Fold Them Sox?

Bernie Sanders vs. Joe Biden has nothing on the debate likely to erupt when you put two baseball fans – especially Boston ones – together in the same room right now. Of course there are topics aplenty that crop up like the fallout of the Astros sign-stealing in 2017, but the one on everyone’s mind currently is the big trade. The three-way trade between Boston, the Dodgers and Minnesota … which is yet to be finalized because the Red Sox are apparently balking a bit at the medical tests of one pitcher they should receive.

We’ll streamline the trade by only really looking at the two main players in it, L.A. and Boston. And boy, the one trade certainly exemplifies a lot of the dilemmas for baseball – its fans and its operators both – these days. Who won? Who lost? Is Boston being sensible or giving the middle finger to its loyal fans? Unfortunately, there’s probably no one right answer to these questions.

As a recap, the Red Sox send “name” stars outfielder Mookie Betts and pitcher David Price to L.A. in return for young outfielder Alex Verdugo, and Minnesota rookie pitcher Brusdar Graterol, while Minny in turn get Dodgers’ pitcher Kenta Maeda.

At the west coast end of the trade, there’s not really a whole lot to debate it would seem, and from here, it seems like their fans are happy. And why not? While the team has won 7-straight divisions and seemed to already be cake-walking to an eighth straight before they even set foot on the grass. But, they have also been frustrated in their attempts to turn that into a World Series championship. Last year, they bowed out unexpectedly in the NLDS to the Wild Card-winning Nationals. There was a thought that they really lacked enough hitting … they had decent hitting, sure, but not the type of combination of bats that would take them to the promised land. Getting Betts should give them that. Meanwhile, David Price, no longer in his prime should be an upgrade over Maeda. They give up a good youngster in Verdugo, but they have lots of minor league talent and Verdugo projects to be a star but not a superstar. The only downside to the deal for L.A. is it jacks up their payroll and probably puts them into the luxury tax bracket.

For the Atlantic end though, the picture is much cloudier. The Red Sox give up their best, and most-popular player plus a good, if not great, starting pitcher and get back that decent, but not great young outfielder and a hard-throwing young minor league pitcher. The roster is clearly weaker now… but they save a bundle of cash and perhaps look better two, three years down the road. They would argue they’re building for the future and just letting up on the gas a bit this year, a season when no one at all was picking them to usurp the first-place Yankees in the division. To the fans though, they’re giving up their heart and soul and throwing in the towel only one season removed from winning it all. Indeed, the Washington Post ran a headline after the trade that read “Red Sox seemingly concede AL East to rival Yankees.” That’s gotta “ouch” if you’re one of the Fenway Faithful.

Let’s look at the details. This was largely a money-driven trade. Seems there’s rarely a different type these days, unfortunately. Betts got an arbitration-awarded $27M for this year and will be a free agent next winter. Price has $96M left over the next three years on his contract. Verdugo on the other hand, isn’t even arbitration-eligible and will earn less than $1M this season, and little more next; Maeda was under contract for about $3M. The trade boosts the Dodgers payroll (per Sportrac) to $215.8M, second only to the Yankees this year. The Sox, on the other hand, drop below the tax threshold to about $179M, fifth highest. (For you wondering, Toronto is ranked as 20th with a $96M bill.)

For L.A., it’s clear. They want to win, they want to win now. Betts was the AL MVP in 2018, the runner-up in 2016, and they hope the even-year trend will carry on and cross league lines. And with good reason. Even last year, a supposedly “down” year for Mookie, he hit .295 with 29 HR, 80 RBI and a .391 OBP. He lead the league scoring 135 runs and won his fourth-straight Gold Glove. His mammoth 2018 season, an injury-marred one no less, he hit .346 and was worth a WAR of 10.9. Betts averages 94 RBI and 44 doubles a year over the past four years. He is as good a bat as they could wish for to add some real “oomph” to the lineup that boasts Justin Turner and NL MVP Cody Bellinger already.

