What the Mookie Betts trade means for Dodgers and Red Sox

Sporting News

After weeks of rumors about a potential Mookie Betts trade, the hammer dropped Tuesday night. The 2018 AL MVP, along with left-hander David Price and cash, is reportedly headed to the Dodgers as part of a three-team deal also involving the Twins.

Let’s take a moment to look at some of the factors involved, and what it means for both the Red Sox and Dodgers, assuming all the medicals are clean and the trade goes through.

TRADE GRADES:
Dodgers win big on Mookie Betts deal; Red Sox get poor mark

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Why the Red Sox traded Betts

By any definition of the word, Betts is a superstar. He’s an incredible player on the field, and the type of person any baseball franchise would be proud to have representing the team. But Betts is set to become a free agent after the 2020 season, and the Red Sox, apparently, weren't interested in shelling out to sign him to a long-term deal. And because the Sox, apparently, already saw their chances of contending for a title in 2020 as unfavorable, they chose to deal Betts now rather than get the compensation pick that would've come when he left as a free agent.

Crucially, with the inclusion of left-hander David Price in the deal, the Red Sox get under the luxury tax for 2020. Betts will make $27 million in 2020, and Price is owed $96 million over the next three years, so Boston also had to send Los Angeles some cash to help offset the blow to the Dodgers' payroll.

Because the luxury tax increases penalties for teams that exceed the salary threshold in consecutive years — as Boston has done — the Red Sox front office views giving up some money today a smart move in the long-term.

How Betts fits with the Dodgers

Imagine putting Mookie Betts next to Cody Bellinger in the Dodgers' outfield, with A.J. Pollock and Chris Taylor in the mix for the left field spot. (Joc Pederson has been dealt to the Angels). A Bellinger-Betts combo would be a pair no other team in baseball could match, at the plate or with the glove — both won Gold Gloves in 2019 (Bellinger’s first, Betts’ fourth).

And Betts would go a long way toward solidifying Los Angeles’ revolving door in the leadoff spot. For all their success the past three years, the Dodgers haven’t had much consistency atop the lineup — eight different players have started at least 16 games in the leadoff spot from 2017 to 2019. Pederson was the most common leadoff hitter the past two years, but he posted just a .327 on-base percentage in 166 games batting first. Betts has a career .373 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot.

What it cost the Dodgers

The great question about any Betts deal always revolved around what kind of return the Red Sox could command. Because, on one hand, Betts is one of the five best players in baseball, and it seems that type of player would bring back a whopping prospect package. But then, there’s this: The Dodgers are only guaranteed one year of Betts' services, and it was never likely the Red Sox would pay his $27 million salary.

But that's why the Dodgers always made so much sense as a trade partner. They had plenty of payroll flexibility, absorbing the $27 million without any problem, and had a deep stable of elite prospects from which to deal, with seven players on Baseball America's list of Top 100 prospects in baseball and plenty more young major leaguers to choose from.

Ultimately, the Red Sox got Alex Verdugo, the highly regarded youngster who hit .294 with a 3.1 bWAR and .817 OPS as a rookie last year and was the name most associated with the trade talks.

Why it’s worth it for LA

It’s been a rough handful of months for the Dodgers. First, there was the crushing end to the 2019 season, when they squandered a Game 5 lead in the NLCS and lost to the Nationals, who went on to win the World Series. And the teams that beat them in the 2017 and 2018 World Series — the Astros and Red Sox — have both been accused of stealing signs during the season they beat the Dodgers. The Astros were hammered by MLB for their cheating, and the Red Sox investigation is ongoing. Oh, and they’ve watched the best free agents in the game choose other teams, again and again: Gerrit Cole picked the Yankees, Anthony Rendon picked the Angels and Stephen Strasburg went back to the Nationals.

But aside from all that, there’s this: The Dodgers have been the NL’s best team the past three years, but they still haven’t won a World Series since 1988. Even without Betts, they had the team to get back to that level, and adding Betts helps move them even closer to achieving their ultimate final goal.

How it would impact the Red Sox

The white flag is unofficially raised on the 2020 season. The Sox won’t be worse than the Orioles, of course, but they’d be right there with (behind?) the Blue Jays, looking up at the Rays and Yankees in the AL East. A miracle playoff run could happen, but it's not likely.

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