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Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox is this year's American League MVP.

Monster move

We are in a special place in baseball, when the Boston Red Sox can't afford to spend with the Dodgers or the Yankees.

Let that sink in.

The Red Sox dealt Mookie Betts and dumped David Price's salary to the Dodgers on Tuesday.

Now know this: Mookie Betts is the best Red Sox position player since Carl Yastrzemski.

Check his 162-game averages in five and a half years in the big leagues. He slashes .301/.374/.519 with an average of 28 homers, 96 RBIs and 125 runs per year. In the analytical world, Betts — again, in five and a half years in the big leagues — has a career WAR (wins above replacement) of 42.0, which is close to the 44.2 that a perennial all-star like Nomar Garciaparra put up for his 14-year career. Betts will likely match Fred Lynn's career WAR of 50.2 late this year or early next at the age of 27.  

The side effects for the Red Sox are startling in the now, but are smart in the prism.

Boston is likely the third-best team in its division, meaning the Red Sox likely would be pushing for a wildcard in 2020, even with Betts playing at an expected MVP level.

And they got a good young player in Alex Verdugo, who in 158 career games with the Dodgers hit .282 with 14 homers and 49 RBIs, that is salary friendly for the next five years as well Brusdar Graterol, a young pitching prospect who is large (6-foot-1, 265 pounds) and throws hard. Graterol is 20, he's been a pro for four years already and has averaged 9.7 Ks per nine innings in his time in professional baseball.

So there is a benefit, but the harsh realization is that the Red Sox have to overhaul their organization, and as Jeff Passan said on ESPN this morning, Boston is trying to be like Los Angeles, which can make this move and take on Price's huge contract for a couple of reasons.

The first one is clear. It's World Series-or-bust for the Dodgers. Period. End of conversation. Six of their eight position players have been All-Stars.

Cody Bellinger and Betts give the Dodgers the game's first outfield with MVPs from the previous two years since Maris and Mantle in the early 1960s in New York.

The other angle is the Dodgers have redirected their entire process. They rebuilt from the inside out and ditched the bad contracts on their payroll. (Hi, Matt Kemp. Bye, Matt Kemp.)

So while L.A. is definitely willing to push chips and prospects to win now, they very likely will be a key player on Betts' free agency, which could crack the $400 million range. (Sportrac.com projects Betts' deal in the 10-year, $350 million neighborhood, and as we all know, that's a really nice neighborhood.)

In the baseball macro, though, the numbers (like Shakira's hips) do not lie.

There are three teams that are spending more than $200 million in salary. The Yankees at a smidge under $244 million, the Dodgers are at $209.3 million and the Houston Cheaters are at $206.5 million.

The slop slides quickly from there.

Consider this: The Atlanta Braves are 11th in baseball in payroll, and if you added the cost of the entire roster of the Detroit Tigers to the Braves, it still would be short of the Yankees' payroll.

The difference between the Braves' payroll ($150.8 million) and the Dodgers makes it clear that Atlanta could have been a player for Gerrit Cole ($36 million per) or Stephen Strasburg ($35 million) but choose not to be.

Or, Braves fans, know this: The Nationals have two players among the top four in salary. The Dodgers have three among the top 17. The Braves have one among the top 50, Freddie Freeman at 29th.  

 

Leadership questions

For the most part, for most of us, the state of the union is pretty doggone good.

We're the best country in the world, warts and all.

The economy is booming, and that is the A1 line item we look to the federal government to provide and sustain.

It's one of the reasons that so many of us vote primarily with our wallets.

Are there issues? Yes, of course there. There always are, regardless of who is in the Oval Office.

But the state of the leadership of our union is downright disgraceful. And it applies to everyone, whether it's AOC sitting out because of whatever twisted Twitter position she wants to spin or the GOP Congress members who looked like trained lapdogs jumping to their feet every time Trump offered a breath Tuesday night.

Then there was Trump. There are a lot of folks who have noted how much more reserved his rhetoric was than in previous State of the Unions. Sure, there were still shots — there have always been, whether at Bush, Clinton or Obama — in years past.

But noting Trump was dialed back — and heavy (some claim exaggerated) on the economy, which even his harshest critics have to admit is booming — is about the comparisons as much as it was the speech Tuesday, and his antics were not just limited to words.

Trump refused to shake House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's hand, which was bush league whether it was at a 2/3 girls basketball game or a political gathering with tens of millions of people watching.

And right when Trump pushed his chips in on "Look at me," Pelosi said, "Hold my wine glass" and in a grandiose gesture made-for-TV and parenting moments tore up her copy of the president's speech.

So when the most identifiable faces of the Republicans and the Democrats — Trump and Pelosi — are acting in ways my 12-year-old and 9-year-old would be punished for, well, the State of the Union is clearly a couple of things.