Price may not be a Cy Young candidate anymore – he last won votes for that in 2015 – but with Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw already in town, he won’t need to be. He just has to be a decent #3 starter, which he likely will be. If he’s better than Maeda, it’s a bonus for the blue-and-white. Chances are he will be that too. Even though two of his past three years have seen him suffer injuries, he’s averaged 21 starts, 119 innings and better-than-average ERA through them. In 2018, the Sox World Series year, he was 16-7, with an ERA of 3.58 through 30 starts and a 4.4 WAR. He may not be the 6.6 WAR guy from 2012, or the one who pitched upwards of 186 innings every year from ’10-15, but he’s still a more than capable lefty who should excel in the pitcher-friendly NL West. Maeda on the other hand, while only four years into his MLB career, is 32 in April to Price’s 34, and has been on a slow downward-trajectory since his rookie season in 2016. That year he was 16-11, had a 3.48 ERA that was 58% better than league average and he hurled 176 innings. All those ’16 numbers have been his career best so far; last year he was consigned to the bullpen for a part of the year and had his ERA rise to over 4. Bottom line- L.A. is a better team, and one that has a greater chance of getting to the World Series than they were before the deal. It’s a financially costly one for them, but they are a rich franchise who will make the money back through increased attendance next year and merch sales if they finally bring a championship to SoCal.

Red Sox fans aren’t so sure they are better off though, and it’s easy to see why. Verdugo is a fine young outfielder. He hit .294 in his first full season last year (he had brief call-ups in both 2017 and ’18) and so far in his career, through a total 158 games (about one season in full) he’s .282 with 14 homers and a .784 OPS. Last year he got a WAR of 3.1 including a smart 1.2 with his defense. Athlon Sports last season ranked him as L.A.’s second-best prospect. He’s got decent speed, a good glove and will probably develop a bit of power as he matures. What he isn’t is Mookie Betts, or a likely MVP anytime soon. And the pitcher they get to replace Price is a youngster from Minnesota, Brusdar Graterol. He’s a flamethrower, according to scouting reports, with a 102 MPH fastball, and a very good slider. He’s a rightie and 21. Athlon ranks him as the 38th best prospect in the game. However, there are a few red flags. He’s listed as 6’1” and 265 pounds, which is a little offputting for a young pitcher. We remember how roly-poly Bartolo Colon was, but not everyone’s the Bartman. In addition, through four levels of ball last year (A-AA-AAA-Majors) he logged only 70 innings. Sure he was better than a K per inning in the minors where he had a 1.95 ERA, but he only started in AA. Apparently the Red Sox are having second thoughts about his health and see him as a bullpen arm rather than a starter to add to an “iffy” rotation alongside Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez and Eduardo Rodriguez. Sale had a career-worst year and looked “off” last year, Eovaldi disappointed, Perez has never been more than an innings-eater and bottom of rotation guy which leaves Rodriguez as the closest thing to a sure thing in their rote now. He had 19 wins, 203 innings and the softest-contact rate off him of any AL starting pitcher last year. If Sale rebounds to his old self and Eovaldi improves, they might be OK. If those two see the downward spiral continue, the pitching could be a horror show. Either way, Graterol is unlikely to add much depth to the starting rotation, although he looks like he might be a good set-up guy. They will feel the loss of David Price either way. It’s easy to see why their fans are up in arms.

The Red Sox owners counter though that Betts is a free agent after this year. Sure he might have a monster MVP year, but he’s likely to walk away for 2021 anyway in search of a $400M contract. And even if they pony up that money to keep him, the result is likely going to be an albatross of a contract that no one in Boston would like four or five years into a nine or ten years. Ask Anaheim and their fans about that, vis a vis Albert Pujols. They get an outfielder who could develop into something special and will be around for five years anyway. In shedding Price, they unload an aging star who’s already overpaid in context of the league norms and might be terribly so by 2022. They’ve been prudent, they say, and if it costs them a few wins in 2020, let’s face it, it will only narrow the gap between Toronto and them since they weren’t going to be up there with Tampa, let alone New York. Fans should thank them.

