The Dodgers don’t want to trade Gavin Lux. They weren’t willing to include him in talks for Francisco Lindor and they haven’t been willing to include him in talks for Mookie Betts. That’s probably the right move on both fronts.
So, with word that the Dodgers have a legitimate chance of landing Betts, it stands to wonder: Who are the Dodgers going to have to give up? They seem disinclined to trade Dustin May for one guaranteed year of Betts, and if he’s off the table, who’s left?
Keibert Ruiz took a bit of a step back but is still a Top 100 prospect. Tony Gonsolin took a step forward into the Top 100, and guys like Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray are sure to interest the Red Sox. Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor and/or Enrique Hernandez make some sense, especially Joc, but the Red Sox’s desire to shed Betts’ $27 million salary might be greater than bringing in any player making significant money in a trade. Pederson and Taylor are, as of now, set to go to arbitration. If there is no settlement, Pederson will make either $9.5 million or $7.75 million and Taylor will be at $5.8 million or $5.25 million. Boston’s estimated payroll is $236 million. The competitive balance tax threshold for 2020 is $208 million. So, if the Red Sox trade Betts and take on any significant salary, they’re still projected to be over the $208 million mark, which is why the key to the Dodgers potentially landing Betts could be Alex Verdugo.
Verdugo, 24 in May, is coming off a strong rookie campaign that saw him hit .294/.342/.475 with a 114 wRC+ and a 2.2 WAR in just 377 plate appearances. He’s under team control through the 2024 season and, most importantly for Boston, will make no less than $563,500 (MLB minimum) in 2020. He’s also coming off being a universal Top 35 prospect last winter, so he has more value to an acquiring team than any prospect the Dodgers could offer not named Lux (or maybe May). They dangled him in Corey Kluber trade talks last winter, but that never materialized.
The main concern about Verdugo is his health. He didn’t play after Aug. 4 due to a back injury that he re-aggravated in Ogden while on a rehab assignment in September. It probably isn’t a long-term concern, but it isn’t something that just can be ignored, either.
If the Dodgers end up with Betts, it might be because they’re willing to trade Verdugo. They’d be giving up five years of team control for one of Betts, but Betts is the second-best player in the game and would fill a big need for the Dodgers (and right-handed thumper). Not only that, but this would allow the Dodgers to keep Pederson and roll out this lineup (or some variation) against right-handers:
- Joc Pederson LF
- Mookie Betts RF/CF
- Justin Turner 3B
- Cody Bellinger CF/RF
- Max Muncy 1B
- Corey Seager SS
- Gavin Lux 2B
- Will Smith C
The baseball trade simulator thinks a 1-for-1 is fair, but I doubt anyone else does. So, the Dodgers would have to include a little more. I mean, this is Mookie Betts we’re talking about. Maybe someone like Gonsolin and a lottery ticket-type prospect — Gerardo Carrillo, Alex De Jesus, Andre Jackson, Andy Pages, Guillermo Zuniga, someone of that ilk — could be enough to land Betts.
Trading Verdugo in a package for Betts could also give the Dodgers even more incentive (other than him being one of the game’s elite players) to either try to extend or re-sign Betts. Pederson is a free agent after the season, A.J. Pollock hasn’t been great and the upper-minors outfield depth chart isn’t particularly impressive. DJ Peters is the best, closest true outfield prospect to the majors. After that, it’s a bit dry and young. Justin Turner is also a free agent who could be re-signed, but the Dodgers could really need Betts’ right-handed bat in future lineups.
More than any other time during this offseason, it seems like the Dodgers are going to do something. They can’t really impact the roster too much with guys like Jimmy Nelson and Alex Wood. They could be key contributors, but they aren’t likely to push the Dodgers over the proverbial hump. Getting a guy like Betts — even if it costs Verdugo and a couple other good players — could help increase their World Series odds just a little bit more. At this rate, that’s about all the Dodgers can do because of their deep roster.
Here’s hoping we’re writing about a Betts acquisition before pitchers and catchers report in two weeks.