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LA Dodgers Can Redeem Slow Offseason by Pulling Off Trade for Mookie Betts

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterDecember 19, 2019

Boston Red Sox's Mookie Betts plays against the Baltimore Orioles during the fifth inning of a baseball game in Boston, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

The Los Angeles Dodgers can't save their offseason by acquiring Major League Baseball's best player, but they might have a shot at the league's next-best player.

That would be Boston Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts, who Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported Tuesday is on the Dodgers' radar:

Bob Nightengale @BNightengale

If the #Dodgers can’t get Cleveland #Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, they have their eye on #Red Sox star OF Mookie Betts in preliminary talks. https://t.co/2FAcwXiaNi

A larger grain of salt than usual may be in order here. In response to Nightengale's report, Alex Speier of the Boston Globe tweeted that the Red Sox and Dodgers had "virtually no engagement" about Betts during last week's winter meetings.

Speier also added the Red Sox "seem inclined" to subtract from their starting rotation rather than their offense. For instance, ESPN's Jeff Passan reported on Dec. 10 that "multiple teams" have taken an interest in veteran left-hander David Price. 

Because Price is pulling in $31 million per season while Betts is projected to earn "only" $27.7 million in his walk year, dealing the former is potentially the Red Sox's easiest avenue under the luxury tax in 2020. They're presently slated to exceed the $208 million threshold by about $30 million.

And whereas Price, 34, is an aging ace coming off a difficult and injury-shortened season, Betts is a 27-year-old who carried on as a superstar in 2019. According to Baseball Reference, he added 6.8 wins above replacement to his record.

Apropos to the earlier remark about Betts being MLB's next-best player, he now ranks second in WAR since 2015:

  • 1. Mike Trout: 44.9
  • 2. Mookie Betts: 39.7
  • 3. Nolan Arenado30.9
  • 4. Jose Altuve29.4
  • 5. Francisco Lindor28.6

The Dodgers, however, obviously can't be faulted if they are indeed looking at Betts.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Though they've been connected to top-tier free agents and trade targets such as Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Madison Bumgarner and Corey Kluber, they haven't actually done much to wash away the sour taste left by their early exit from the 2019 postseason.

To wit, their biggest addition to date is right-handed reliever Blake Treinen, who had been non-tendered by the Oakland Athletics. This, apparently, is what happens when an organization that's deathly afraid of risk clashes with an offseason market in which all sorts of risks are suddenly being taken.

It's hard not to wonder if Betts is in the Dodgers' sights because president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman is feeling heat to do something—heck, anything—to reaffirm his team's status as the ultimate power in the National League. And, for that matter, to make the Dodgers' path to their first World Series title since 1988 as straight as possible.

Or, maybe it's as simple as Betts being a perfect fit for the Dodgers.

Though starting and relief pitchers took precedence in their offseason wish list, they were also tasked with upgrading their offense. In particular, they needed to balance out a left-handed bias:

Data courtesy of BaseballSavant.MLB.com

Betts, meanwhile, is a right-handed hitter only a year removed from slashing .346/.438/.640 with 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases in his American League MVP-winning 2018 season. Even taking a step back in 2019, he still mustered a .295/.391/.524 slash line with 29 homers and 16 steals.

Per Statcast's xwOBA metric, he rated as the sixth-best hitter in all of MLB.

Betts is most in his element when batting out of the leadoff spot. The Dodgers got plenty of power (44 home runs, to be exact) out of that spot in 2019, but it came with a good-not-great .331 on-base percentage. Adding Betts would fix that and then some.

With Betts in the leadoff slot, the Dodgers could bat Max Muncy second, Justin Turner third and reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger fourth for a perfectly balanced and potentially lethal offensive foursome. 

Betts also happens to be the one guy the Dodgers could stash in right field and not worry about losing anything defensively. Mainly by way of Bellinger's Gold Glove-winning defense, the Dodgers got an MLB-best 29 defensive runs saved from right field in 2019. For his part, Betts leads all right fielders with the 98 DRS he's accumulated since the 2016 season.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Of course, there is the matter of what the Dodgers would have to give up to pry Betts loose from Boston. Yet the cost may not be so prohibitive that it would undermine what they would stand to gain. 

In his full report, Nightengale mentioned shortstop Corey Seager as a trade chip who might interest the Red Sox. In a tweet, he also pointed to catcher Will Smith.

Seager, 25, was one of baseball's brightest young stars as recently as 2017, but his last two seasons have been marred by injuries and less-than-spectacular offensive returns. With his free agency due up after 2021, two years of him for one year of Betts would be a good deal for the Dodgers. They can also easily replace him with Gavin Lux, who's MLB.com's No. 2 prospect.

For the Red Sox, the appeal would be in getting a two-year upside play and $20.6 million in luxury-tax relief, as Seager is only projected for a $7.1 million salary in 2020.

If anything, it's harder to see the Dodgers parting with Smith. He's a talented two-way catcher who's only 24 and under club control through 2025. But in 21-year-old Keibert Ruiz, they have a younger and potentially equally good catcher who isn't far from making the leap from top prospect to young star.

The Dodgers would be risking something either way. But even if they'd only be guaranteed to have Betts for one season, it really can't be stressed enough that they'd be getting back a truly spectacular player who'd upgrade them in more ways than one. 

If they're tired of watching their championship drought grow longer every year, this is exactly the kind of move they need to make.

                   

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant. Payroll data courtesy of Roster Resource. Salary arbitration projections courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors.