There is much celebration in Chavez Ravine today, and there should be: The Dodgers have Mookie Betts, maybe the second-best player in baseball. That would excite any team. The Dodgers now have a better chance to win the World Series than they did at the beginning of the week. Who wouldn’t want Mookie Betts on their team? This is nothing but good news for the Dodgers.
It is worth noting, however, that there is considerable risk here for the Dodgers. First off, Betts can be a free agent after this year, and by all accounts, he wants to hit the open market; that’s why the Red Sox were so intent on trading him. That means the Dodgers are guaranteed only one season of him. The only reason they would trade for Betts is to win that elusive first World Series since 1988. After all, they were heavily favored to win the National League West even before the trade.
But there are, of course, hundreds of reasons the Dodgers would not win the World Series this year: Postseason series are short and unpredictable, Betts could get hurt or struggle in a small sample size in October (which happens to great players all the time; 2010 American League MVP Award winner Josh Hamilton went 2-for-20 in a World Series loss for Texas that year, Cody Bellinger went 1-for-16 in the '18 World Series), some team could get hot against them at the right time and knock them out. The idea that one player -- in February -- could be the difference between winning a World Series eight months later or not winning one (or not making it to one) is … well, it’s a stretch.
If the Dodgers make the World Series, they’ll be happy they have Betts on their team. But having him on the team in February is no assurance that they’ll win one, or even appear in one. And for that lack of assurance, they’ve given up Alex Verdugo (a promising young outfielder), Kenta Maeda (who provided rotation depth and had been a bullpen stalwart in October) and taken on the unpredictable David Price for three years along with a healthy chunk of his salary.
All this for a guy who might only be on the team for nine months. They better win the World Series this year. It’s a calculated, reasonable gamble for the Dodgers. But it is no question still a gamble.
A move this massive causes ripples around the rest of baseball: It’s not just the Dodgers, Red Sox and Twins (who are expected to acquire Maeda and send prospect Brusdar Graterol to Boston) who are rattled and shifted around by this. Thus: Here’s a look at the five teams most affected by the trade that were not involved in the trade.
1. San Diego Padres
The Padres were reportedly the only other serious bidder for Betts, and with good reason: There aren’t many front offices that are under more pressure to show substantial improvement this year than A.J. Preller’s in San Diego.
Reminder: That disastrous first season of his reign in San Diego, in which Preller brought in Craig Kimbrel and Matt Kemp and Justin Upton to juice the franchise and then quickly retreated, remains the Padres’ most successful season on the field since he took over, and they won just 74 games. That was five years ago. That 2020 season just got a lot tougher.
The Dodgers were always going to be better than the Padres this season, but now they’re a lot better. San Diego showed initiative, and urgency, by attempting to get Betts in the first place. But the Padres also showed how desperate they are to show substantial improvement in 2020 when they signed Drew Pomeranz to a four-year deal and traded for Tommy Pham this offseason. That just got harder to do. All told, the Padres probably wish now that the Red Sox would have just hung onto Betts.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are always going to be a little behind the eight ball -- not just because of their financial and ballpark situation, but also because they are in a division with two juggernauts who are in constant war with each other. Well … almost always.
The Red Sox are going to enjoy having Alex Verdugo playing for them for the next half decade, and, if you believe management, getting under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold will allow them to build stronger, more sustainable rosters in the future. But there’s no question losing Betts makes them appreciably worse in 2020, and no team is better situated to benefit from that than Tampa Bay.
The Rays are one of only six teams that have won 90 or more games each of the last two seasons, and with Betts out of the division (and also Price; the Red Sox's rotation suddenly has a hole in it as well), Tampa Bay is instantly in an excellent position to do it again in 2020. The Yankees muscled up in the offseason, but the Rays look like favorites to earn an AL Wild Card again. They’re going to get a lot less competition from Boston for that spot than they would have two days ago.
3. New York Yankees
Remember when the Yankees played in just one playoff game from 2013-16 and didn’t sign any superstars, and everyone was wailing and gnashing teeth and rending garments about how "the Yankees weren’t the Yankees anymore"?
Well, not only did the Yankees never once go under .500 in that stretch (unlike the Red Sox, who did so twice in that window and three times in the past decade), they also never traded a guy because they were afraid they’d lose him in free agency. Heck, the Yanks once traded a guy (Aroldis Chapman) because they figured they’d just get him back in free agency anyway. And they did! (And got Gleyber Torres from the Cubs for their trouble.) Point is: Yankees fans will enjoy tossing the fact that the Red Sox just threw up the proverbial white flag in Boston fans’ faces for years to come.
And it sure looks like, with the Red Sox (mostly) out of the way, the Yankees have as much of a straight shot to the World Series in the AL as the Dodgers do in the NL. Now, that World Series could be a problem: With the Betts trade, the Dodgers are signaling how important winning the World Series in 2020 is to them in the same way that the Yanks signing Gerrit Cole signaled that for New York.
The Yankees will deal with that problem if it comes up in October, and they have Cole for nine years, the Dodgers have Betts for only one. For now: The Yanks’ 2020 path just got a lot smoother.
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
The D-backs have quietly made some of the smarter moves of this offseason -- the Starling Marte trade that got lost in the shuffle of the last two weeks solves about four problems for them -- and they’ve been impressively reorganizing their roster without coming close to bottoming out in a way that most teams in baseball have found elusive. The problem, of course, is that you can do everything right and make smart, cautious, prudent moves, and then the Dodgers can come in with a Betts torpedo and just blow the whole thing out of the water.
The D-backs were probably already just playing for an NL Wild Card this year, but now they’re definitely doing that. And with 19 games against that mammoth Dodgers, the NL Wild Card just became a lot harder to grab.
5. St. Louis Cardinals
To be clear, the Betts trade affects pretty much every NL contender (Braves, Mets, Phillies, Cubs, Brewers, Reds, D-backs, et al) for the same reason. For all of those teams, the Dodgers just became the mountain they’re going to have to scale, a mountain that just got a lot taller. The Dodgers aren’t messing around. Winning the NL is going to be incredibly difficult for anyone outside L.A.
But I’m gonna focus on St. Louis for a second, and not just because of my own connection with the team (and the fact that Cardinals Twitter woke me up last night screaming about the trade all evening and morning).
The Cardinals, like the Dodgers, are a franchise that takes considerable pride in being one that competes for championships ever year, that never rebuilds, that never talks about “competitive windows.” They want to win, and they want to win now. Players expect it, fans expect it, everyone expects it.
Well, the Cardinals made it one round closer to the World Series than the Dodgers did last year despite gaping holes in the offense that were made even more glaringly obvious in the NL Championship Series sweep by Washington. The Cards have addressed those holes this offseason … not at all. In fact, by letting Marcell Ozuna leave for Atlanta, they’ve added another one.
The Dodgers’ offense was much, much better than the Cardinals’ last year, but they saw a way to still improve that offense by bringing in, uh, the second-best player in baseball. The Cards … well, they really think Matt Carpenter is going to bounce back this year, and maybe Tommy Edman can keep it going, and Dexter Fowler can reverse time, and Tyler O’Neill, and Dylan Carlson and Justin Williams, and maybe, maybe, maybe.
Which of these signature "we want to win the World Series every year" franchises looks to have more urgency to win in 2020 to you? The Dodgers’ aggression has just further highlighted the Cardinals’ passivity. Though I suppose when you’re this aggressive, it highlights everyone’s.