Fewer than 16 months after Mookie Betts and David Price helped lead the Red Sox to a championship celebration in Dodger Stadium, the duo is poised to head back west — but this time, as members of the Dodgers.
According to major league sources, the Red Sox and Dodgers agreed in principle to a three-team blockbuster trade on Tuesday night. The deal would send Betts — the 2018 A.L. MVP and four-time All-Star who ranks as one of the greatest talents in Red Sox franchise history — and Price, a pitcher who came to Boston after the 2015 season on a record-setting $217 million deal that has now become onerous for the Sox, to Los Angeles.
In exchange, the Red Sox will receive a pair of players who should be able to help them in 2020. The centerpiece of the deal is 23-year-old outfielder Alex Verdugo, who turned in an impressive rookie season for the Dodgers last year. The Sox also landed rocket-armed 21-year-old righthander Brusdar Graterol, who made his big league debut last season for the Twins. (The Dodgers agreed to acquire Graterol from Minnesota in exchange for pitcher Kenta Maeda.)
The Sox would also send money to the Dodgers to pay roughly half of the $96 million that Price is owed over the next three years. As of late Tuesday night, the deal had not yet been finalized, as all teams were reviewing the medical records.
With the departures of both Price and Betts (owed $27 million in 2020), the Red Sox will achieve their desired goal of getting below the $208 million luxury tax threshold in 2020.
Betts seemed keen on getting to free agency at the end of the upcoming season.
Losing him leaves a huge gap in the lineup. He is a generational talent and will go down as one of the best players to ever put on a Sox uniform.
In six seasons, Betts compiled a .301 batting average with 139 homers and an .893 OPS. He has played in four All-Star Games and won three Silver Sluggers and four Gold Gloves. He was the American League MVP in 2018, when he batted .346 with 32 homers, 30 stolen bases, and a whopping 1.078 OPS while also becoming a World Series champion.
The Sox and Betts were never on the same page when it came to a long-term contract. In each of the last three offseasons, Betts and his camp declined the Red Sox’ extension offers. Instead, the outfielder has chosen to bet on himself and is a firm believer that he can get what he feels he’s worth in the open market.
When the Sox hired Chaim Bloom away from the Tampa Bay Rays — an organization that is known for making trades and finding wins within the margins — it made it easier to imagine a scenario in which Betts wouldn’t return.
The Red Sox signed Price to a record-setting seven-year, $217 million deal after the 2015 season, and he immediately gave credibility to the team’s aspirations to go from back-to-back last-place finishes to contention. He helped the Sox win three straight A.L. East titles from 2016-18. And after a career of struggles as a postseason starter, he emerged as a dominant force by the end of October 2018, claiming the win in the World Series clincher in Dodger Stadium.
But a succession of injuries — including multiple stints on the sidelines with left elbow issues, as well as a left wrist cyst that sidelined Price for most of the final two months of 2019 — cast uncertainty around Price’s contributions. Though he remained effective when healthy, Price averaged just 119 innings over the last three years. At age 34, his ability to stabilize the Red Sox rotation had come into question — while his average annual salary of $31 million represented a sizable obstacle for a Red Sox team whose payroll had become inflexible with long-term commitments.
Now, the Sox must pick up the pieces and retool, something that’s not easy do without their cornerstone player.
Verdugo, who turns 24 in May, bats and throws lefthanded. He seems likely to claim an everyday outfield job.
When healthy, Verdugo shows an impressive ability to get the barrel on the ball (evidenced by his modest 13.0 percent strikeout rate) that translated to perennially high batting averages as he moved through the minors following his second-round selection out of high school in 2014. He’s also capable defensively at all three outfield positions.
The second player the Red Sox would receive, Graterol, features an eye-popping two-seam fastball that regularly exceeds 100 miles per hour. Graterol made 10 big league appearances down the stretch for the Twins, going 1-1 with a 4.66 ERA, after going 7-0 with a 1.92 ERA along with 9.0 strikeouts and 3.4 walks per nine innings in three levels of the minors. He threw 61 innings (11 starts, seven relief appearances) in the minors last year.
The 21-year-old’s huge velocity gives him an obvious chance at a plus or plus-plus fastball. He also flashes a slider with the potential to be a plus offering and a functional changeup. Based on that three-pitch mix, one evaluator sees him as having the ceiling of a starter who could be a No. 3 or better and there’s a floor of a late-innings arm or opener. Given the combination of his stuff and his proximity to the big leagues, he immediately becomes the Red Sox’ top pitching prospect.
The deal would position the Dodgers — who reached the World Series in back-to-back years in 2017 and 2018, then won 106 games in 2019 before losing in the NL Division Series — as favorites to win a championship in the coming season.
The Sox, meanwhile, acquired two players with profiles that weren’t present in their organization: young, inexpensive players with a chance to be above-average regular contributors at some point in 2020. Verdugo has already shown an ability to perform at a high level for a contender in the big leagues. Graterol has gotten his feet wet at the highest level, and he is more advanced and has a higher ceiling than virtually all of the Red Sox’ current inventory of pitching prospects.
Nonetheless, both players come with risk — a contrast to the near-certainty of stardom that accompanied Betts. While Verdugo and Graterol fit the Red Sox’ vision of sustaining contention with a balanced roster over the long haul, that outlook will do little to diminish the shock of life without Betts, a player whose electrifying all-around game had few precedents in Red Sox history.