Updated: Jan 7, 2021
The Red Sox have traded the 2018 American League MVP and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers, pending physicals, as first reported by Jeff Passan of ESPN. The full deal involves three teams, with the Minnesota Twins rounding out the group. The agreement sends Mookie Betts, David Price and cash to the Dodgers, ships Alex Verdugo and Brusdar Graterol to the Red Sox and places Kenta Maeda on the Twins.
The decision to trade Betts appeared to be made almost a week ago. The only questions that remained were where the 27-year-old would be traded, and what the return would be. Ultimately, the Dodgers pulled the trigger and strengthened their already firm position as the National League favorite.
While some of baseball Twitter immediately pounced on Red Sox ownership for trading Betts, the deal is not as bad as the public has made it out to be. Prior to unloading Betts and Price, Boston was set to enter the 2020 season with a payroll above the $208 million soft cap. This would have been the third consecutive season that Boston has exceeded that threshold, exponentially increasing their penalties. By ducking under the salary cap for the 2020 season, Boston will be able to spend big in 2021 and 2022. Free agents in those years include, among others, J.T. Realmuto, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and, of course, Mookie Betts. Getting under the luxury tax threshold will, among other things, save Boston`s international bonus pool money. While the amount of money saved can be compared to a drop in the bucket for Red Sox owner and billionaire John Henry, that money can be used to sign international prospects. The Braves used this money to sign Ronald Acuña, the Cubs used it to acquire Gleyber Torres and the Red Sox spent it on Xander Bogaerts` contract. In the case of some luxury tax penalties, like taking away international bonus pool money, they harm the future of the team rather than simply the checkbook of the owner.
Aside from luxury tax concerns, the Red Sox did not appear confident that they could sign Betts to a long-term deal prior to him hitting free agency. With that in mind, the Red Sox essentially traded one year of Betts for five years of control of Verdugo and six years of Graterol. As a 23-year-old, Verdugo produced 2.2 fWAR in just 106 games at the major league level in 2019. The outfielder had a 114 wRC+ and just a 13% strikeout rate. On the defensive side, Verdugo has a rocket arm which will serve a large Fenway right field well.
Graterol is a solid right-hander who has 100 mph with movement in his back pocket to accompany a plus slider. Graterol is only 21 but has had Tommy John surgery in addition to dealing with a shoulder injury last season before making the Twins playoff roster. He has the potential to be a starter, but he has also pitched out of the bullpen in years prior. Ranking 83rd in MLB`s top 100 prospects, he joins Triston Casas as Boston`s only players on the list.
While the emotions of seeing their team trade away the second-best player in baseball may make Red Sox fans reluctant to praise the transaction, the matter of the fact is, given the circumstances, the Red Sox made out pretty good in this deal.
The Dodgers, on the other hand, now have a lethal lineup to complement an above average rotation. Price joins a staff armed with Buehler, Kershaw and Dustin May, who has the potential for a breakout season. In 2018, it appeared that Price shook the postseason demons that had followed him throughout his career. While it is unknown whether that success will continue in the 2020 playoffs, the former Vanderbilt Commodore will get the benefit of facing lineups that include a pitcher for either the majority or all of the postseason.
The Dodgers already had their division virtually secured, however, there are now questions as to who could even rival them in the National League. The Braves and Nationals are strong contenders, but the Dodgers seem to have put themselves in a whole other class. The Dodgers now barely trail the Yankees as World Series favorites. According to Odds Shark, the Yankees sit at +350 and the Dodgers at +400 to be the last team standing in October.
As for Minnesota, they get a veteran pitcher with postseason experience in Kenta Maeda. The Twins needed pitching if they were to have any kind of realistic chance at making a playoff run this season. Maeda will likely slide into the third spot in the rotation behind Berríos and Odorizzi to make a more formidable staff than the team had prior to the trade. While Maeda`s postseason ERA of 3.31 is a positive for the Twins, his road numbers are a cause for concern. Maeda`s road ERA of 4.54 is more than a full run higher than his ERA in Dodger Stadium of 3.23. Additionally, Maeda`s inter-league ERA of 4.63 could also foreshadow an issue for his time in Minnesota.
The Twins have further solidified themselves as a “win now” team by trading away a young arm in Graterol in exchange for 31-year-old Maeda, but with the Yankees and Astros in a class above them, it is hard to envision a World Series birth for Minnesota.
As the dust settles, it will become clear that the Red Sox are better set up for future success after this trade than if they played out the season with Betts on the roster and watched him walk away in free agency. The Dodgers are now clear National League favorites and have made a long-awaited splash in an attempt to grasp a seemingly elusive World Series title. The Twins have further committed to the 2020 season and give themselves a better chance to repeat as American League Central champions. Major League Baseball has just experienced a dramatic shift, and the season is still seven weeks away.
The centerpiece of the deal, Mookie Betts, is still being traded to the Dodgers along with David Price and cash considerations. Alex Verdugo will remain a part of Boston`s return, and Kenta Maeda can keep his flight booked for Minnesota.
The changes to the agreement revolve around Brusdar Graterol, who will now play for the Dodgers. Instead of acquiring Graterol, the Red Sox will collect MLB Pipeline`s 44th ranked prospect Jeter Downs and athletic catcher Connor Wong, in addition, of course, to Verdugo. The Twins will also acquire catcher Jair Camargo and cash considerations, both from the Dodgers, while sending Luke Raley and a draft pick back to Los Angeles.
Boston expressed concerns over the results of Graterol`s physical, prompting renegotiations which ultimately led to this new web of transactions.
In the grand scheme of things, Downs is regarded as a better prospect than Graterol, but unlike the hard throwing right-hander, he is not major-league ready. Downs could fit in nicely at second base for the Red Sox as soon as 2021, potentially filling a position of uncertainty for the club. Meanwhile, Wong is an interesting prospect who could add some value to a big-league roster. Graterol, on the other hand, will be able to provide immediate value to the Dodgers, giving them bullpen help for the 2020 season and further increasing their chances at capturing a World Series title.
The reworking of the trade helps the Dodgers this season at the cost of giving up a potential future asset. It also gives the Red Sox more upside for the 2021 season and beyond. The Twins outlook has not changed much with the adjustments to the deal, as they are still all in on the upcoming season.
In a decade, revisionist history will focus on the Red Sox, as it appears they were the driving force in the renegotiations. Whether they are praised or ridiculed will depend on Graterol and Downs, as they were essentially switched out for one another, and their futures in the big leagues, which will be intriguing for baseball fans to watch play out.
(Cover photo by Keith Allison)