The Mookie Betts trade is already the story of the MLB season
Stung by gloomy recent endings to otherwise spectacular seasons, bruised by the angered belief they had a World Series stolen from them, frustrated at being thwarted in the hunt for major off-season targets, the Los Angeles Dodgers had their big day of the winter on Tuesday.
In a blockbuster deal, the Dodgers swung for the metaphorical fences by landing Mookie Betts and David Price from the Boston Red Sox, a move that is an overwhelming statement of “win now” — one that took any sense of caution and launched it deep over the bleachers of Chavez Ravine.
Betts, most people’s idea of the second-best baseball player in the world behind Mike Trout, is all the things you want to see if you’re hungry to land the first championship in 31 years. He is 27 and in the epicenter of his prime, a clubhouse dynamo, an explosive presence with a proven track record and the ability — and willingness — to take key situations by the scruff of the neck and bend them to his will.
Yet he also comes at a cost, with an initial price of the $27 million remaining on his contract, the parting of ways with pitcher Kenta Maeda (sent to Minnesota as part of a three-way deal), some prospects and the looming specter of uncertainty.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) February 5, 2020
For Betts’ deal is up at the end of this coming campaign, meaning that in theory, Dodgers general manager Andrew Friedman has bet big — mightily big — for what could turn out to be a single season of an outstanding player.
The Dodgers have topped 90 wins and won the National League West each of the past seven seasons, each time going into October with high hopes that were ultimately dashed. In some ways, this is Friedman’s strongest move, with none of the usual caveats and get-outs and protective measures. If this trade doesn’t work, there isn’t much of a silver lining.
However, they will like their chances of keeping hold of Betts, having resisted the temptation to give out restrictive long-term deals to middle tier players. And if this turned out to be the Dodgers’ Kawhi Leonard moment, a single year of a superstar that turned into a championship, it would be worth it.
Los Angeles haven’t lacked for talent. There has been no shortage of thunderous arms and big bats. The fact that the Dodgers won 106 games last year says all you need to know about their resources.
Nobody happier tonight than Joe Kelly's son Knox, whose favorite baseball team is Mookie Betts. pic.twitter.com/FnSL8bmJfd
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) February 5, 2020
But there was always just a fraction of something missing, whether it was fairness in the loss to the Houston Astros or a difference maker able to get them over the line in back-to-back World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. Maybe Betts is that guy.
For now, his biggest contribution could be to inject some positive momentum back into the organization and its fan base to replace the anger of the Astros sign-stealing furor.
The Dodgers tried to get better in the early part of winter but Friedman could not hook Gerrit Cole, who tied his flag to the New York Yankees’ mast when the pinstripes zoomed in with a heftier offer.
Anthony Rendon was the next big target, but the club found out to its dismay that he had no desire to live in Los Angeles, and instead plumped for the quieter realities of Orange County, settling in with the Angels on a bumper deal.
BREAKING: Joc Pederson has been traded to the @Angels in a deal for Luis Rengifo.
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) February 5, 2020
The Dodgers already had the best lineup in the National League and now it has an even mightier look to it. Adding Betts to a list including the likes of Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner and Max Muncy is a bulky unit. (Shortly after the Betts trade, reports emerged that young outfielder Joc Pederson is being traded to the Angels, to free up a bit of space in the crowded outfield and really drive home what an embarrassment of riches the Dodgers have stockpiled and developed over the past few years.)
And while Price has some injury concerns looming over him, he would be a welcome addition to any postseason roster. He was effective the last time he was there, when the Red Sox toppled the Dodgers in five two years back.
Big trades often look very different a couple of years later than they do on the day they are inked. Right now, it looks like a pretty good one for the Dodgers, albeit one that comes with an expiring shot clock.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 5, 2020
Betts wants to cash in big at the end of his existing contract, with his eye set on $400 million plus in total money, the kind of lucre that only Trout has managed to secure. However much he likes Los Angeles, however well he blends in, whatever goodwill the Dodgers build up with him over the next year, that’s what it will take to keep him. There is enough flexibility to take on that load. But they didn’t get him for next season or the next five years, they got him to win now.
“Just like that, the Dodgers are the favorites to go back to the World Series for the third time in four years,” USA TODAY baseball writer Bob Nightengale said after the Betts trade. “It is a steal for the Dodgers.”
There are no guarantees in baseball. We have seen that with these Dodgers, and with the fire-throwing corps of the Astros this season. We saw the Washington Nationals part ways with Bryce Harper and win the World Series, and the Philadelphia Phillies splash more than $300 million on Harper and miss the postseason.
For all its sabermetrics, baseball has rarely been more unpredictable. It is a race to improve your chances, and the Dodgers just took a step in the right direction. Is it enough to make the final step to a championship? Only time will tell.
BREAKING: Mookie Betts & David Price have been traded to the @Dodgers.
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) February 5, 2020