It’s a tough call to make. Baseball is in many ways like poker and as Kenny says, “you’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold ’em.” Who is right, who is wrong? L.A. seem to come out clearly ahead, even if Mookie walks away after this season and even if they end up paying an extra $10M or so to the league in “tax” for bumping their payroll. The Red Sox hand was much more difficult to play. On the one hand, they in all likelihood were heading to an about 85 win, third place season out of the post-season, and paying tax on their bloated payroll. After this trade, they now will probably be no better than a .500 team and have every chance of falling behind the Jays into fourth place. But their payroll is trimmed and, if Betts ends up in New York pinstripes next year and if Price continues to show signs of aging; they still have two up-and-coming stars on their roster they wouldn’t have otherwise. Perhaps prudent but still a stinging rebuke to their large, loyal fanbase. One could hardly blame them for forgoing a trip or two to the park this season when it seems clear their team’s bosses have thrown in the towel.

Hold ’em? Fold ’em? It’s more and more a question for a majority of teams and it begs the question is it sensible to go all out to win as much as possible when no one thinks you’re going to be a champion? Owners usually say “no.” Fans usually say “yes!” One might think the 1990 Reds and 2015 Royals would agree.

19 comments

  1. badfinger20

    Boston is paying half of Price’s salary so he will be around 15-16 a year instead of 32 million. The Dodgers did well in this trade. Friedman doesn’t pay retail price lol.

    From what I read the Dodgers will be under the Tax with some to spare. They traded Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling to make roster and financial room. I was surprised the Jays didn’t try to trade for Joc.

    The Dodgers traded a 36 homerun guy (Joc) for a utility infielder to the Angels….it was money-driven no doubt about it. So it’s happening with the rich teams. The Dodgers don’t believe in going over it. I hope I’m wrong and they shop a little more for pitching.

    I think the Red Sox management hoped that the 2018 WS would have bought some understanding…it didn’t. It makes sense on paper for the future but Red Sox fans are understandably pissed. They still have a good team.

    It’s funny because Mookie and Price are from Tennessee only a few miles from each other.

    The Dodgers needed a powerful right-handed bat and they got it. They were too left-handed last year and it was a weakness.

    The way it’s sounding… Graterol may not be there. Chris Sale…he is a key for them…I just hope he stays healthy. A lot of miles and on that arm. Signing him to that contract probably wasn’t a great thing to do. They could have kept Mookie if they would have been a little more careful.

    Kenta Maeda is a good pitcher but he isn’t consistent…He would shut you down one day and the next…a bad inning would do him in.

    I don’t see Mookie getting 400 million next year…I just don’t think that will happen if that is truly what he wants. I seriously doubt if the Dodgers resign him. They traded for Yu Darvish and Manny Machado and let them both walk.

    I’ve read some comments…”the Dodgers are trying to buy a pennant” which is crap because they may have more homegrown players than about anyone. They NEVER buy high free agents. Now back in 2012, that statement would have been true.

    • Dave

      I didn’t know Bosox were on the hook for half of Price’s, well, “price”. That makes the deal much better for LA, much more reason to be PO’d in Boston. At $16M a year, he’s probably a very decent value. I knew he lived in Nashville (at least in his brief Toronto stint he did) but had no idea Mookie was from those parts.
      The Peterson trade made no sense to me, given that they’d given up Verdugo, so they didn’t have to “make room” for Betts. Seemed like just yesterday he was the hot ticket in town there, and seemed like they already gave up on him. I think Angels got a bit of a steal there… but the Dodgers are still better than last week (assuming the trade gets finalized.)
      Off that topic – cool thing this week. Decided on a whim to buy a pack of Topps baseball cards, ’19 season, at the Walmart checkout… 30 cards I think. Got a Vlad Guerrero Jr rookie card and two other Jays rookies (Thornton and Luciano) in the one pack! Made my evening!

      • badfinger20

        Joc was in his last year of control. He is a free agent next year but still…I didn’t like it at all. He can only hit right handers but…he does that pretty well.

        This trade does not look good right now. If this trade does not go through…there will be a lot of pissed off players if everyone has to go back. The Pederson trade is dependent on the Betts trade.

