By the time Spring Training 2020 shut down in the middle of March, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had only gotten eight Cactus League games out of Mookie Betts. After that, because of the coronavirus, Roberts wondered when he would see Betts, the MVP of the American League in 2018 and
By the time Spring Training 2020 shut down in the middle of March, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had only gotten eight Cactus League games out of Mookie Betts. After that, because of the coronavirus, Roberts wondered when he would see Betts, the MVP of the American League in 2018 and one of the most gifted players in the game, on the field again.
It finally happened last week, when baseball began the business of getting back to work. Now Roberts’ Dodgers are scheduled to play the second game of an Opening Night doubleheader against the Giants, after the Yankees face the Nationals in Washington, two weeks from now.
I asked Roberts on Wednesday what it is like to see Betts back in a Dodgers uniform.
“Pure joy,” he said.
It is fitting, by the way, that both the Yankees and the Dodgers have games on the night of July 23, just because of the players they have added since the Nationals won Game 7 against the Astros last October. The Yankees signed Gerrit Cole, who gets the ball against the Nationals, to the biggest contract -- $324 million, nine years -- any pitcher has ever signed. Cole will try to be the difference-maker who can help the Yankees win their first World Series since 2009.
But a huge spotlight -- and not just in L.A. -- will be on Betts, who will be the most coveted free agent on the planet next winter, the way Cole was last winter.
Betts is still just 27. He isn’t Mike Trout, just because no position player is, but he has that kind of skill set, those sorts of tools, and he brings the same sort of joy and talent to playing baseball that Trout does, less than an hour south of Dodger Stadium.
No player in the history of the Boston Red Sox ever had more all-around talent, at the plate and on the bases and in the field, than Betts. The Red Sox finally gave up on the notion of signing him to a long-term contract and traded him to the Dodgers last winter. Now the 2018 American League MVP goes into the same batting order and into the same outfield as Cody Bellinger, the 2019 National League MVP, as the Dodgers try to win their first World Series in 32 years.
• Betts discusses challenges on and off the field
The Yankees made their big move with Cole. We saw what Max Scherzer, Cole’s Opening Night mound opponent, and Stephen Strasburg did for the Nationals last season, especially in October. We know that Jacob deGrom of the Mets has won the last two National League Cy Young Awards. We know that Cole’s teammate with the Astros last season, Justin Verlander, won himself another Cy Young in 2019. Cole was more dominant than any of them last season.
The Yankees, who won 103 games without Cole last season, signed him on Dec. 11. The Dodgers, who won 106 last season, traded for Betts exactly two months later. There is a dizzying number of compelling storylines for baseball in this short regular season if it can make it to the postseason. But there will be as much focus on Cole and Betts as anybody. We'll start to find out on Opening Night if one of them -- or both -- can make it all the way to the opening game of the World Series.
It is worth remembering what Betts did for the Red Sox as a leadoff man in '18 as his team was on its way to winning the World Series: a .346 batting avergae, 32 homers, 80 RBIs, a .438 on-base percentage, 1.078 OPS, .640 slugging, 30 stolen bases. He scored 129 runs.
The Dodgers also got David Price in that deal with the Red Sox, but Price has elected not to play this season, citing health concerns. Betts, with so much on the line this season for both him and his new team, has very much opted in.
Here is something he said to reporters the other day: "I'm not in the same predicament as someone who can opt out. I'm in a different spot."
His different spot is Dodger Stadium. He goes from one iconic franchise to another. He goes from the kind of stage he had at Fenway Park to an even bigger one on the other side of the country.
The manager of the Dodgers, who lost a World Series to Betts’ Red Sox once, couldn’t be happier. And it sounds like he wants Betts to be in Los Angeles for more than three months.
“The Dodger uniform was meant for him,” Dave Roberts said.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.