BOSTON -- Though Red Sox fans had plenty of warning through the barrage of recent trade rumors that Mookie Betts would be gone before Spring Training, the finality of it still feels like a gut punch.
Looking forward, as the Red Sox, Dodgers and Twins finish the logistics of a trade that will send Betts and David Price to Los Angeles, now is a good time to digest all the ramifications of the deal that is expected to bring 23-year-old outfielder Alex Verdugo and 21-year-old righty Brusdar Graterol to Boston. There is a possibility the deal could be adjusted, however, according to a report from MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal Wednesday night, because of Graterol's medical records. A source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand that the teams involved in the three-way trade are “working through some things" and are hopeful that it will be completed on Thursday, but it’s not a certainty, as medicals are holding up the deal.
RED SOX GET: OF Alex Verdugo (from LAD), RHP Brusdar Graterol (MLB Pipeline's No. 83 prospect, from MIN)
DODGERS GET: OF Mookie Betts, LHP David Price, cash (all from BOS)
TWINS GET: RHP Kenta Maeda (from LAD)
How do the Red Sox replace Betts in the lineup?
No one player can fill the production void left by Betts in all facets of the game. They’ll have to do it collectively. But in Verdugo, the Red Sox hope they have a key contributor not just for 2020, but for several years to come. He is a left-handed hitter with the ability to spray the ball to the gaps, something that would work in his favor at doubles-happy Fenway Park.
It’s unclear who will replace Betts in the leadoff spot. Verdugo is an obvious candidate, but he batted first just twice for the Dodgers last season and went 0-for-7. The Sox tried Andrew Benintendi there during the early portion of last season, but it didn’t go well (.256 average in 48 games). Then again, that might have been a byproduct of Benintendi not feeling like himself for most of the year. Questions of lineup composition are particularly hard to answer when we don’t know yet who Boston’s next manager will be.
The Red Sox should still score plenty of runs, given that J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are all forces with the bat. Benintendi had a down year in 2019, but he is fully capable of bouncing back. Catcher Christian Vázquez emerged into a solid offensive player at a position that tends to lack firepower. Infielder Michael Chavis could take a step forward in his second season and slugging prospect Bobby Dalbec could be knocking on the door.
How will the outfield align?
The Red Sox have three starting outfielders in Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Verdugo who are flexible enough to move around. Bradley plays center and right. Benintendi can play left and center. And Verdugo comfortably plays all three spots. The guess here is that Benintendi stays in left, Bradley remains in center and Verdugo takes the spot vacated by Betts in right. The newcomer has one of the most important components of playing Fenway’s challenging right field -- a strong arm. Boston’s starting outfield now consists of three lefty hitters. It will be interesting to see if chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom will try to acquire a righty for the bench. Martinez, a big righty bat, also plays the outfield at times.
Who slots into a Price-less rotation?
Without Price, the Red Sox still have a potentially strong top three in Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi, as well as a free-agent acquisition with experience in lefty Martin Pérez. But how will the Sox fill the fifth spot? Bloom could always make a trade or sign a free agent. But don’t be surprised if the Red Sox go with an opener. Nobody has more experience at overseeing the implementation of openers than Bloom. Another interesting question is this: Could the Sox reverse course and have ultra-talented lefty Darwinzon Hernandez move back to the rotation? Late last season, Boston decided he could be of more immediate help as a reliever.
Can Graterol provide instant impact?
In trading Betts, it was vital for Bloom to get a Top 100 prospect, and that’s what he is expected to get in Graterol. The right-hander's fastball sits in the high 90s, and if he can overcome his lack of experience (10 MLB appearances) with a quick transition, the Sox could have a key weapon in their bullpen.
Now that the Sox are back under the luxury tax …
We heard all winter how it was a goal -- not a mandate -- of Red Sox ownership to get below the Competitive Balance Tax threshold of $208 million. That goal will be reached once the Price/Betts trade is official. In fact, with Boston believed to be close to a $190 million payroll after the trade, Bloom could have some wiggle room to upgrade the roster before Opening Day. There’s also a chance the Sox will keep that money in hand for July trade acquisitions.
However, the reason ownership wanted to get under the tax for the first time in three years is to re-establish a competitive advantage going forward. Assuming the Red Sox stay under the threshold in 2020, they can reset the penalty rate to the minimum, which could create close to $50 million in payroll flexibility in '21 and beyond. In other words, the Sox could again be big players on the free-agent market by next winter and be set up for a nice run of success over the next few years.
With Betts not staying long term, who might be?
The biggest individual winner with Betts leaving the Red Sox could be Devers, the 23-year-old with the big left-handed bat. Devers, who loves Boston and views Bogaerts as his big brother, could be in position to sign a long-term extension that would keep him at Fenway for a long time. As things stand, Devers is eligible for free agency after the 2023 season. The Sox would be thrilled to push that back for many years, and Devers likely would be as well. Benintendi, assuming he bounces back, is another candidate to sign an extension. Bradley is a free agent after ’20, and it will be interesting to see if Boston makes an effort to retain him next winter.
Can the Red Sox win in 2020 without Mookie and Price?
Winning the division looks like a stretch for a team that just lost its best all-around player and a key starting pitcher. But Bloom has found ways to stay in contention with a much lower payroll than he has now. If the Red Sox stay healthy and Bloom adds some more pieces by July 31, a Wild Card run is hardly out of the question in the American League. And once you get to October, anything can happen. For inspiration, the Sox can draw on what the Nationals did last season after losing Bryce Harper to the Phillies. The biggest key for Boston to have a chance to contend is Sale. Quite simply, he needs to again become a dominant ace who makes all of his starts count.