A little more than three weeks ago, I looked at a few scenarios for trades involving Mookie Betts and David Price. It was, after all, the hot rumor at the time. Fast forward to now and, after it seemed like Boston had closed the door on trading Betts this offseason, well, that may not be the case.
Alex Speier of the Boston Globe wrote yesterday that the Red Sox appear to be “serious” about trading Betts. It may not happen before the season starts, but if Boston really has no intention of retaining him long-term (which would be monumentally dumb on their part, but I digress), they’d be much better off trading him now instead of in-season or just letting him walk in the offseason. Ken Rosenthal pointed out as much.
“The Red Sox could always move Betts at the deadline and perhaps get a return comparable to what they would receive now. Such a strategy, though, would entail risk. Betts might get injured or slump in the first half. Or, the Red Sox might get off to a hot start that would make it all but impossible for them to rationalize moving him, leaving them to collect only a draft pick if he departed as a free agent. That pick would be in the 75-80 range if the Red Sox got under the threshold and after the fourth round if they went over it.”
The ability for an acquiring team to extend the qualifying offer to Betts after the season is a sweetener, but the Red Sox can’t let him walk just for that, right? If they trade him in-season, the acquiring team would lose the ability to extend him the offer, thus, making his trade value higher now than it would be if they traded him in July.
Additionally, the Red Sox are looking to save money against the luxury tax. Betts is signed for $27 million this season after agreeing to a deal with Boston before the arbitration deadline. If they trade him at the deadline, the Red Sox would be on the hook for close to two-thirds of that cost, meaning they’d save in the neighborhood of just $9 million against the tax. If their main goal in trading Betts is to save money, that trade should come before the season begins.
The Dodgers do have competition for Betts, as Dennis Lin of The Athletic wrote on Thursday that the Padres are talking to the Red Sox as well. Rosenthal said in his article that the Padres are looking to get out from under the Wil Myers contract, which would increase the prospect return for the Red Sox. However, that seems like a secondary motivation for the Sox at this time. That’s why the Dodgers have long-since made the most sense for a Betts deal.
The Red Sox, presumably, want young, cost-controlled talent. The Dodgers aren’t trading Gavin Lux — not even for Betts — and they’d be hesitant to move Dustin May for just one season of Mookie. Despite that, they can still offer the Red Sox quality prospects and, what they crave most, financial relief.
Stan Kasten said he expects the Dodgers to exceed the luxury tax in 2020. If they don’t, well, it wouldn’t be the first time an executive lied to the media (and won’t be the last). But if they do spend, it would mean they have to find a way to dole out almost $40 million on payroll between now and the end of the World Series. Unless they plan on making a flurry of free-agent signings (they don’t), that’s going to be hard to do in-season. They’d have to take on multiple high-priced players, which isn’t feasible. So, unless Nolan Arenado comes walking through the proverbial door (Rockies’ GM Jeff Bridich wouldn’t dare move Arenado to LA), a Betts acquisition seems to be about the only way Kasten’s prophecy comes to pass.
If the Dodgers, improbably, land Betts, that would be bad news for Joc Pederson or guys like Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor. Any of them could be in a proposed package for Betts, but if they aren’t, at least one of them would almost assuredly have to moved in a separate deal. There just isn’t enough playing time to go around (and the designated hitter isn’t coming until 2021 at the earliest). Alex Verdugo‘s back makes his availability dicey and there’s no team out there that would take on A.J. Pollock‘s deal without a similar (or worse) contract coming back. That leaves the three above as the most likely trade candidates. That would be the other side of a potential Betts acquisition.
With or without Betts, the Dodgers waltz into Camelback Ranch as odds-on favorites to not only win the National League West (for an eighth straight year), but perhaps also the National League pennant. However, adding Betts — even at the expense of non-Lux/May prospects and a veteran like Joc/CT3/Kiké — might make all this shuffling worthwhile. It wouldn’t be a guarantee of anything, but adding an elite-level talent (perhaps the 2nd-best player in the entire sport), even for one year, would increase the Dodgers’ odds just a little bit more. With the way the team is constructed, incremental increases are about all that can help in their quest to win the World Series.