Over the past few weeks, the event of Mookie Betts being traded appeared to be inevitable; he had just one year remaining under contract, and Boston was intent on gaining financial flexibility and adding young talent. However, the trade came with far more moving parts than expected, as in total, four teams were involved in two separate moves on Tuesday night. On the surface, it’s a bad look for the Red Sox to “dump” a future Hall of Fame-caliber player, while the Dodgers may look like the clear winner, but believe or not, there are no winners nor losers in this trade.
The full trade is very complicated. Los Angeles will be acquiring Betts and taking on half of the remaining $96 million for the last three years of David Price’s contract, and will be sending pitcher Kenta Maeda to the Twins. Meanwhile, Boston acquires intriguing young outfielder Alex Verdugo from the Dodgers, while Minnesota will also send them their top pitching prospect in Brusday Graterol. As for the Angels, they were able to acquire outfielder Joc Pederson, pitcher Ross Stripling, and outfield prospect Andy Pages in a separate trade with the Dodgers for infielder Luis Rengifo and two unidentified prospects, but for practicality’s sake, these two trades are obviously connected.
For the Dodgers, they’re losing about 10 WAR worth of contributors in Verdugo, Maeda, and Pederson, but also are gaining around 11.5 WAR-12 WAR with Betts, Price, and Rengifo, so they’ve obviously made their team better. Any time you can land the second-best player of baseball without touching your farm system, it can be seen as a win, but at the same time, it’s not like the cost was cheap. Verdugo figured to be a starting outfielder for years to come, Maeda and Stripling were key pieces to their pitching staff, and Pederson, though a rental, also was a nice platoon player for them. Now, their depth in the outfield is much slimmer, so if AJ Pollock can’t stay healthy, they won’t be as well-suited to compensate for that. They’re also giving up significant financial flexibility, as Maeda is locked up for the next four seasons, Verdugo for the next five, and Stripling for the next three, so it’s more than just the players they’re giving up. Then again, this lineup looks absolutely terrifying:
Mookie Betts RF
Max Muncy 1B
Justin Turner 3B
Cody Bellinger CF
AJ Pollock LF
Corey Seager SS
Will Smith C
Gavin Lux 2B
Of those eight players, two (Betts and Bellinger) figure to be MVP candidates and already have won an MVP recently, three (Muncy, Seager, and Turner) could easily make the All-Star team, while Smith and Lux are also ascending players with great upside. They easily have the best lineup in the MLB now, and with a pitching staff that’s still strong, they’ve established themselves as the best team in baseball. Still, they’re giving up a decent amount of depth and cost-controlled talent to make this trade, so I’m not comfortable calling them a “winner”.
The same goes for the Red Sox, who just traded away the face of their franchise after failing to extend him, and by also trading Price, have made their team for next season even worse. Still, Verdugo is under control for the next five seasons and figures to be a 2-3 WAR player, and in Graterol, they’re acquiring a pitcher with massive upside. He’s a risky prospect, as his high-effort delivery may lead to him being a reliever, but his fastball-breaking ball pairing is lethal, and his command is much better than you’d expect. Per my prospect rankings, which will be released soon, he’s the 29th best prospect in baseball, while MLB Pipeline has him as the 83rd best prospect. Either way, he has a lot of potential, and is the swiss-army knife type of pitcher than Chief Officer Chaim Bloom clearly coveted. Still, only being able to dump half of Price’s salary is a little underwhelming, and since Graterol isn’t a sure-thing to contribute, you would’ve liked for them to acquire an extra low-level prospect or so. Nevertheless, for one year of Betts and half of Price’s salary, Verdugo and Graterol is a respectable package, and sets up Boston better for the future; they acquire young talent and now will be able to reset their luxury tax penalties.
The Twins may be the team who is making the biggest risk in this trade, as they’re trading away their top pitching prospect for Maeda. However, that’s not to diminish what Maeda brings to the table, as he ranked in the 88th percentile or better in xwOBA (.274) and xSLG (.345) allowed, doesn’t allow much hard contact, and can be used as a starting pitcher and a reliever. Now, he’s only pitched 150 innings-plus once over the past three seasons, and had a mediocre 4.17 as a starting pitcher due to a 4.76 xFIP the third time through the order, but still, he’s a huge upgrade in a Twins rotation that has depth, but not many reliable options. With an elite offense led by Josh Donaldson, they clearly wanted a pitcher to bolster their rotation, and they did so with Maeda, which will help them with their World Series aspirations. Plus, the $3 million (plus incentives) per season the 32-year-old will make over the next four seasons is an absolute bargain, and surely accounts for the acquisition cost it took to trade for him. In other words, they also didn’t win nor lose.
The Angels, presuming the prospects they’re trading aren’t high-end prospects, may actually come out on top in these two trades. Sure, they’re trading a decent young infielder in Renigfo, but he’s blocked by David Fletcher, Tommy La Stella, and Anthony Rendon anyways, and they’re acquiring two impact players. Pederson is a platoon player, but he’s coming off of a 3 WAR season and will further bolster their lineup, while Stripling is vastly underrated. In 70.2 innings as a starter, he posted a strong 3.42 xFIP, and all of a sudden, the Angels rotation doesn’t look as weak. Andrew Heany, Stripling, Shohei Ohtani, and Matt Andriese (if he can transition into the rotation) are four decent starters, while Dylan Bundy is a nice change of scenery candidate; the six-man rotation may also do some good for Los Angeles, as none of these pitchers are known for their stamina. The Angels didn’t do enough to be a true “winner” in this trade, but it appears they didn’t give up much of their future to make their team better, even if it puts them near the luxury tax threshold.
A lot of players were traded on Tuesday night, including arguably the second-best player in baseball, but in the end, the “Mookie Betts” trade was as fair as it gets all-around. Each team achieved a clear goal with these two trades, and in a few years, we probably won’t be looking back shaming any of them. Honestly, this is very rare, but it speaks to the uniqueness of this situation as a whole; it’s super uncommon for four teams with all different objectives to be able to come together to help each other.