Looking back and forward at the Red Sox trade of Mookie Betts
The Boston Red Sox trade of Mookie Betts was one I had difficulty rationalizing. Now getting another look, the deal is starting to look more palatable. Trades take time to evaluate and this one may take several seasons based on several factors.
The Red Sox received little or did they in the trade that sent Betts to the Dodgers? The first assumption was two minor league players of questionable value and an MLB player who was no Betts, but, then again, few are since he is an exceptional talent and certainly a franchise player. The Dodgers were fully aware and signed Betts to a 12-year $365 MM extension. Could Boston have matched that?
Of course, Boston could have matched it or exceeded it but would Betts wish to stay tethered to Boston? And that money! We all have been inundated with the luxury tax and the all-encompassing reset that will allow the Red Sox to again resume spending until faced with another reset for excessive spending – unless they have decided to moderate their approach.
The trade itself is actually starting to take a shape that has me far less desponded. Item one that is in Boston is Alex Verdugo and Verdugo is an excellent player. The skills are apparent with the bat and the glove. Verdugo – a lefty hitter – is equally capable of hitting lefties with the same vigor as righties.
Defensively I am impressed as Verdugo is ranked among the best defensive outfielders in the league and it goes deeper as he’s among the best in the league according to FanGraphs metrics. Then there is intensity and dirt dog factor that reminds me of Trot Nixon. Verdugo has often mentioned in trade rumors and the Red Sox to their credit avoided the temptation shipping him elsewhere. Then there are the other two pieces in Jeter Downs and Connor Wong.
How depleted was the Red Sox farm system? Downs was ranked fifth in the Dodgers system and Wong was pegged at 28th according to MLB Prospects Watch. With Boston, they have moved up with Downs considered Boston’s top prospect and Wong now 19th.
Downs has excellent – a distrustful word to me – to be the Red Sox solution to second base and a player who has some definite thump in his bat. Will Downs make the leap in 2021? Prospect Watch has a 2021 ETA for the 22-year-old. That may be a bit of a rush or optimistic but Downs has the tools and will be given a significant shot to secure second base. What better way to make the Betts deal take on a more positive gloss?
Downs has the tools to hit for average and power. He combines a simple right-handed swing with a patient, all-fields approach. He’s strong for his size, delivering most of his home runs to his pull side and driving the ball to both gaps.
Downs gets the most out of his average speed, parlaying his aggressiveness and instincts into stolen bases. He played shortstop in his pro debut but spent more time in 2018 at second base, where his arm and range are better fits. He returned to shortstop at the beginning of 2019 and there’s also a possibility that he winds up in center field, but the good news is that he has the bat to profile at all three positions. – MLB Prospect Watch
Wong is a catcher but is skilled enough to play other positions. Similar to Blake Swihart whose career hit the dumpster after a severe injury. Wong may be a longer project to reach Boston despite MLB Prospect Watch 2020 ETA which may now be tanked. The now 24-year-old could slip into the role that the previously mention Swihart held especially if rosters remain expanded.
Wong displayed some wiry strength but used more of a controlled approach at Houston before turning his right-handed swing loose in pro ball. He aggressively looks to drive the ball now and does to all fields, though he’ll need to make some adjustments after striking out at a 32 percent clip in 2018. He spent this offseason working to learn which bat path will give him the best production.
Wong has solid speed and is faster than most catchers, which will remain true even if he slows down due to the rigors of catching. He’s agile and quick behind the plate, though he’s still polishing his receiving and throwing because he’s relatively new to the position. Extremely versatile, he spent time at second and third – MLB Prospect Watch
Then comes the real savings or spendings depending on how you view it. The Red Sox also shipped David Price to the Dodgers and agreed to pay $32 MM over 2021-2022 to bid him a farewell. That certainly reduces any Betts contract savings, but still frees up cash for Boston to navigate the free-agent market for the next few seasons.
A bad deal is if the Red Sox have a good outfielder, two prospects who never get beyond Triple-A, and toss money saved on wooden arms. A good deal is an excellent outfielder, a starting second baseman, a backup catcher, and both a 15 game-winner and solid bullpen piece with money still left over.
A few more years will have to be on the calendar before a final assessment is made on the long term versus the short term evaluation of the Betts trade. The best baseball trades are the ones that help both teams and this one is certainly starting to fulfill that baseball axiom. And Betts has been everything for the Dodgers that he was in Boston.