Revisiting the Mookie Betts Trade Three Years Later
Three years after the widely criticized move that sent Mookie Betts from Boston to LA, Cam takes a look at the fallout from this blockbuster move.
I love blind comparisons, so here's one of two current MLB players:
- Player A is 30 years old and has 10 HRs, 33 Rs, 29 RBIs, 1 SB, a .250 AVG, and a .863 OPS
- Player B is 27 years old and has 5 HRs, 37 Rs, 19 RBIs, 3 SBs, a .287 AVG, and a .830 OPS
Each player plays the outfield, although player A has the flexibility to play the infield.
Realistically, I’d most likely take player A. He has a better OPS, and doubles player B in HRs to go with 10 more RBIs. But would I take him over the next five years? Maybe not…
OK, here’s the big reveal if you haven’t figured it out … Player A is Mookie Betts, and Player B is Alex Verdugo. We are now three years removed from a trade that sent Betts to Los Angeles and Verdugo to Boston.
The trade was firmly panned when announced. Aside from Verdugo, the Red Sox acquired Connor Wong and Jeter Downs. I'll get to Wong later, but Downs is now out of the league. Up to this season, this move seemed like a slam dunk for the Dodgers, who certainly aren't complaining after Betts helped them win the 2020 World Series … but I’m here to tell you that the Sox won this trade.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of Red Sox GM Chaim Bloom, but as GM, he has to follow his owner’s instructions. And, aside from the players Boston acquired, the trade also has to be analyzed for the players who went out the door. Aside from Betts and his immense talent, David Price and half of his remaining $96 million went with him. In one fell swoop, Bloom saved owner John Henry $48 million. Meanwhile, so far, Henry has paid Verdugo about $12 million, while Betts has been paid $82 Million. That’s $118 Million in Henry’s pocket. Although Henry is a multi-billionaire, even he works within a budget. And some of that $118M shifted into Rafael Devers' pockets with his 10-year $313-million deal.
It may be a bit of a stretch, but if the Betts trade helped solidify keeping Devers in Boston, does that make it even? Maybe not, because cynics will say that losing Xander Bogaerts also freed up money for Devers. The uber-cynics will say that Henry has enough money that all three (Betts, Bogaerts, and Devers) could have been Sox for life. That would have entailed the three costing over $87M each year for the next decade-plus. Henry can certainly afford that, but it would have been at the expense of other areas of the team’s payroll.
So from a financial point of view, the trade is a net gain for the Sox. In terms of the player-for-player exchange, Betts is, of course, the better player, but the numbers are close this year. And the Sox have Verdugo for the rest of this season and 2024. He’ll be a free agent after 2024, entering his age-29 season, but he will not cost anywhere near what Betts is being paid. Andrew Benintendi received a five-year/$75M deal with the White Sox this offseason. I can see Verdugo getting a six-year/$100-120M deal. If the Sox sign him, it’s far less than what Betts would have gotten, and if they are out of the playoff race, he’s a great chip to trade.
If we return to the other pieces involved in the trade, Downs has been a complete bust, but Wong is proving to be a serviceable catcher for the Sox, and he is being paid just $722K this season and is under team control for at least five years.
I am prepared to call this trade an overall win for Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox. It gave the Sox more salary flexibility in the short and long term. It also gave them a tradeable chip in Verdugo if needed. And, in the here and now, they have a very serviceable and exciting outfielder who isn't that far off Betts' production.