The Los Angeles Dodgers stood quiet all offseason before Tuesday, when they acquired Mookie Betts and David Price from the Boston Red Sox
The 2019 season for the Los Angeles Dodgers came to a sudden and shocking end on a warm Wednesday night in October against the eventual World Series champs, the Washington Nationals.
The Dodgers were coming off a franchise-record 106 wins and back-to-back World Series appearances. They had a two-run lead with six outs to go in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Nationals with Clayton Kershaw on the mound. Two swings of the bat by Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, however, followed by Howie Kendrick’s grand slam in extra innings, sent the Dodgers home much earlier than they expected.
For the past 118 days, the Dodgers and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman had to digest that loss and figure out what went wrong. Friedman, though, took his time in making any changes. Gerrit Cole went to the Yankees. Rendon signed with their I-5 rivals in Anaheim. Josh Donaldson spurned the Dodgers to join the Minnesota Twins.
But the Dodgers never panicked and made a desperation move; they already had a good team, and if a deal happened to materialize, all the better. It finally happened on Tuesday, when Friedman sprung into action to acquire former MVP Mookie Betts and former Cy Young Award winner David Price from the Boston Red Sox.
The move is a coup for the Dodgers, champions of the NL West for the last seven years. They gave up Alex Verdugo, an outfielder with 158 games of big-league experience, as well as Kenta Maeda, who went to the Twins as part of the three-way deal; they also traded Joc Pederson to the Angels to make room for Betts in their outfield, along with pitcher Ross Stripling.
They didn’t have to give up any of their best prospects, including Gavin Lux, Dustin May, and Jeter Downs. They’re also getting cash from the Red Sox to pay part of Price’s $96 million contract and Betts’ $27 million.
The acquisition of Betts and Price rivals anything other NL contenders have done this offseason. Betts, still just 27 and in the prime of his career, won the AL MVP in 2018 after leading the league with a .346 batting average. Even in a down year in 2019, he still hit .295 with 29 home runs and a .915 OPS.
He joins reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger to give the Dodgers the best outfield tandem in baseball. Only two other teams in the last 30 years, the 2008 Phillies and 2002 Giants, had MVPs the previous two years in the field; both of those teams went on to appear in the World Series.
Betts and Bellinger are both in the top-10 in WAR and OPS among outfielders since the start of the 2017 season. The Yankees, with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, are the only other team that can make that claim. The Dodgers’ new duo has hit 196 home runs and driven in 550 runs combined over that span. Betts has been the fifth-toughest outfielder to strikeout since the start of his MVP season and is first in defensive runs saved in the last three years; Betts and Bellinger were the top-two right fielders in DRS in 2019.
Bellinger started 102 games in right-field for the Dodgers last season but is likely to move over to center. A.J. Pollock, another former All-Star, will fill out the outfield, while the Dodgers also have versatile Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor to spell any of the three on a given day. The outfield won’t be an area of concern at Chavez Ravine in 2020.
Nor will the starting rotation with the addition of Price. The Dodgers already boasted a pitching staff that led the league in ERA a season ago at 3.15, more than 20 points better than the second-place Astros.
Their starters issued the fewest walks in baseball and had the best WHIP at 1.09. But the staff took some hits this offseason, losing Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill in free agency. To compensate, the Dodgers brought back Alex Wood, who they traded to Cincinnati last December in the Yasiel Puig deal; Wood won 16 games for the Dodgers in their first World Series run in 2017. And they added Price.
Price, when healthy, is a Cy Young caliber pitcher. But health has been a concern for the left-hander since he signed with Boston before the 2016 season. Twice in that span, he was limited to under 110 innings and 25 starts. But in his two healthy years, 2016 and 2018, he went a combined 33-16. Even in an injury-plagued 2019 season, his 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings rate was the best of his 12-year career.
But the biggest impact of Tuesday’s trade might not be what Betts and Price do on the field when the season begins. It’s the confidence that the Dodgers faithful has that Friedman is willing to do what it takes to bring a championship to Los Angeles for the first time in 1988.
The Red Sox valued their luxury tax space more than contending in 2020; the Dodgers, meanwhile, did not, and even though Betts, a potential free agent after this season, might be only a one-season rental, they want to ensure that their recent run of success doesn’t end without a title. They’re one step closer to making that a reality after Tuesday.