      • Dave

        didn’t realize Pederson had been in the league that long already.
        Yep- imagine the scene if the trade falls through and all of a sudden Red Sox have to welcome Mookie and Price into the clubhouse next week in Florida… I’m reading today they might find a way to cut out Minnesota and do something direct, or with a different third team. Gotta wonder what the medical showed about Graterol — all the reports I’ve seen pre-trade note he was mainly a reliever in minor leagues, and short stint in MLB last year and project him more towards being a closer than a starting pitcher , so Bosox must have known that too.

      • badfinger20

        I sent you a link… yea what is being reported by more than one is the Sox were shook up by the reaction to the trade and wanted more…. IF true… that is pretty weak.

        The story on the guy was out there way before the trade. I sound like a sour grape Dodger fan now but… this is crazy.

      • Dave

        It is kind of crazy. That article puts the trade into an even worse perspective, for Boston fans. I’ve written before about the dilemma GMs have in trying to keep fans happy yet make smart plans too, but certainly the time to worry about reaction to a trade is BEFORE pulling it off not after!! Unless Graterol has a torn rotator cuff or something like cancer (and I am not hoping in any way that’s the case) they didn’t know about, seems like there can be no reason to call off the trade because NOW fans are griping or NOw the owners are reading the same magazines fans like me read last month that seem to project him as a bullpen arm, not a durable starter. LA ownership must be seething by now.

      • badfinger20

        I know their fans are seething…well now it’s done. We had to give up Jeter Downs…a top 10 prospect in the Dodgers system…I don’t know if anything else has changed.
        I’m glad you saw it that way…I was wondering am I just pissed because I’m a Dodger fan? You are right…there are no Take Backs…

      • Dave

        Whole thing was badly bungled, mostly because of Red Sox I think. Ended well for your guys- even if Graterol may not be the same level of impact player Jeter Downs may be. That said, looking at the overall list of MLB prospects, there seems to be an overabundance of middle infielders right now, so a quite good pitcher might be worth more than a top-flight shortstop five years down the road.

      • badfinger20

        I’m excited about that pitcher. I saw some video of him pitching a 100mph SINKER!
        Jeter Downs was a throw in with the Puig deal…The Reds didn’t think much of him.

      • Dave

        Likely so. It seems impossible to prove A) that the bad outing was due to Houston cheating, B) that the 1 game alone was the reason Toronto dumped him and C) the reason no other team picked him up on waivers or at least gave him a minors contract. However, maybe it will get him an invite to spring training somewhere this year AND who knows? I suppose judge’s can arbitrate in civil court. A judge might determine Houston had SOME culpability in it all and award him some compensation. Then watch the floodgates open. It’s going to be interesting to see. One guy in Astros I feel closest to sorry for is Hinch – he should have stopped it, but all indications are he didn’t really participate or approve of it all (ie- his smashing of their surveillance equipment twice!). Again, it was his job to say “Stop it!” but I think he might be more honorable than the rest of that crew.

      • badfinger20

        Did you hear about Beltran? He was confronted by Brian McCann to stop it but he ignored it and kept carrying on… Maybe this will stop future players…cheating is one thing with the eyes or stealing signals by just watching…but this…I’m hoping everyone learned.

      • Dave

        more and more it seems like Beltran was the real “brains” and villain. Yes, let’s hope others will learn from the debacle, another black eye for MLB though.

  2. badfinger20

    Dave… Never in my time of following baseball have I heard as much hatred spew from players and GM’s (The Nationals GM for one). What an incredible feat…The Astros have surpassed The Yankees and Red Sox as the most hated team in baseball…and possibly in sports.
    The apologies were so weak from most especially the owner. The word “cheated” just didn’t come up.
    The Nationals sent a Twitter Valentine card to the Yankees today saying they finished the job started by the Yankees. There is a lot of anger. The Yankees getting sympathy.

    • Dave

      I know! I am not a -what’s the term? Professional Crisis Counselor? – so I personally don’t know what exactly Manfred could have done more but he clearly dropped the ball on this one and bungled it. The story seems to be snowballing instead of going away. I don’t forsee an overall good year for MLB ahead.

      • badfinger20

        No I don’t either.
        The players wanted the other players punished. He claims the union would have stopped it. I don’t think he even ran it past them. Personally…I don’t think he wanted to know anymore about it. The more info comes out the worse it is.

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