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Dodgers should be first in line for a Mookie Betts trade

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Players like him don’t become available often

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Monday was the deadline for players who had opt-outs built into their contracts to exercise the right. Kenley Jansen had one, but he decided not to — as expected. But this isn’t about Jansen.

J.D. Martinez chose not to opt out of the remaining three years and $62.5 million left on his deal he signed with the Red Sox two winters ago. And who could blame him? The way the free agent market has played out of late has been an embarrassment to the process, the players and baseball in general. But that’s another article for folks much smarter than I.

The Boston Red Sox — a year removed from a championship — are looking to shed payroll after missing the postseason in 2019. They have already replaced their President of Baseball Operations/General Manager Dave Dombroski with one of Andrew Friedman’s former Tampa Bay lieutenants Chaim Bloom. The Red Sox are striving to do what the Dodgers have done — remain a championship caliber team with while remaining “sustainable” — this offseason’s buzz word. That’s code for a lot, but it’s basically, “we don’t want to pay free agents what their worth after years of under-paying them.” It’s a joke for the Dodgers to do it and it’s a joke for the Red Sox to do it. But I digress ...

What does this have to do with the Dodgers, other than the fact that they’re the model for such a strategy? This has to do with one Markus Lynn Betts — you might know him as Mookie Betts. He’s projected to make almost $28 million in his final arbitration year, which makes him a prime trade candidate for the Red Sox.

Enter the Dodgers, whose offense — once again — failed them in the postseason. While it may seem like they have plenty of outfielders (they do), can they really pass up a chance to add one of the game’s best players, if he is truly available? I would argue they cannot.

Betts, 27, is coming off a “down” season that saw him hit .295/.391/.524 with a 135 wRC+ and a 6.6 fWAR. It was only a down season if you compare it to his 2018 AL MVP campaign that saw him hit .346/.438/.640 with a 185 wRC+ and a ridiculous 10.4 fWAR. He’s one of the best defensive right fielders in the game, which just adds to his overall value. He would fit in any lineup in baseball and if the Red Sox are truly considering moving him, he should be atop the Dodgers’ wish list.

I’ve already written about the possibility of Francisco Lindor, but it seems like Betts might make even more sense than the Cleveland all-world shortstop. Betts would be a short-term commitment, and we’ve seen that the Dodgers are no stranger to making a big splash on the trade market for players who don’t have long-term deals. Sure, they’ve been mostly at the trade deadline — Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Manny Machado — but this would be along the lines of them bringing in Arolids Chapman, whom the Dodgers agreed to acquire in the winter of 2015 before the domestic violence incident came to light. They (rightly) backed out of the trade. Chapman, like Betts does, had one year remaining on his deal. It was only worth a little more than $11 million, but the intention was similar.

Players of Betts’ caliber don’t become available often. For a team on the brink of a championship for the last handful of seasons, Betts is the exact type of player they should be looking to add. Acquiring Lindor would require more shuffling of the proverbial deck chairs, but a Betts acquisition could be easier for the Dodgers to fit in.

Let’s start with the obvious: Cody Bellinger would be the center fielder. He played a ton of center field down the stretch and the Dodgers have a glut of versatile infielders. Betts would slide into right field. What the Dodgers would have to decide is how they’d handle left field. A.J. Pollock isn’t going anywhere (unfortunately), so he’ll have to be accounted for. After that, the Dodgers have two starting-caliber outfielders in Joc Pederson and Alex Verdugo. Pederson is a free agent after the season and I’m not sure he’d be heading to Boston in any Betts deal. Verdugo has five years of team control remaining and I don’t think the Dodgers would be terribly interested in moving him for a possible one-year rental like Betts. So, a Betts trade would also mean Pederson’s days as a Dodger are numbered.

On one hand, it makes sense. On the other, Pederson has been one of a small few who has actually showed up in the postseason for the Dodgers. If it means getting Betts, it’s an acceptable loss, even if Betts’ career postseason batting line of .227/.313/.341 (in 99 plate appearances) leaves something to be desired.

The acquisition cost of Betts would be steep, but not too steep — especially for a team with as many as attractive players as the Dodgers have. Chad Finn of the Boston Globe looked at a few similar situations from years past when trying to assess Betts’ trade value. The deals he looked at were as follows:

  • Ken Griffey Jr. to the Reds for Mike Cameron, Jake Meyer, Antonio Perez & Brett Tomko
  • Paul Goldschmidt to the Cardinals for Carson Kelly, Luke Weaver & Andy Young
  • Machado to the Dodgers to Yusniel Diaz, Rylan Bannon, Dean Kremer, Zach Pop & Breyvic Valera

Let’s look at their career fWARs and ages at the time of their trades.

Traded Superstars

Player Age fWAR
Player Age fWAR
Betts 27 37.2
Goldschmidt 31 36.3
Griffey 30 68.8
Machado 25 27.7

Man, Griffey really skews the numbers with that incredible WAR. Only Machado was younger than Betts is now, but he was also traded in-season. There really isn’t a perfect comparable for this kind of situation, but I think we can assume he’d bring a more substantial return than any of the above players did — and that includes a near-unanimous Hall of Fame inductee.

Some Dodgers prospects who could interest the Red Sox would be Jeter Downs, Tony Gonsolin, Josiah Gray, Gavin Lux, Dustin May, Keibert Ruiz — all young, all affordable. They could also be interested in the likes of Matt Beaty, Edwin Ríos, Ross Stripling, Julio Urías and the aforementioned Verdugo. I’m not sure exactly what would make sense for both sides, but you have to figure the Red Sox would want a couple of MLB-ready players/pitchers and a prospect they could develop. I’m not sure I’d include a guy like Lux to get one year of Betts, but Boston isn’t exactly going to give him away, either.

Betts is one of the 5-to-10 best players in baseball. If the Red Sox are foolish enough to trade him because of the almighty dollar, then the Dodgers (and every team) should be all over it.