The trade that sent Starling Mart to the Diamondbacks could have a ripple effect that impacts the Boston Red Sox potential plans to trade an outfielder.
The Boston Red Sox don’t necessarily need to be directly involved with a trade in order for it to have ramifications on their own plans.
The Pittsburgh Pirates traded former All-Star outfielder Starling Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday. What does a deal between two National League teams have to do with the Red Sox? The fallout from this trade sends ripple effects throughout the league that are felt as far as Boston.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported earlier this week that the Diamondbacks had shown interest in Mookie Betts. Arizona is presumably out of the mix now that they’ve acquired Marte, who will be sandwiched between David Peralta and Kole Calhoun to form a strong defensive outfield. Ketel Marte will shift back to the infield but he provides valuable depth for the outfield after proving capable of handling center field last season.
The Diamondbacks were a long shot to acquire Betts with their limited financial resources. Their farm system, ranked a mediocre 16th by Baseball America, is further depleted after dealing 2019 first-round pick Brennan Malone and 19-year old shortstop Liover Peguero in the Marte trade. The familiarity that GM Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo have with Betts appears to be the strongest factor tying the Diamondbacks to these rumors.
Even if Arizona wasn’t a serious suitor, the inclusion of a third NL West team in trade talk for Betts would put pressure on the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. If nothing else, Arizona throwing their hat in the ring would potentially drive up the price for their division rivals. Eliminating one suitor swings leverage away from the Red Sox.
On the other hand, Marte strengthens a Diamondbacks club that won 85 games last season to finish second in the NL West. They trailed the Dodgers by a massive 21 games but were only four games out in the Wild Card race. Acquiring Marte, who has only one guaranteed year left on his deal (with a $12.5 million club option for 2021) shows Arizona intends to compete for a playoff spot.
Perhaps a juggernaut Dodgers team isn’t threatened yet but they are surely aware that a division rival has improved while they struck out on every effort to make a splash this winter. Meanwhile, San Diego needs to make a significant leap to climb out of the basement. Catching the Dodgers for the division would be a steep challenge even if they managed to acquire Betts. Now it appears they’ll need a drastic move of that caliber simply to hurdle the Diamondbacks in the Wild Card race.
With limited options remaining on the free-agent market, the pressure is ramping up for the Dodgers and Padres to upgrade their outfield on the trade market. Now there is one less option capable of moving the needle for a contender. There were whispers that the Dodgers were interested in Marte earlier this winter. He would have made sense for the Padres as a cheaper alternative to Betts, one they could afford without trying to convince another team to take on the awful Wil Myers contract.
After Betts, Marte was arguably the best outfielder rumored to be available in a trade. Unless you count Chicago’s Kris Bryant, who occasionally moonlights as an outfielder but has more value if he sticks at third base. If a contender was looking to trade for an outfielder but wasn’t willing to surrender a massive haul for a superstar, pivoting to Marte would have been a feasible alternative. The Diamondbacks beat them to it.
Betts isn’t Boston’s only outfielder playing for a new contract this year. The Red Sox have shown interest in moving Jackie Bradley Jr. to shed the $11 million he’s owed in his final season before hitting free agency. Arizona could have been a potential fit considering the ties their front office has to the Red Sox. Any interest they might have had certainly faded the moment they pulled the trigger on the Marte trade.
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There are a number of ways to view how the Marte trade impacts the Red Sox but the fallout is mostly positive. If we assume Arizona was never serious about trading for Betts and were probably lukewarm about Bradley, removing them from the equation doesn’t hurt much. There is more benefit to Boston’s leverage over the other two NL West teams that might be more desperate to make a deal in the wake of the Marte deal.