Whatever you can say about the Mookie Betts trade from the Red Sox perspective — and we have said quite a lot — there is no escaping how amazing a deal this is from the Los Angeles Dodgers’ perspective.
The Dodgers, though having fallen just short of World Series victories in 2017 and 2018 and having been knocked out of the playoffs in the Division Series last season, were already the class of their division and one of the best teams in the game. They won 106 last year and at least made an effort to sign Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon. Neither of those efforts panned out, but with a week to go before pitchers and catchers report, they have added the second best player in the game in Betts and a solid starter who is still, on occasion, capable of greatness to their rotation. Even before the trade oddsmakers in Vegas and analysts at places like Fangraphs the projected the Dodgers to be the best team in the National League. With the addition of Betts and Price such projections now look overly conservative to say the least.
And the thing is, they didn’t need to give up that much or commit that much to land them.
Joc Pederson, who hit almost exclusively against righties, is being shipped out, but that creates a slot for Betts in the outfield. The Dodgers and their fans were high on outfielder Alex Vurdugo, who was the centerpiece of the deal from L.A’s side. But the fact is that he was not one of the Dodgers’ most coveted prospects, if you can even call him a prospect anymore given that he turns 24 in May. Indeed, he’s only three and a half years younger than Betts. Last year, in his age 23 season, he posted a 114 OPS+ as a part time player. In Betts’ age 23 season he finished second in the MVP voting and won a Silver Slugger Award. Yes, that’s an unfair comparison in some respects, as Verdugo has not gotten the chances Betts got at younger ages, but . . . there’s a reason Verdugo didn’t get those chances. He’s not as good. And from the Dodgers’ perspective, he was totally expendable.
It’s also worth noting that the Dodgers are now in a decent position to extend Betts if they want to. For one thing, they now have an exclusive negotiating window for the next several months. For another, though their payroll has remained high for several years, it is devoid of a ton of long-term deals. Even with Price in the fold, their long-term commitments after the 2021 season are pretty low. They have the ability to make a competitive offer to Betts even if they pay heed to the Competitive Balance Tax. Even if they don’t re-sign Betts, however, the Dodgers are a team on a win-now footing and there is no way whatsoever that adding Betts at the expense of Verdugo harms their ability to win now, even if he turns out to be a one-year rental.
As for Price, yes, L.A. needed to deal Kenta Maeda to get him, but Price is better than Maeda, who has been relegated to the bullpen in midseason on a consistent basis. The Sox are picking up around half of Price’s deal too, so it’s not like Price and the three years left on his deal are cumbersome. Indeed, at around $16 million each campaign, Price will cost the Dodgers just a tad more than what Mike Leake or Danny Duffy make.
Where does that leave the 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers? Well, here is their projected lineup:
That’s an imposing lineup even if Lux has some growing pains and even if Smith takes a step back from last season.
And here is their projected rotation:
That top five is not the best rotation in baseball, but it’s certainly one of the stronger ones in the National League. It’s also worth noting that the Dodgers have not pushed their starters particularly hard in the past few years, relying on depth and swingmen more than a lot of clubs. So add Dustin May into that group. And Ross Stripling . UPDATE: Stripling is gone. And wild cards like Tony Gonsolin and even Jimmy Nelson of all people. It’s a solid group that is no worse off for this trade and, actually, is probably better off.
The pennant-winning Dodgers of 2017 and 2018 and the 106-win Dodgers of 2019 know that there are no guarantees in the postseason. But they have loaded up again for another run in a trade for which there is hard to find any downside whatsoever. You have to love this deal if you’re a Dodgers fan.