra, and maybe even Hall of Famer Jim Rice, and it goes without saying that these fans were right.

The argument was long ago settled, but if we needed any more proof, it came from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, who spoke to Betts recently about a topic that will make Red Sox fans yank out their own hair by the fistful: his desire to be a legend.

"I want to be great," Betts said. "When I'm done, I want you to remember not necessarily just the baseball player, but Mookie. I want to be a legend in the game."

Betts could've burnished his legend in a Red Sox uniform over the course of a long and storied career. He could've provided an enduring link to Ortiz. He could've joined Rice and Yaz as legendary Red Sox outfielders. He could've been the face of baseball while wearing a Red Sox hat.

Instead, he's doing it all in Los Angeles without looking back, the Dodger blue as natural on him as red ever was. But it gets worse, this legend thing.

Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts
Mookie Betts embraced the Los Angeles spotlight while blossoming into one of MLB's biggest stars.

"How I create that, I have no idea. I'm just kind of going about it and bringing smiles to people's faces when I can, trying to sign some autographs when I can, be the best player I can be when I'm playing, be the best teammate I can be," Betts told Rosenthal.

"Whatever comes my way, I'm just going to try and be the best at it no matter what. If it's sitting on the bench, I want to be the best cheerleader. Whatever it is. I think if I can do that, I feel like that will create some type of legacy that I can leave. You won't remember all the on-field stuff, but I want people to remember who Mookie was off the field for sure."

Just imagine where the Red Sox would be if they had signed Betts to a $350 million extension. They'd have the most popular and recognizable athlete in Boston smack in the middle of his prime, at a moment when the Celtics are soaring, but the Patriots resetting. Fans who feel no connection to the current, unrecognizable Red Sox, would at least have Betts and the bond they had forged since his 2014 debut. Maybe his mere presence encourages the team to spend and maximize his prime.

So many possibilities, all eliminated in the course of one terrible, franchise-altering trade. Betts is well on his way to meeting his goal of baseball immortality. The Red Sox? They're still picking up the pieces.