David Price, left, and Mookie Betts are now wearing Dodger blue after being sent to Los Angeles in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox. AP photo

FORT MYERS, Fla. – The 2020 Boston Red Sox gathered as a complete group for the first time Monday. As usual, that gathering began with a sort of “State of the Union” address from ownership and management setting the expectations for the upcoming season.

The meeting is a good chance for players to look around and soak in who they will be playing alongside next season. This year the bigger concern was who wasn’t here.

Namely, Mookie Betts. The superstar, along with pitcher David Price, was wearing Dodger blue. Red Sox ownership is still trying to explain the deal to disappointed fans.

“Over the last two decades in winning four titles, along the way we lost not only Nomar (Garciaparra), but Pedro (Martinez) and Jacoby (Ellsbury) and Jon (Lester) and Manny (Ramirez) among others,” said principal owner John Henry.

His point was clear. The team has made unpopular decisions before, and each time returned to win it all.

“We at the Red Sox will remember this as one of the toughest, one of the most difficult decisions we have ever had to make,” said Henry. “We too love the young man, the great, great smile, the huge heart and the seemingly boundless talent he displayed here.”

Mookie is a generational talent, one of the best players in the game. These owners knew this would hurt. Still, they believed losing him to free agency would hurt worse.

“We could not sit on our hands and lose him next offseason without getting value in return to help us on our path forward,” said Henry.

For most fans, watching a star like Betts leave is a reminder that the business of baseball is often not aligned with the passion fans have for players. While the team achieved financial flexibility in this deal, owners still insist the deal was made because they thought losing Betts to free agency next fall would set the team back years. Instead, they got three young players they hope will help the team win for the foreseeable future.

In fact, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner told me they would’ve made the Betts deal even if the Red Sox were already under the competitive balance tax threshold.

Furthermore, he said the financial flexibility should allow the team to add talent this season if they are competing for a playoff spot.

None of that replaces Betts. His void will be felt all season at Fenway Park, where tickets sales and season-ticket renewals are down from last year.

But the Red Sox believe they did what they needed to do to create the next championship-caliber team in Boston. Only time will tell if they did. For now, they will do their best to put the memory of this shocking trade behind them as they move forward to the season ahead.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column runs on Tuesdays in the Portland Press Herald.

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