Current Events: Is Now The Perfect Time to Trade Mookie Betts?
I am a Red Sox fan and Mookie Betts is in the majors. I should be rejoicing.
But while I’m certainly happy to play along with “Feats of Mookie” on Twitter and to follow Betts’ every MLB plate appearance, I have to admit I’ve been a bit distracted by another thought over the last few days:
Isn’t now the perfect time to deal Mookie Betts?
His stock has never been higher, and it very well might never be higher. The expectations for him are off the charts, and one look at the MiLB season he’s had tells you why. He’s in a major market, he has speed, he has a terrific name and in some leagues, he still carries MI eligibility. It’s a sexy package.
But all of that ignores the very real fantasy deficiencies that plague Betts’ game. He’s not going to hit for much power right now. He’s fast, but he’s not a 70-grade runner or a 40-steal guy. And in many leagues, he’s only eligible in the outfield. That skill set still makes for a good fantasy prospect, yes. But it doesn’t make for an elite one.
Beyond Betts’ specific profile, there are plenty of reasons to try and trade hotshot prospects the moment they reach the majors anyway. Savvy owners looking to flip prospects who don’t fit their teams or who they feel are generally overrated can reap pretty significant rewards if they’re willing to deal at the apex of prospect value.
We Haven’t Seen Them Fail
I’ve covered the idea of “prospect fatigue” both here and at BP many times, but it’s worth noting that the inverse idea is true, too. Just as we tire of prospects who don’t make an immediate impact, we’re too high on prospects who haven’t failed yet. It’s easy to pretend that Betts will walk more than he’ll strike out for his whole career right now, because we’ve yet to see him stumble. But as soon as he goes through his first 0-for-20 stretch, I bet you many are quick to label him as too weak to hit MLB pitching. That’s how it goes.
To that end, if you want to get the maximum value in return for Betts, you should deal him now. Most fantasy players only know what they’ve read and what they see in box scores, and both of those sources pain Betts in a very pleasant light right now. The value you’ll lose if he struggles right away is disproportionate to what you’ll gain if he starts off his first few weeks in the majors hot.
Projection vs. Current Production
If you poke around the interwebs, you’ll see that optimistic projections for Betts have him as a .300 hitter with 10-plus homers, 30-plus steals and 100-plus runs scored, leading off for a championship-caliber team. That’s all well and good, and maybe it will be the case some day. But no one is (or should be, at least) suggesting that’s what Betts is capable of now, and it’s a distinction worth repeating for dynasty league purposes.
Too often, owners look at the max upside of a prospect and bid on that prospect like said upside will be achieved the moment he reaches the majors. Yes, sometimes we luck out with a Michael Wacha or a Yasiel Puig. But more often than not, players require 300-plus PA in the majors before they hit their grove, and oftentimes they need a full season or more. Hell, even Mike Trout wasn’t Mike Trout until year two.
With that in mind, players like Betts are great to sell as soon as they reach the majors if you find an owner who doesn’t understand this concept. Drop Betts’ 30-steal upside on an owner in trade talks, and let him figure out that the season is already half over on his own accord.
What Rankings Don’t Tell You
There are a few sites out there that specifically rank prospects for dynasty purposes, but a majority of the rankings and lists you see deal with players from an MLB perspective. You may intuitively know that you can’t completely trust these rankings when translating to dynasty, but I’m convinced that great MLB prospects who only profile as decent fantasy guys get vastly overrated nonetheless.
It’s not true in every case – I think the community has received the memo on Austin Hedges – but it’s still something I see all the time. I think Betts is another example of a prospect who’ll be more valuable IRL than for fantasy, but he’s being regarded as a top-20 fantasy name nonetheless.
It takes a lot of guts to deal a prospect the second he reaches the majors, and in many, many instances, it doesn’t make sense to do so in a dynasty league. But if you think a player is being truly overrated or if you really don’t need him as a part of your long-term plan, there are few better opportunities to capitalize on excess value.