Our State of the Union is crying for real leadership that thinks about the whole and not its half. And that applies to both sides.

Our State of the Union has never been as disrespectful as it sits right now. Sure, we've had troubled eras in our history that have been filled with more hate and more civil violence, but the level of disrespect and the lack of civility is startling.

So, in some ways, the biggest takeaway in our State of the Union was clear: We have far too many in Washington who are partisans before they are patriots.

And that divide — did you know the latest Gallup Poll has an 84-percent swing in Trump's approval rating between Dems and GOPers, and that is nonsensically skewed on each side? — is only growing.

And that growing divide is being hastened rather than halted by each party.
 
 

Speaking of questionable leadership

The more wrinkles of the Mark Dantonio story that come into the light, the more it smells.

Dantonio pulled the Urban Meyer "wants to spend more time with his family," and I think we all can understand that sentiment.

But man, the timing of this feels like there's more to this than just a wealthy dude wanting to reconnect with his family.

First, let's just say that a few years ago, there was a hard argument that Michigan State had as good a 1-2 head coaching punch as anyone in the country in men's hoops and football with Tom Izzo and Dantonio.

Well, the off-the-field issues have cast a serious shadow on each program and its leader. It also appears those controversies have affected the programs on the field and the court recently.

Izzo has denied a 2018 ESPN "Outside the Lines" story about allegations that he and his staff covered-up sexual assault claims against former players. (Side note: Michigan State's time in the spotlight of sexual assaults with the U.S. gymnastics stuff, too, is far from desirable.) Izzo's team started the year a near-consensus No. 1, and after losing at home to Penn State last night MSU is a very pedestrian 16-8.

But the biggest story from East Lansing on Tuesday was Dantonio stepping away from the football program.

Here are some of the facts:

— The timing is at best surreal, since today is National Signing Day, and at worst next-level disrespectful to your program and your recruits. Wow, for a guy who I am certain is pitching the "commitment" vibe to all his players through the years, cutting bait on the eve of NSD is at the least a middle finger to the program you have built.

— Here's hoping that every recruit who signed in December that wants to look around is granted an immediate release from their letter of intent. Like in the next 10 minutes. And let's not even mention how far behind the 8-ball Dantonio's timing puts those recruits.

—  Dantonio's announcement happened a day after former MSU recruiting director Curtis Blackwell updated his ongoing lawsuit against Dantonio and the university to include claims that Dantonio set-up high-level recruits with jobs. Dantonio said there was "no relevance whatsoever" to the timing of the two events. That lawsuit also includes allegations that Dantonio and his staff ignored warnings about sexual assault allegations against Auston Robertson, a four-star defensive end who Dantonio recruited and brought to campus. Robertson is now in prison after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting an MSU student on campus.

Of course, Dantonio was still on the job last month to cash a $4.3 million retention bonus. So maybe the timing was not all that bad — for Dantonio. 

 

This and that

— Speaking of salary, want to guess who the Braves' second-highest-paid player will be in 2020? Yes, one Mark Melancon at $19 million. That makes perfect sense, right?

— Another day of Will Cain in the morning slot, and another way-more-enjoyable experience on the "Golic or Wingo" show. ESPN powers that be, please make this move permanent. PUH-lease.

— Speaking of trades, the Hawks made a move and acquired Clint Capela. This feels like moving the deck chairs on the SS Minnow, right?

— Our college hoops picks split Tuesday night, missing on Arkansas-Auburn and hitting UK over Mississippi State. Auburn rallied from an 11-point second-half hole and won in overtime despite making 8 out of 31 3-point tries. UK rolled. We're now 22-18 against the number. As for tonight, we'll post a pick around lunch

— Speaking of hoops, nice win for Rick Barnes and Co. at Alabama on Tuesday. Nice, and much needed.

— Today is National Signing Day, and here's a primer from TFP college football wizard David Paschall as Alabama and Georgia slug it out for the nation's top class. Here's also a story from TFP ace sports editor Stephen Hargis on how the 2021 class around these parts will be star filled.

 

Today's questions

On a Which Way Wednesday, let's start this way.

If you were a college football recruiting follower, which version was more enjoyable — the old way in which today would have been one of the zaniest of the year or the new version with an early signing period and a final signing day?

Which team made the better offseason acquisition — the Yankees with Gerrit Cole or the Dodgers with Mookie Betts?

Which L.A. team has the best chance to win a title in 2020 — the Lakers, the Clippers or the Dodgers?  

As for today, well, let's look back at what happened on Feb. 5 through the years.

Happy birthday to Hammerin' Hank Aaron, who is 86 today. Hard to admit it, but Hank is wickedly underrated, all things considered.

Rushmore of Hammers. Go.

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