If you’ve been sleeping under a rock, well, you might have some bigger things to worry about than baseball, but perhaps you haven’t heard that the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers in exchange for outfielder Alex Verdugo and right-handed pitcher Brusdar Gaterol. Most of the focus in the aftermath of this deal has been squarely on Betts because, well, duh. He’s the second best player in baseball and not only are the Red Sox willingly losing him but the Dodgers, already one of the most talented rosters in the game, are adding him. It’s the kind of move that changes the landscape of the league.
As far as the Red Sox are concerned, though, they lost two players in this deal. Betts was clearly the better player, but Price being shipped out as well isn’t nothing.
It probably goes without saying that Price being involved here was all about money. The lefty was owed just over $30 million for each of the next three seasons, and if he made it through the year with Boston he would have earned 10/5 rights, meaning he can veto any trade. If they wanted to get his salary off the books, it basically had to be before the end of the 2020 season.
That said, I think there is certainly a fair argument as to whether or not they had to get that contract off the books. I’m not going to try and argue that he would have been worth that deal in the strictest sense of the word, because that would be silly. In a straight value analysis, he wouldn’t have been. The underlying assumption in that sort of argument, though, is that you need every contract to be at least even-value in every season. That’s not how free agency in baseball works. You aren’t going to get even-value in the later years of the contract, but if you still get positive contributions you can live with it.
Price was a guy who could still give positive contributions, which is not the same as saying it was a guarantee. However, consider what the lefty did roughly halfway through 2018 until roughly the halfway mark in 2019. The starting point here is when he seemingly accepted that he is no longer prime David Price, changing his approach and focusing less on his four-seam fastball and more on his cutter and changeup. Starting in June of 2018 and running through the middle of July last year, Price tossed 202 innings with a 3.25 ERA, just under ten strikeouts per nine innings and just over two walks per nine. That doesn’t include his postseason run either. He was the best pitcher on the team at a time when Chris Sale was either hurt or inconsistent and the Red Sox desperately needed that presence.
Now, it’s clearly not all rosy for Price. The reason the cutoff here is in the middle of July is that this is when his wrist injury started flaring up. As he has mentioned, that cyst in his wrist prevented him from really being able to spin his cutter, and without that weapon he is a shell of himself. It’s easy to say as long as he is healthy he will be good, but you have to consider that he is 34 years old. Health is far from a guarantee. Additionally, even over that run of excellence, he was still averaging just shy of 5 2⁄3 innings per start, not exactly ace-like production.
Even with the caveats, Price was one of the best pitchers on the roster, and if you assumed health for him (again, not a totally safe assumption) there was an argument that he had a path to be the best pitcher for the Red Sox in 2020. Without him, the team is significantly worse. Right now, the known starters are Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi and Martín Pérez. There is an open fifth spot and not a whole lot of internal candidates.
Maybe Graterol jumps right in, but they may want him to get some time at Triple-A to keep working on that changeup. Beyond him, the internal options are guys like Ryan Weber, Hector Velázquez, Brian Johnson, Tanner Houck, Mike Shawaryn and Kyle Hart. If they want to look externally, the best free agents on the board appear to be Jason Vargas, Andrew Cashner, Clay Buchholz and Taijuan Walker. There is, of course, also the trade route, but getting a piece of any significance would require dealing from their limited pool of prospects. Given the trade they just made, that would seem to run counter to their plan unless they get a controlled starter, and I’m unsure they have the pieces to get that kind of deal done.
Losing Betts stings the most and it’s going to be a bummer seeing him play in white and blue next season instead of manning right field at Fenway Park. That is the story of this trade and it absolutely should be. Just don’t sleep on the loss of David Price. Even if you think it had to be done due to the financials, there’s still the fact that this team’s 2020 success largely hinges on the success of their rotation, and they traded a guy who, for a calendar year, was the best they had.