Monday, February 10, 2020

MLB Trade Review: Dodgers acquire Betts and Price (again)

  

       The Los Angeles Dodgers have acquired OF Mookie Betts, LHP David Price and cash from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for OF Alex Verdugo, SS Jeter Downs and C Connor Wong.

        Not often do we get trades in baseball where everyone will instantly agree that it will change league history. This one will. Betts was the 2018 AL MVP, and is arguably the second best player in baseball behind Mike Trout. He is definitely top-10 on everyone's list and he should be in the top-5 on most lists. Betts will be a free agent after the 2020 season. In his last year of arbitration, Betts received a record $27 million. He has finished top ten in MVP voting in all of the last four seasons, including the win in 2018 and a second place finish in 2016. Betts has won a Gold Glove in all four of those seasons, and won a Silver Slugger in all of those years excluding 2017. He has led the league in runs in 2018 and 2019. He led the league in batting average (.346) and slugging percentage (.640) in 2018. He also had an outstanding 10.4 fWAR that season. He followed in up with a 6.6 fWAR in 2019. While Betts had 92 more Plate Appearances in 2019 than in 2018, he still finished with four less hits. Even though Betts' walk rate and strikeout rate were both better in 2019 than in 2018, his batting average and on base percentage both dropped by around 50 points, and his slugging percentage dropped by over 100 points. His 40 doubles and 16 stolen bases in 2019 were career lows, not counting his 52 game 2014 season. His defense, in terms of defensive runs saved, has decreased by the season. He had 32 in 2016, 31 in 2017, 20 in 2018, and was down to 15 in 2019. Still, 15 defensive runs saved is elite. However, Betts has played worse as he has entered his prime. He struck out 101 times in 2019. It isn't a lot compared to most of baseball, but considering he struck out just 80 times in 2016, when he had 75 more Plate Appearances than he did in this past season, it could be slightly concerning. And with the Red Sox looking to get under the luxury tax in the worst way, trading Betts, and Price was inevitable, but that still doesn't mean that Betts should be traded. There were rumors over the last year and further that Betts declined extension offers. If that is true than the Red Sox figured that it was best to trade Betts, especially under a new regime, with Dan Dombrowski and Alex Cora out as GM and Manager, and no one in to replace them (Chaim Bloom is the closest thing to a General Manager, but that is not his official job title).

         Betts, 27, was a 5th round pick out of Overton High School in Nashville in 2011. In 2019, Betts had a .295 batting average with 29 home runs, 80 RBIs, 16 stolen bases, a .915 OPS and a 6.6 fWAR in 706 Plate Appearances. In his MLB career, Betts has a .301 batting average with 139 home runs, 470 RBIs, 126 stolen bases, a .893 OPS and a 37.2 fWAR in 3639 Plate Appearances.

         What Price will be in this deal is the cash. When he signed a seven year, $217 million deal with the Red Sox in December of 2015, everything related to him would be about money. When he wasn't elite in 2016 and was hurt in 2017, it was about cash. When the Red Sox needed to trade him due to the luxury tax, it was obviously about cash. Conveniently, going with him to L.A. is cash. Price's tenure in Boston would be much worse if it weren't for his big role in the 2018 World Series Championship team. Price was hurt again in 2019, finishing with just 22 starts and averaging under five innings a start. Price's 4.28 ERA was his worst since his rookie season of 2009. The silver lining to it is his 10.7 K/9, the first time ever in his 12 year career he had a K/9 over 10. That and his 15 home runs allowed (which is tied for a career low in seasons where he pitched in at least 100 innings) lead to a 3.62 FIP, which is not ace caliber but still respectable and better than his 2018 FIP. The 2012 Cy Young winner will go to Los Angeles to help win the World Series, as his expectations are very high, the same way they have been since he was the first overall draft pick in 2007.

          Price, 34, is from Tennessee, like Betts. In 2019, he had a 4.28 ERA with 128 strikeouts and a 3.62 FIP in 107.1 innings. In his MLB career for the Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays, Price has a 3.31 ERA with 1981 strikeouts and a 3.35 FIP in 2029.2 innings.

          The Dodgers don't need Verdugo for 2020, and after years of holding onto him, they finally found the right trade. Verdugo had a very impressive rookie season, playing in 106 games. The Dodgers have their outfield in Betts, MVP winner Cody Bellinger and AJ Pollock. A trade with the Angels that included Joc Pederson fell through, so he will also be a starter. Betts was originally a center fielder, but mainly played right field in Boston. He could play center in L.A., with Pederson and Bellinger at the corner spots and Pollock as the fourth outfielder. He would be the best 4th outfielder in baseball, with a career OPS over .800. Verdugo might be their future, but it is fine to trade him to get a cornerstone in Betts and a pitcher in Price. Downs was acquired last offseason from the Reds as a sweetener for taking on Homer Bailey's salary. He is a top prospect, but with Gavin Lux and Corey Seager, the Dodgers are set up the middle for the next few years. Wong is a decent prospect, but the Dodgers have a strong catching system, and he was behind players like Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz.

           Verdugo will go right into Betts' right field spot. He is a good hitter, but not on Betts' level. He is a good comparable to Andrew Benintendi, the Red Sox left fielder. Downs will now be Boston's 2nd best prospect per MLB Pipeline. He is ranked as the 87th best prospect in baseball. The Sox just extended Xander Bogaerts before last season, so he doesn't have a future at shortstop. However, the Red Sox don't really have a plan at second base beyond Jose Peraza's one year deal, and Downs, who could be in the big leagues by 2021, could be their starter there. Wong has backup catcher potential. He is versatile, as he played both second and third base in the minors last year. He will be Boston's 18th best prospect.

            Verdugo, 23, had a .294 batting average with 12 home runs, 44 RBIs, four stolen bases and a .817 OPS in 377 Plate Appearances for the Dodgers in 2019. In his MLB career Verdugo has a .282 batting average with 14 home runs, 49 RBIs, four stolen bases and a .784 OPS in 488 Plate Appearances.

              Downs, 21, was a first round pick (32nd overall) in 2017. In 2019 for AA Tulsa and High-A Rancho Cucamonga, Downs had a .276 batting average with 24 home runs, 86 RBIs, 24 stolen bases and an .888 OPS in 535 Plate Appearances. In his minor league career Downs has a .267 batting average with 43 home runs, 162 RBIs, 69 stolen bases and an .817 OPS in 1268 Plate Appearances.

              Wong, 23, was a third round pick in 2017. In 2019 for Tulsa and Rancho Cucamonga, Wong had a .281 batting average with 24 home runs, 82 RBIs, 11 stolen bases and an .878 OPS in 465 Plate Appearances. In his MiLB career Wong has a .275 batting average with 48 home runs, 160 RBIs, 18 stolen bases and an .852 OPS in 1004 Plate Appearances.

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