Boston’s rebuild starts with a spreadsheet move, while Los Angeles charts a course for another decade of pennant contention.
The lengthy Boston Red Sox-Mookie Betts saga came to a close on Tuesday night when Boston agreed to send Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Alex Verdugo. Boston is also sending David Price and a boatload of cash to Los Angeles. The Minnesota Twins got in on the deal as well, acquiring pitcher Kenta Maeda from the Dodgers while sending 21-year-old flamethrower Brusdar Graterol to Boston.
In a separate deal, Los Angeles flipped Joc Pederson to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to make room for a second MVP in their outfield.
There’s a lot to unpack here. First, the Twins, on a quest to improve their pitching, add an affordable middle of the rotation-type in Maeda. It may not be the addition Minnesota needed, and Graterol could prove to be a steep price to pay, but the Twins end the winter with a glut of rotation options, even if none are frontline starters.
Then there are the Dodgers, who have more or less been the best team in the National League for about half a decade and have two league pennants to show for it. They also have two World Series losses, and most recently, an NLDS meltdown that seemed to end this group’s title hopes for good. Though projections still had the Dodgers as the best team in the NL in 2020, optimism beyond WAR was low.
Now? World Series or bust is back on the table. They already had reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger, plus Corey Seager, plus Max Muncy, plus Justin Turner, plus the highly-regarded Gavin Lux for a full season. They add Mookie Betts to the NL’s best lineup. It’s hard to overstate how big a get this is. Betts is a four-time Gold Glove winner, a three-time Silver Slugger and a one-time AL MVP who finished in the top-10 in voting three other times. He’s one of 49 position players in the last 100 years with a 9 fWAR or better season—he’s one of only 21 position players in the last 100 years with two or more of those. Two MVPs in your starting eight will keep the champagne close and cool.
Beyond next season, the Dodgers head into 2020 poised to dominate the next decade. You couldn’t ask for a better outcome from a trade.
For the Red Sox, they start a soft reboot with the most brutal offload upfront. I say soft because they still have talent on their roster and they just added two MLB-ready youngsters. But Boston firsthand knows one has to spend to win, and ultimately, trading an MVP and arguably the face of the franchise, is bad business. In the end, Boston believed they were too expensive, and with Betts due for a big contract soon, the teardown was booked.
Call it bad planning or bad luck. Boston likely determined they priced themselves out of Mookie Betts’ impending post-arbitration payday. They entered the offseason worried about the luxury tax and essentially swore to avoid repeat offender penalties. It sounds worse if you think of trading Betts as a salary dump.
Another way to look at it: Betts was the cost of a World Series. The Red Sox did win a title during Mookie’s stint. That’s the goal. Was it worth it? The Astros just traded a coach, a GM, four picks and $5 million for their banner. Oversimplification here, but the Sox perhaps traded an MVP and a franchise leader for theirs. I suppose, at least on a spreadsheet, it depends on what’s more valuable: 10 more years (and decades after, one would think) of Mookie Betts, or that 2018 run? Maybe the more significant issue is that we have to ask spreadsheet questions of the Boston Red Sox.
That’s the last bit of real estate to which I can give a consolatory logic exercise. This is a bad look for the Red Sox. The Red Sox franchise, east coast elite, the big spenders of the game, becoming so cost-conscious that they’d part ways with their MVP requires quite the suspension of disbelief. It’s one thing for Boston to want to get cheaper: it’s another to lowball their top player—who had the makings and the early resumé of an all-time franchise legend—out of town. In just over a half-decade in Boston, Betts was one of the best to ever suit up for Boston. He was undoubtedly the best since David Ortiz. He might’ve been the pound-for-pound best Red Sox player on-field since Wade Boggs. Or even further back to Carl Yastrzemski. And he had a championship to his name.
Once the Boston media turned on Betts—a hallowed Boston sports tradition along with the post-exit smear campaign—it was only a matter of time. The Red Sox reportedly offered Mookie $30 million a year for ten years, and arguably the second-best position player of the 2010s believed he wasn’t worth $130 million less than Mike Trout.
Boston felt otherwise. In the end, Mookie had to go because the Red Sox said so.
Khurram Kalim is a senior writer for Bronx to Bushville.