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What does the Mookie Betts trade mean for the league and the Rays?

It would have been a lot better for the league to see him go somewhere other than L.A.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A baseball blockbuster has been reportedly agreed to, although medicals are slowing things up. The Boston Red Sox are sending Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a three-team deal. Boston will receive Alex Verdugo and Brusdar Graterol. Graterol comes from the Minnesota Twins, who in turn receive Kenta Maeda, and is the one with the medical question marks.

Overall, this is a deal with big names. The most notable ones going to Los Angeles.

This is a blockbuster in any time, but in a winter that has been more tease than substance in terms of big names rumored to be available, it stands out in particular.

To this point: Kris Bryant, Francisco Lindor, and Nolan Arenado have spent a lot of time being talked about, but Betts is the first one to actually get moved.

The Trade

The Dodgers were already one of the best teams in baseball, and they got significantly better in 2020. Currently the winners of the National League West for seven consecutive seasons, the Dodgers look like they will cruise to an eighth.

Betts is considered by the majority of analysts to be the second-best position player in MLB. He would have been an upgrade for every single team in baseball. The Dodgers already had an above-average right fielder in Joc Pederson, but this is still a substantial upgrade.

On the mound, Price has the name recognition and is paid handsomely, as he signed the largest contract ever for a pitcher before Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole crushed that total this winter. Price is still an above average pitcher when he’s available. The real problem has been volume, as he’s amassed only 358.0 innings over the last three seasons. He’s projected to be a 3.0-win pitcher over approximately 150 innings.

He’s replacing Kenta Maeda in the Dodgers rotation who has been quite good putting up around 2.5-win seasons over 150 innings the last two years. He’s been bounced between the rotation and bullpen, and how much this had to do with incentives and getting ready for the playoffs is up for debate. He’s a good pitcher and likely not that much worse than Price. Price is more expensive, but still a good pitcher. This part of the trade is likely a wash for the Dodgers.

I think the Twins get the best of this deal. Baseball America ranked Brusdar Graterol as the #60 prospect in the game. He was moved to the bullpen late last season, and the Twins were expected to use him as a reliever in 2020 despite having to re-sign most of a rotation that only had Jose Berrios under team control heading into the winter.

The Twins needed more starting pitching and they got it in Maeda. He’s under cheap control through 2023 but does have a lot of sizable incentives. The Twins are without Michael Pineda as he finishes his PED suspension to start the season, and Rich Hill is not expected to be back until somewhere around the All-Star Break.

The Red Sox are getting hammered for this move. They got more than I would have expected considering how much rentals have been going for in the trade market recently. Verdugo is a good MLB-ready player that is projected to be a 3.0-win-plus player in 2020. He has five years of team control remaining. He’s not Mookie Betts, and that makes the 2020 Red Sox worse by a substantial amount, but in a world where the Red Sox aren’t able to sign Betts as a free agent the 2021+ Red Sox are better. After resetting the luxury tax penalty the Red Sox have the ability to bring Betts back next winter, but there will be many suitors.

Price is being replaced by either Graterol or one of the mediocre Red Sox starting prospects is a big step down.

Effect On The Game

A lot of the analysis of this trade has focused on the Red Sox getting worse unnecessarily. The necessity is always up to debate, but they definitely had a choice to either get worse or go on one last ride.

I’m sure the ones worrying about Red Sox fans here are few if any. I’m sure it sucks for Red Sox fans to lose your best player and take a step back, but I think the focus on that is short sighted.

The trade could work out fantastically for the Red Sox. It hinges on what Bruterol is. If he’s a solid or better starter, it will look very good in hindsight.

However for the league overview I think it’s bad for the game because Betts went to the Dodgers. The Dodgers were already favorites to win the National League West by double digits. This has very little effect on the regular season. Its’ all about the postseason. The Dodgers were one of the super teams already, and they got even better.

If a team like the San Diego Padres or any other team in the middle were to get Betts, it would feel much more exciting for the league. A team could move from the middle to very good, and in the Padres example they might have been able to cut the difference from ten to five. That gives them a punchers chance to win the division.

One team that was good got worse in order for one of the super teams to extend their lead. This isn’t ideal.

So how about the Rays?

While the Tampa Bay Rays weren’t directly involved in this trade, it does change the outlook for the Rays. Any time a team in the division gets worse, that improves the Rays chances.

It feels like there is now a very clear cut order for the division with the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and Baltimore Orioles being the likely order.

The Red Sox shouldn’t be totally discounted, because they still have a lot of talent. Their depth is lacking, but before the trade, they had as high upside as any team in baseball. If they had 2018-level health, then they absolutely had a chance to win the division and the World Series.

This trade makes those odds much worse.

Getting a quality lefty like Price out of the American League East along with the injury to New York Yankees pitcher James Paxton should make the lefty leaning Rays offense sleep a little bit easier.