SAN DIEGO — The Phillies love Mookie Betts. He is 22 years old. He posted an .812 OPS in 213 big-league plate appearances last season while playing three different positions. He started the season in double A, reached base at a .431 clip in 99 minor-league games, and is easier to project than other prospects.
The Red Sox love Mookie Betts. He forced their hand in 2014 by excelling at every level. He will cost them less than $1 million in each of the next three seasons. He made such an impression on Boston manager John Farrell that he could hit atop the Red Sox lineup in 2015.
"He's a good‑looking player," Farrell said Monday. "And you kind of marvel at the aptitude he shows at an early age. And that's an exciting thing."
There was a shift in the last five years how teams think. The post-steroid era shorted the peak of a player's career. Players became less and less productive after turning 30. So teams covet their prospects, who are young and cheap.
Herein lies the problem for the Phillies, a team late to adapt that strategy.
"This is a world we live in now, where prospects are viewed differently than in the past," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "That's probably the better way to view it. We have to make adjustments off of that. we're aware of it. It's common enough now to know that's the way the industry works."
This, one could argue, is the critical flaw of Amaro's tenure. He will attempt to reverse those miscalculations in one winter, a task so insurmountable in three months that even Amaro will admit it.
His charge is to make the Phillies younger. The fastest way to do that is by acquiring polished prospects closest to contributing in the majors. Guys like Betts. The Phillies have extensively scouted Betts. They, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, inquired about his character and background with baseball officials who know Betts.
And then Farrell identified Betts as the "strongest" candidate to bat first for Boston, a team that expects to win the World Series in 2015.
Amaro, when asked whether he would accept prospects further from the majors, issued a diplomatic response. He knows this process will require time and patience. He may have to take a chance on a player years from the majors. This, perhaps, is the only way for the Phillies to flip their expensive veterans for young talent.
"We want to try to get the best players we can get," Amaro said. "It's just like being in the draft. You try to get the best players you can get. We have a little bit more of a long term focus, yes. Would we like to get guys closer to the big leagues? Yes. The answer to that is yes. Will we get them, do we have to weigh that against getting a very talented kid that's further away? Yeah, we have to do that, too."
That requires finding the Mookie Betts-like players before other teams fall in love.