By Michael Levitt
Over the past few off seasons there have been less trades taking place in baseball than there used to be, but that does not stop the trade rumors from coming. There were a few superstars who were rumored to be on the trade block, including third basemen Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant, but so far nothing has happened on that front.
However, a different superstar has been traded, even though it is not official yet. On Tuesday it was reported that the Boston Red Sox had agreed to a three-team deal that would send outfielder Mookie Betts and starting pitcher David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers and net the Red Sox two prospects. Then, the Red Sox had an issue with the medical records of one of the prospects, causing the deal to fall apart. On Sunday, the Red Sox agreed to a different deal that would still send Betts and Price to the Dodgers, this time without the third team. In return, the Red Sox would get three prospects, including a former top prospect and one of the Dodgers’ current top five prospects (according to mlb.com). Outfielder Alex Verdugo, the former top prospect, could possibly start for Boston right away, but since that would cause the Red Sox to have an all lefty-hitting outfield, it is more likely that Boston signs or trades for a righty-hitting outfielder and Verdugo begins the season as a backup. Boston’s acquiring of the Dodgers’ current top-five prospect has caused a ruckus with fans, since the prospect’s name is Jeter Downs. And yes, he is a shortstop, at least for now. However, with Xander Bogaerts already at shortstop for the Red Sox and signed through at least 2025, it is possible that Downs shifts to either second base or outfield sometime down the road. For what was basically a salary dump, the Red Sox acquired some good prospects, although including Betts in the deal almost guaranteed that, since he is one of the best players in all of baseball.
A consequence of the three-team deal falling through was that it took the Minnesota Twins out of the deal, although they then made a separate deal with the Dodgers. This deal is also not official yet, but the Twins reportedly acquired some needed starting pitching depth by getting Kenta Maeda, who will likely start the season in the Twins’ rotation while Rich Hill recovers from an injury and Michael Pineda serves the remainder of his PED suspension. The major piece that the Twins gave up for Maeda was pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol, who was originally supposed to go to Boston in the three-team deal and was the prospect whose medical records the Red Sox did not like. Graterol is also a top 100 prospect according to mlb.com and could have a future as a starting pitcher, although he pitched out of the bullpen for the Twins last year. In essence, he replaces Downs as a top prospect in the Dodgers’ farm system, which is one of the top systems in all of baseball.
In December the Texas Rangers made a splash in the trade market, getting starting pitcher Corey Kluber from the Cleveland Indians. Kluber was hurt for most of last season, but when healthy is one of the best pitchers in the league. The argument can be made for the Indians holding onto him and hoping for a bounceback season, but, like the Red Sox, the Indians were trying to cut payroll, and Kluber is owed $17.5 million this year with options the next two years at the same price or higher. In exchange for Kluber, Cleveland received outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. along with relief pitcher Emmanuel Clase. DeShields Jr. should start in center field for the Indians this year and is a somewhat dependable outfielder for a team that needs one. Clase should be in the opening day bullpen after posting a 2.31 ERA over 23.1 innings last year in his first taste of the majors. The Indians hope that he can carry over that success into this season and the future. While it may not seem like Cleveland got full value for Kluber, they got a couple controllable players who could help the team this year and in the future.
Another player who was traded for less than was expected was outfielder Starling Marte. With a new manager and general manager finally in place by late January, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ front office recognized that Marte was the team’s biggest trade chip and looked to cash in. But they received little for Marte when they traded him to the Arizona Diamondbacks, getting international bonus pool money and two lower-level prospects who were both in the Diamondbacks’ top 20 prospects (according to mlb.com). That is a decent return for a player who is a starting-worthy outfielder when healthy and is owed $11.5 million this year with an option for $12.5 million in 2021, but for a Pirates team that has had more than its fair share of trades in recent memory that did not pan out for them, they needed to get more for their biggest bargaining chip. This trade could mean that the team is looking to rebuild, but they probably want to get a better look at some of their younger players to determine if they could be part of the future core of the team. However, this trade could end up looking like a steal by the Diamondbacks if Marte can stay healthy and productive.
In other trade news this offseason, the Washington Nationals acquired Harper (no, not that one). Relief pitcher Ryne Harper had been designated for assignment by the Twins, and the Nationals decided to see if he could turn into something useful for them. Harper made his major league debut last year at 30 years old, but showed some promise, recording a 3.81 ERA over 54.1 innings and getting almost a strikeout an inning. It is a cheap flier for the Nationals that could be a good one, as a team can never have too much pitching depth. Relief pitchers in particular tend to be volatile in their performance from year to year, which is why some seem to fall off the map after only a few good seasons.
While it has been a while since a superstar was traded in the offseason, that makes the Dodgers’ acquiring of Mookie Betts even more noteworthy. Overall though, there were not many well-known names traded this offseason, as teams seemed to be more interested in signing free agents or taking low-cost risks. Part of that could be because prospects seem to have more value in today’s game than ever before, and having a good farm system can be key to building a long-term contender. For the most part, front offices do not want to give up young talent who could be good in the future to help the team now, as that could shorten the team’s contention window. That could change at some point in the future, but for now, it’s a way of thinking that most general managers embody. Time will tell if it works out for those teams. Until then, all there is to be done is the best they can do.
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org