Looming Questions After Dodgers' Mookie Betts, David Price Trade with Red Sox
Questions abound after two of Major League Baseball's brightest stars changed addresses in one of the biggest trades in recent memory.
But first, the trade itself. Though superstar right fielder Mookie Betts and ace left-hander David Price are the headliners, the three-team deal struck by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night is a complex affair that breaks down like so:
- Dodgers get: OF Mookie Betts, LHP David Price and cash
- Red Sox get: OF Alex Verdugo and RHP Brusdar Graterol
- Twins get: RHP Kenta Maeda
The buzz generated by this trade won't soon be dying down, yet one thing is already certain: The landscape of MLB is a lot different now than it was before the big deal.
Which leads us to the questions waiting to be answered.
Can Anyone Stop the Dodgers Now?
Before Tuesday night, the Dodgers had disappointed pretty much everyone by flirting with big name after big name, only to come up empty over and over again.
Suffice it to say that their offseason doesn't look so bad now.
Betts, who owns a .917 OPS and an rWAR almost as high as Mike Trout's since 2016, is the right-handed hitter the Dodgers needed to balance out their left-leaning lineup. Alongside reigning National League MVP Cody Bellinger and the underappreciated A.J. Pollock, Betts is also now part of baseball's best outfield.
Although he has a Cy Young Award on his record, Price is 34 years old and past his prime. Yet he's still an above-average pitcher when he's healthy, and it reflects well on the Dodgers that he's merely the No. 3 starter in a rotation that led the majors with a 3.11 ERA last season.
Granted, the Dodgers aren't as deep after losing Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill to free agency and Verdugo, Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling in trades. Their sheer star power, however, looks strong enough to net them an eighth straight NL West title and a second straight 100-win season.
To boot, the Dodgers are arguably the only juggernaut in the National League for 2020. That gives them a clear road back to the World Series for the first time since 2018, with their offense and pitching being hard for anyone to overcome.
Will Mookie Betts Be 1-and-Done in Los Angeles?
Ah, but can the Dodgers hope to keep Betts for more than just one season?
The 2018 American League MVP is slated for his first foray into free agency after the 2020 campaign. And as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic well covered, the Red Sox saw fit to trade Betts precisely because of his determination to explore the open market.
That determination has potentially only been emboldened by what the 27-year-old has seen this winter, in which a $2.2 billion splurge has brought free agency back from the dead.
By the time Betts reaches the open market, he'll have youth, numbers and accolades all in his favor. The going rate for a player like that will be at least $300 million but probably more like $400 million. Heck, Betts might even aim for Trout's 12-year, $430 million megapayday.
However, none of this precludes Betts from signing an extension with the Dodgers. And according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, they indeed want to keep him past 2020.
How Doomed Are the Red Sox?
The Red Sox didn't need to trade Betts or Price. And for the sake of their 2020 season, they shouldn't have.
Sure, the Red Sox followed up winning 108 regular-season games and the World Series in 2018 by winning only 84 games and missing the playoffs in 2019. And sure, they lost their manager because of the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal. And one last sure: They may be awaiting further penalties as a result of their own sign-stealing allegations.
Yet the Red Sox weren't heading into 2020 as a lost cause. FanGraphs had them projected for the league's fourth-highest WAR total while Betts and Price were still on their roster. Though not gospel, that was an indicator of their championship-level upside.
They've since been bumped down a couple of spots after losing those two and filling their shoes with Verdugo and Graterol. Both have potential—more on that in a moment—but the former is not an MVP-caliber superstar and the latter is not a tried-and-true starting pitcher.
Rather than challenge the New York Yankees or Tampa Bay Rays for the division title, the Red Sox only figure to be one of many wild-card contenders in the AL this season. In other words, they have indeed purposely made themselves worse.
Did the Red Sox's Future at Least Get Brighter?
The only way Tuesday's trade makes sense for the Red Sox is if it strengthens their chances for long-term success. That notion has merits such as:
- The Red Sox swapped out two veterans with four total years of control for two youngsters with 11 total years of control.
- They're now projected under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold for 2020, which promises to reset their penalties on future overages.
- They also offloaded roughly $75 million in present and future salaries.
