As you've surely heard by now, the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers as part of a three-team deal on Tuesday night. In return, they received talented pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol, 23-year-old outfielder Alex Verdugo, and an express ticket under all three luxury tax thresholds.
This feels like an earth-shaking move, one perhaps on the same level as the Gerrit Cole signing in terms of its significance to the team's involved. The Dodgers have solidified their superteam bona fides and the Yankees' path to American League supremacy has become clear, all thanks to Boston's apparent disinterest in employing great baseball players.
The effects of this deal are wide-ranging, and we'll touch on some of the more far-flung impacts, such as how worried the Yankees should be about a possible LA superteam, later in the week. The most apparent aftershock of the trade is the impact it has on the immediate AL playoff race.
As I detailed a few weeks back, the Red Sox as constituted 24 hours ago were a threat. Boston limped to an 84-win season in 2019, but did so in spite of injuries and underperformance of their base numbers. They retained the core of the club that won 108 games in 2018 into 2020, and while the Yankees were clearly better on paper, a Red Sox team projected for roughly 94 wins still would've been a force to reckon with.
That force has been slowed. Betts was the heart and soul of the Boston lineup and outfield, a near-perfect player and the only man to take an AL MVP off of Mike Trout without much controversy. He is a joy of an athlete, one who can hit, run, and field his position with skill and grace. He's a safe bet to produce six or eight wins in a season, a bet the Red Sox decided not to make.
The loss of Price will also hamstring the Red Sox. The left-hander experienced countless ups and downs during his tenure in Boston, but he produced a 118 ERA+ with the team, averaged about 150 innings a year, and overcame playoff demons to become a postseason hero. Without Price, Boston’s rotation is perilously thin behind Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Nathan Eovaldi, all of whom have injury concerns.
The Red Sox as currently constructed will still put forth a respectable team, but they are no longer a few breaks of the game away from testing the Yankees at the top of the division. They’ve purposely shunted themselves away from the league’s upper crust, instead likely consigning themselves to elbowing with the Rays and the Athletics and the rest of the junior circuit’s second tier for a Wild Card spot. There are no free lunches, as the Yankees well know after seeing their 2019 campaign come under threat to an injury epidemic, but if they execute and stay relatively healthy, they’ll be easy favorites to take the AL East, with a cleaner path to the pennant.
More importantly, however, New York’s route to true, long-term AL dominance is clear. Not only did the Red Sox hurt their own playoff chances in 2020, this move makes clear the team’s intentions going forward. They view winning the World Series with the most expensive team in baseball, as they did in 2018, as a burden. Savings and winning baseball games are the priorities, in that order.
A world in which the Red Sox are just the Rays in a big market is a world in which the Yankees should launch an uninterrupted reign over the league. If the Red Sox are unwilling to pay the luxury tax to keep generational players like Betts and to retain the core of a mid-90-win team, there is no reason the Yankees shouldn’t control the AL for the better part of the next decade.
The modern Yankees combine cutting-edge strategy with financial might in a way no other team in the league appears capable now that the Red Sox have laid down their sword. The Yankees possess one of the deepest analytics departments in the league, an impressive player development and scouting network, and have begun to revolutionize their approach to strength and conditioning. They also have the highest payroll in the game and, of course, just signed Cole to that record nine-year contract.
No team looks up to the task of matching that potent combination. The Astros are as sharp as any team in the game, but balked at the potential tax payments required to retain Cole, and obviously are embroiled in a cheating scandal of their own making. The Red Sox seem to hope to one day run things as smartly as the Yankees, but without the requisite financial muscle. The Rays are scary, what with their brand of cunning and an incredible farm system, but they’ve never shown a willingness to pay even a fraction of what it would take keep their best players, limiting their chances of ever reaching the heights MLB’s recent superteams have achieved.
The Yankees are one of the game’s smartest teams, and they spend more money than anyone else. As long as they decide to continue do both of those things, they will have every opportunity to control the AL for the foreseeable future.
This is the good news from the perspective of Yankees fans. The bad news is that one of baseball’s premier franchises deciding against employing maybe the second-best player on the planet in the prime of his career leaves the game in a tenuous position. As our John Griffin noted, baseball owners’ unwillingness to pay for the best baseball players has us on course for a work stoppage. The Yankees are set up to rule the AL, but we’ll have to hope that the league even exists to be ruled by 2022.