Despite $516 million in revenue and $84 million in operating income according to Forbes’ most recent MLB valuation, Boston brass said they couldn’t afford a huge expenditure for Betts, whose contract expires after the 2020 season. So they dealt him to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with veteran lefty starter David Price for outfielder Alex Verdugo and prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong, a return panned as woefully insufficient for a player of Betts’ caliber.
The criticism was warranted. Teams look to the ends of the earth to find players as talented as the 2018 AL MVP. But an agreement reached last week between MLB and the players association will likely end up making the deal a little less one-sided than originally anticipated.
With baseball on indefinite hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, owners and players had to come up with an agreement on numerous issues that will arise with what will almost certainly be a shortened 2020 season. Those include team luxury taxes, stats counting towards next winter’s arbitration period, a shorter June amateur draft and pro-rated service time.
So if you’re an impending free agent like Betts, Astros slugger George Springer or Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto, you’ll accrue a full year of Major League service time as long as you stay on the 26-man roster for the entirety of the 2020 campaign, however long that lasts and whenever it begins.
If you’re the Dodgers, that ruling probably comes with a sense of unease to go with the ubiquitous uncertainty challenging everyone during this time. Coming off a disappointing Division Series defeat to the champion Nationals (who can be called defending champs once they actually play a game), Betts was supposed to be L.A.’s prized acquisition after an offseason of relative inactivity.
Adding Betts to an outfield of Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson and A.J. Pollock and a stacked lineup featuring Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Corey Seager and prized prospect Gavin Lux, will be unfair if and when the season begins.
Los Angeles knew going into the season that it was only trading for one guaranteed year of Betts, justifying such a meager return to Boston. But every regular season game lost lessens the amount of time Betts is guaranteed to spend in a Dodgers uniform. And as the season continues to be delayed, it gives more time for Verdugo to recover from a stress fracture in his back, making it more likely that the Red Sox derive as much on-field benefit from 23-year-old outfielder as possible.
It’s also possible that the Dodgers are willing to meet Betts’ asking price this offseason and re-sign the 27-year-old widely considered to be the game’s second-best player behind Mike Trout.
But if reports are true that Betts rejected a 10-year, $300 million extension offer from Boston during the offseason and countered with a 12-year, $420 million offer, it may be a tall order for a Los Angeles team already on the hook for more than $137 million in guaranteed salary for 2021. And that number is before adding large expected arbitration numbers for Bellinger, Seager and top starting pitcher Walker Buehler, plus free agents like Turner and Pederson.
Though reports suggest that MLB games will likely begin this season without fans, that probably won’t happen until June at the earliest. While we all hope normalcy returns to baseball and the world as soon as possible, the Dodgers seemingly get less out of the Mookie Betts trade the longer Opening Day is delayed. While that doesn’t justify the trade from Boston’s perspective, it does allow them to enjoy a silver lining during this tumultuous time.