Still, the Red Sox only hope of "winning" this trade comes down to what futures await Verdugo and Graterol.
By posting an .817 OPS and 3.1 WAR in 106 games as a 23-year-old last season, Verdugo potentially put himself on an All-Star path. Yet all that pales in comparison to what Betts was doing at that age, and it wasn't that long ago that Verdugo had platoon- and character-related (see his Baseball America report from 2019) question marks as a prospect.
Graterol is the No. 83 prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com. That has much to do with a true 80-grade fastball that touched 101 mph in the majors last year. But between his track record of injuries and his iffy secondary offerings, the 21-year-old might be ticketed for the bullpen.
In short, the Red Sox sacrificed their best player and one of their best pitchers for two players who aren't slam dunks.
Did the Twins Make Out Well?
Relative to what had been on the rumor mill in prior weeks, it wasn't the biggest surprise when the Dodgers were revealed as the winner of the Betts sweepstakes.
The inclusion of the Twins was a surprise, however, and their involvement basically comes down to swapping Graterol for Maeda.
The Twins subtracted Graterol from a bullpen that indeed stood to benefit from his triple-digit heat. But between Taylor Rogers, Trevor May, Sergio Romo, Tyler Duffey and Tyler Clippard, they still have quite a bit of talent in their relief corps.
The Twins more so needed a solid No. 3 in their rotation behind Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi. Maeda more or less fits the bill. He doesn't figure to be a 200-inning workhorse, but his 3.92 ERA and 3.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 103 career starts should make the Twins confident in his ability.
With some combination of Homer Bailey, Rich Hill and Michael Pineda filling the last two spots in their rotation, the Twins' starting staff is now marked by both talent and depth. Factor in their bullpen depth and how Josh Donaldson fits into an offense that launched a record 307 home runs last season, and they're looking set for a second straight 100-win season in 2020.
How Do the Los Angeles Angels Fit into All This?
Officially, the Los Angeles Angels have nothing to do with Tuesday's three-team deal. Unofficially, they do.
Because the Dodgers took on all of Betts' $27 million salary and half of Price's $32 million salary, they added quite a bit to a 2020 payroll that was already close to the $208 million luxury-tax threshold. That gave them an excuse to trim other salaries.
Hence their reported deal with the Angels:
- Angels get: OF Joc Pederson, RHP Ross Stripling and OF Andy Pages
- Dodgers get: 2B Luis Rengifo
Be warned that this may not be a full picture of the trade. It's not technically finished and supposedly has "a lot of moving parts," per Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
But as long as Pederson and Stripling end up in Anaheim, the Angels will have done well. The former has gone off for an .861 OPS and 61 homers over the last two seasons. The latter was an All-Star in 2018, and he's pitched well as both a starter (3.71 ERA) and a reliever (3.12 ERA). What's more, the two are only due to make a total of $10.6 million in 2020.
The Angels are still looking up at the Astros and Oakland Athletics in the AL West. But with Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Pederson in their offense and Stripling in their rotation, they're equipped for a big improvement on last season's 72-90 record.
Is Any of This Good for Baseball?
Even as big as the Betts/Price trade is on its own accord, it feels even bigger because of its implications for the greater institution of Major League Baseball.
Notably, it served to make two superteams even more super. Particularly with regard to their own divisions, the Dodgers and Twins are haves that figure to run roughshod over their have-not competition in 2020. That's not good for a competitive imbalance problem that, as FanGraphs' Craig Edwards noted, is already bad.
Still, superteams in baseball aren't as invulnerable as superteams in, say, basketball. Just ask the Washington Nationals. After winning a modest 93 games and barely surviving the NL Wild Card Game, they dispatched both of baseball's winningest teams en route to winning their first-ever World Series last season.
Rather, the bigger issue with the Betts/Price trade concerns the Red Sox's motivations. This wasn't a case of a broken-down, cash-strapped franchise jettisoning veteran stars for the sake of a rebuild. Indeed, this was a healthy, deep-pocketed franchise jettisoning veteran stars for the sake of flexibility.
Maybe that will work out for the Red Sox in the long run. But for now, it makes for terrible optics and for an example that the league must hope doesn't become a trend.