For the past week, every day could have been the day where Mookie Betts was no longer in Boston. But Tuesday seemed like it was not the time that the 27-year-old would be traded. Then, late Tuesday night, the news broke that both Betts and, former Cy Young winner, David Price would be headed to Los Angeles in a blockbuster three-team deal. Without knowing the return, it made sense to me why ownership finally arrived at this decision, though I did not necessarily agree with it. This whole debacle was strictly financial and was, ultimately, decided upon to ensure the Sox’ contention in future years.
Financial restrictions prove deadly in the long run
In an era where $300M contracts are being handed out to players around the league, the Boston Red Sox participated in this payroll jump and were even at the helm of it. Until the year following their latest World Series title. After the firing of Dave Dombrowski, it became clear that the Red Sox weren’t going to play this game anymore. They hired a smart and flexible executive in new Cheif Baseball Officer, Chaim Bloom. Following this, they immediately informed the press of their goal to be under the luxury tax in 2020.
This feat could have been accomplished by pairing David Price with an Andrew Benintendi or Jackie Bradley Jr. of sorts, and shipping them off to whatever team that would pay the largest amount of Price’s salary. Instead, management decided to pair him with Mookie Betts to maximize their return and also offload a greater quotient of salary. This made sense to me, considering the Sox would get a larger return for Betts by trading him than losing him in free agency and gaining only a compensation pick. Also, this clearing of the luxury tax could potentially allow the Sox to turn around and sign Mookie Betts to a new contract in 2021. But that’s were the logical part of this trade ends.
Questionable return for the second-best player in baseball
After a while, the Red Sox final return was revealed; mainly Alex Verdugo, the 23-year-old Dodgers up and comer. Also included in the deal is Jeter Downs, a Dodgers prospect who is projected as a 2B or SS, ranked as the #44 prospect by MLB Pipeline and Connor Wong, another prospect who projects to be a backup catcher option for the Sox. At first, I felt relatively comfortable with this outcome. Verdugo is an already established major leaguer with almost a full year of experience. And Downs could have a significant impact, and soon, on the Sox major league roster. Then, as I looked deeper into this reported return, I saw cracks begin to form in what seemed to be a once-solid foundation.
Why this deal isn’t a stellar return for the Red Sox
Verdugo had missed the last two months of the 2019 season with back and shoulder problems. He also had been mentioned as a witness to a, puzzlingly not widely known, sexual assault when he was a Dodgers prospect. As for Downs, I see mostly nothing but upside, considering it seems like Dustin Pedroia won’t be on a major league roster for much longer. He could have a large impact on both the Sox future and present rosters. Wong is a questionable addition, as the Sox already have two catchers on their 40-man, and likely will not call up a third in this season or future years. But, Wong could be turned around and traded for a starter to fill the gap left by David Price. The free-agent market for starters and relievers is relatively slim, so this is a likely outcome in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.
In addition to this minimal return, the Red Sox also agreed to pay half of Price’s remaining $96M contract. So, they just traded the second-best player in baseball and still took on a significant portion of David Price’s contract. And their return was a one-year major leaguer with back problems, and a catching prospect who is unlikely to make an immediate impact or even crack the Red Sox major league roster. And on top of that, the Dodgers are receiving two already established players with proven major league talent, and they were able to keep their best prospect in Josiah Gray, or the already established Dustin May. The whole deal began to crumble in my mind the more I mulled over it.
At least the Sox got a better return with their second shot at this blockbuster
To me, this deal is definitely better than the Sox original three-team trade that only gave them Verdugo and Graterol. Downs is highly regarded by most major league insiders and, due to his position, could crack the Red Sox roster later this season and may have an immediate impact on the team as a whole. Verdugo is a relatively consistent outfielder, when not dealing with back issues, who is already established and is under Red Sox’ control for five years. Wong, as previously mentioned, could be used for future trade value, or perhaps become the Sox new backup catcher following the 2020 season. But the combination of Graterol and Verdugo was questionable, to begin with.
Graterol was a medical concern from the beginning. But when you throw 101 mph, it’s expected that there will be setbacks. For Graterol, those setbacks have already occurred, as he underwent Tommy John in 2015, prior to his major league debut. He was already viewed as more of a reliever, but the Sox weren’t made aware of it until they searched further into his medical records. Receiving only a relief prospect and an outfielder in a deal for the second-best player in baseball is not great, especially with the injury history surrounding those two. Luckily, the Sox fixed this in their second try and the return is being regarded by most as significantly better.
What’s next for the Red Sox after this deal
Since they cleared a significant amount of payroll, the Sox can now look towards securing future assets that they see as most valuable. The first step for this was signing Andrew Benintendi to a 2-year $10M deal that helps the Sox avoid arbitration with him. Next may be a Rafael Devers extension, which the Sox mentioned completing in this offseason. Or maybe signing Eduardo Rodriguez to a contract that would also allow Boston to avoid arbitration with him or possibly buy out a couple of years of his free agency.
Nevertheless, the cleared payroll will allow the Sox to build a sustainable roster around their young stars currently playing in Boston. This deal not only impacts their future teams, but also the current roster and the 2020 season. This allows them to sign a starter that fills the hole left by David Price and possibly acquire some bullpen help before the season commences. In the end, although the immediate blowbacks may be more apparent, this deal is good for long term success for the Red Sox and gives them more freedom for free agent signings in the near future.