Wednesday, May 29, 2024
AL EastAmerican LeagueAnalysisBoston Red SoxMLB

9 Leftover Thoughts From the Mookie Betts Deal

  • No matter how I feel about the prospects the Red Sox got back or how I feel about them trying to cut payroll, one thing rings true: Mookie Betts is an amazing player. Players like Mookie Betts don’t grow on trees: it’s not every year you draft a guy in the fifth round and he becomes a perennial MVP candidate. It’s going to suck not to see Mookie trot out to right field every day or see his lightning-quick hands whip a ball over the green monster. The fact that a team like a big market team like the Red Sox feels the need to trade a future Hall of Famer in his prime to save money is a difficult pill to swallow, but it would be worse if they gave him a $420 million contract. It’s going to hurt to see Mookie go, but the Red Sox did what they needed to do
  • David Price leaves behind an extremely complicated legacy in Boston. Yes, he silenced his demons with an extraordinary postseason run in 2018, but he missed significant time in two of his last three seasons, never made an All-Star team, and his public feud with Dennis Eckersley hurt him in the eyes of many Red Sox fans. No, Price was not worth the $32 million a year he was paid during his Red Sox tenure, but since he was arguably the most valuable player during their World Series run, it’s hard to say that the Red Sox wouldn’t do the same deal again.
  • Though Price still has something left in the tank, I’m not exactly sad to see him go. The Red Sox have so much money tied up in the pitching staff that it would be a major handicap if they held onto Price, Though we still aren’t completely sure how much of Price’s salary will be paid for by the Dodgers, the ability to rid themselves of at least $15 million a year gives the Sox financial flexibility they simply didn’t have before.
  • At first, I was extremely underwhelmed by the Betts return, but the more I think about it, the more I like the pieces they got back. Many are acting like this trade was purely a salary dump, but Alex Verdugo is a damn good baseball player. Verdugo finally got significant at-bats in the majors in 2019, and the former top prospect didn’t disappoint, hitting .294 with 12 home runs and a 3.1 WAR. His all field approach is perfect for Fenway Park, and, as a plus defender, he should be able to handle playing the difficult right field. No, he’s not Mookie Betts, but the left-hander adds more balance to a heavily right-handed lineup and will provide value on offense and defense. He is also just 23 and has five years of control remaining, giving the Red Sox even more payroll flexibility.
  • I’m glad that the Red Sox pulled out of the original three-team deal involving the Twins because this trade is a lot better. The main reason for this is the acquisition of minor league second base Jeter Downs, a consensus top 50 prospect. Though he’s not as close to the majors as Bruadar Graterol, the original prospect acquired in the trade, Downs is a more sure bet to be an impact big leaguer.  It’s easy to see why scouts are so high on him: He’s hit 37 home runs and stolen 51 bases over the past two years. The tools are off the charts, and he also possesses solid bat-to-ball and plate discipline. It’s unlikely that he’ll ever hit for a high average, as he’s hit under .270 during his minor league career, but he is a solid bet to be at least a decent major league starter.
  • The third and seemingly forgotten piece in the Red Sox return, Connor Wong is an unheralded yet interesting prospect. The former shortstop turned catcher has more speed and athleticism than an average catcher, and his versatility (he spent time at both second base and third base last year) increases his value. At the plate, Wong strikes out quite often, over thirty-two percent of the time in fact, but he hit 24 home runs last year which included a forty-game demolition of the Double-A Texas League (175 WRC+). At 24, the clock is ticking for Wong to be anything more than a backup catcher, but with his power and versatility, don’t be surprised if the Red Sox give him a look this season.
  • From both a financial and depth perspective, the Red Sox pitching staff is in a bad spot for years to come. The offensive, however, is stacked with controllable young players. They already had established major leaguers Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, and Xander Bogaerts, each signed through the 2022 season. Michael Chavis showed promise in his rookie season, and prospects Triston Casas and Bobby Dalbec are each on a fast track to the majors. Now you add Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs to the mix, the latter who projects as a solid regular and the former already entrenched as one, and the Red Sox have nearly every spot on the diamond filled for the foreseeable future.
  • Still, I have a couple of issues with the trade. The first is that the Red Sox still have to pay David Price $16 million per year. Considering Madison Bumgarner, who has put up similar numbers as Price in the pitcher-friendly NL West, just got a contract worth $17 million a year, I can almost guarantee that there was a team willing to take in more of Price’s salary, and the Red Sox wouldn’t have had to give up Betts to do so either. Even if the Red Sox didn’t get any top prospects back, they could have unloaded more money and potentially gotten more in a Mookie Betts trade without the bloated Price contract weighing him down. The second issue I have with the trade is that now that the Red Sox have money to spend, all the good free agents are signed. If they knew they were going to get way under the luxury tax, why didn’t they spend it when there was still value available? Now the Red Sox have a gaping hole in the rotation, and the best available option is Andrew Cashner.
  •  Now that the trade is over, we need to ask ourselves two questions: Did the Red Sox need to do this, and what do they do next? To answer the first question, they absolutely needed to unload Mookie Betts. Many fans and media members would say otherwise, that since the Red Sox owners are rich, they have unlimited payroll flexibility, which is completely oblivious to reality. The Red Sox were completely backed against the wall with their roster filled with huge contracts, and the upcoming luxury tax penalties about to get more severe. The way the Red Sox were doing business was unsustainable. Their farm system was the worst in baseball, and their payroll was so huge that they couldn’t add anyone significant from the outside. Things were only going to get worse unless they reset, and dumping $43 million on the Dodgers allows them to not only add players at the trade deadline but to contend for major free agents next off-season. They also added Alex Verdugo, who will never be confused with Mookie Betts but has all the tools to be an above-average regular, and prospects Jeter Downs and Conor Wong, who immediately become two of the Red Sox’ top prospects. Simply put, the Red Sox sacrificed the present for the future, and they will be better because of it.  So what do they do next? As I’ve said earlier, there aren’t many options on the free-agent market to replace Price, nor are there suitable internal candidates. The Red Sox are going to have to piece together the final rotation spot, but fortunately, finding undervalued players is what Chaim Bloom does best. And if the Red Sox are still in contention in July, the additional payroll flexibility will allow them to take on a highly-paid player. It’s fair to assume that the Red Sox will be a worse team without Betts and Price, but that doesn’t mean the entire organization is about to collapse. There is still a lot of talent on this team, and, with the pieces acquired in this trade, there is more help on the way.