By Louis Addeo-Weiss
In what had an ongoing saga for much of this offseason, the final chapter of the Mookie Betts trade talks came to a culmination Tuesday night, with the Red Sox coming to an agreement for a trade that would send the 2018 AL MVP to the Los Angeles Dodgers – a team they beat in the 2018 World Series.
A three-team trade involving the Minnesota Twins, the Dodgers sent right-handed pitcher Kenta Maeda to Minnesota, with the Red Sox receiving Dodgers’ outfielder Alex Verdugo and Twins’ coveted pitching prospect, Brusdar Graterol.
Thrown in like a side of french fries on the number 6 you’d order at McDonald’s was pitcher David Price.
Price as the side of fries in this analogy is appropriate given what he brings with him. Ever hear the expression “that’ll be extra?” Well, in the case of the Betts’ trade, Price is just that.
The 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner is set to make $96 million over the next three years of a 7-year, $217 million deal he signed with the Red Sox in December 2015.
The trade, the first major one under new GM Chaim Bloom’s regime, will see Boston cover half of the $96 million owed to Price, with this, as well as the exit of Betts, who is set to earn $27 million in his last year prior to free agency, helps the Red Sox fall under the luxury tax threshold.
Betts, whose camp supposedly rejected a 10-year contract for an estimated $300 million, is expected to merit a near-record setting payday once he enters the open market at age 28, with some speculating he could bypass the $400 million mark.
According to a piece published by Craig Calcaterra, Betts’ camp countered Boston’s initial offer with a number north of that aforementioned $400 million. Betts is represented by the VC Sports Group.
Criticize Boston as many already have, and you’d be right to do so given the caliber of player Betts is.
Since debuting in 2014, Betts’ 134 OPS+ ranks 7th among players with at least 2,000 plate appearances in that span. Mookie’s 139 home runs during this time have him 12th.
His 42 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in that span is second only to Mike Trout, who has 52.5 WAR respectively.
What really serves as the separator for Betts though is his defensive acumen. His 10.5 dWAR, according to baseball-reference, has him 7th in all of baseball, with the former-Red Sox right fielder winning four consecutive gold gloves since the start of 2016.
For his career, Betts owns 112 defensive runs saved, a mark, among active players, ranks third, trailing only Kevin Kiermaier (130) and Andrelton Simmons (138).
Even in an air quote “down year” in 2019, Betts still mustered 6.8 baseball-reference WAR, good enough for 6th in all of baseball.
For a bit of context, posting a nearly-7 WAR season is enough to merit serious MVP discussion, one where Betts still managed to finish 8th in 2019.
With this in mind, it’s no secret why the Dodgers look to be the favorites in the National League, but the addition of Betts and Price comes with a fair share of skepticism.
Simply put, the Dodgers can either be really good or completely mediocre given many players on the roster’s history with injuries.
While still an above-average starting pitcher, boasting a 3.03 ERA, 137 ERA+, and 189 strikeouts in 178.1 innings pitched in 2019, future Hall of Famer and three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw hasn’t eclipsed 200 innings since 2015, averaging just 166 innings pitched since the start of 2016; however, the Dodgers left-hander still owns a robust 2.47 ERA in that span, a mark which ranks first among pitchers with at least 500 innings pitched in that span. Kershaw has thrown 663.2 innings since the start of 2016.
Price, like Kershaw, has gone sometime without tossing 200 or more innings in a season, last doing so in 2016, a year in which he threw 230 innings, the second-most in his career. Price has pitched the last three seasons with a slight tear in his UCL (Ulnar Collateral Ligament), one which could merit Tommy John Surgery should it worsen.
There is, however, still upside for Price, who, as recently as 2018, won 16 games and pitched to a 3.58 ERA, posting a 4.4 bWAR, and being a pivotal piece in the Red Sox ninth World Series championship.
2019 saw Price limited to 107.1 innings due to elbow tendinitis, though he did still manage to strike out 128 hitters (10.7 K/9).
Should Kershaw and Price succumb, even temporarily to innings, the Dodgers could be forced into some murky waters, especially considering the fact that the team traded pitcher Ross Stripling to the Angels in a deal that also saw longtime outfielder Joc Pederson head up the 405.
Pederson, who was set to earn somewhere around $7.3 million this year, frees up some payroll for LA while helping to slightly clear the clutter of outfielders the team holds on their active roster.
Now, with the Betts addition, the team has him, Cody Bellinger, A.J. Pollock, Chris Taylor, Kike Hernandez, and Matt Beaty as options in the outfield.
The following night would bring further detail to what looked to be the b-side to the Betts’ blockbuster, with reports circulating that pitcher Ross Stripling would be included in the Pederson trade.
An All-Star in 2018, Stripling owns a 3.36 ERA since the start of 2017, will be inserted into the Angels’ rotation, immediately becoming one of their best starters.
19 year old outfielder Andy Pages was sent additionally, giving the Angels a more than promising return as they try to compete in what looks to be a strong AL West in 2020.
Page’s performance in 2020, which came as an 18 year old in the Pioneer League, is one that should thrill the Angels.
If they hit on all 3 of these names, we may finally see Mike Trout return to the playoffs.
Where do these teams stand, on paper, following these two major trades?
Betts gives the Dodgers’, a team who ranked 4th with a 112 OPS+, another middle-of-the-order threat with gold glove caliber talent to compliment an already potent lineup.
Price, while a question mark given his recent injury history, presents the Dodgers with another left hander in a rotation that projects to feature three lefties minus Price, and for $48 million, it is a hefty, yet reasonable gamble.
Maeda addresses the Twins’ need for additional starting pitching, and with 4 years of club control, he’ll be a lowest cost, high upside bargain.
Verdugo will slot into Betts’ old office in right field, and looks to see a boost in offensive production given Fenway’s tendency to favor hitters, and should be a foundational piece moving forward. Graterol’s upside is immense, and even if he doesn’t pan out as a starter, his high velocity could make him a lethal late inning weapon.