Any team acquiring Mookie Betts this winter needs two items in abundance: money and prospects. A wide-open contention window, an opening in the outfield, and a home in the National League – where Betts can’t haunt the Red Sox directly during the season – would be added pluses.
It doesn’t take an advanced knowledge of Venn Diagrams to recognize that one team sits in the overlap of all of those circles – the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Blessed with a $200 million payroll, a perennially Top-10-rated farm system, and the need for a player to put them over the top after three straight near-misses, the Dodgers should be considered a prime destination for Betts this winter.
If we operate on the assumption that the Red Sox will be moving the former MVP primarily for cost-controlled prospects in order to keep their payroll manageable and allow them to build for the future, then it’s worth considering whom they might receive from L.A. in return. And the possibilities are tantalizing.
The Dodgers are loaded not only with prospects, but redundancy at certain positions that could make a deal more likely.
Start in the outfield. MVP Cody Bellinger isn’t going anywhere, and A.J. Pollock is signed through 2022, but there’s an opportunity to upgrade Joc Pederson‘s spot. The natural heir apparent is Alex Verdugo, a consensus top-35 prospect who hit .294 with an .817 OPS in 106 games last season.
The 23-year-old would be the perfect Betts replacement, however, thanks to a high-contact, all-fields approach at the plate, a howitzer of an arm in right, and solid overall instincts. He’d be a steep price to pay, but Betts would still represent a clear 2020 upgrade, and he’d solve a corner outfield logjam by shifting to center.
Another name to remember is catcher Keibert Ruiz. Signed out of Venezuela in 2014, all he has done since is hit, posting a .299 average and .351 on-base percentage despite consistently being one of the youngest players at each stop in the minors.
Baseball America’s most recent list of L.A.’s top 30 prospects includes no fewer than three catchers in the top 10, which means that Ruiz, 20, could be dealt from a position of strength. His former Triple-A teammate, Will Smith, got the call to L.A. this season and posted a .907 OPS with 15 homers in just 54 games behind the plate.
Continuing up the middle, the team’s top prospect is shortstop Gavin Lux, and the odds of the Red Sox receiving him for what could amount to a one-season rental of Betts are nil. However, Lux does create the possibility of the Dodgers dealing middle infielder Jeter Downs, a former Reds first-rounder who came to L.A. in the Yasiel Puig deal.
Downs was born in Colombia and raised in Miami, and yes, his first name is exactly what you think. His dad named him after the Yankees great and Downs showed considerable power potential this season by smacking 24 homers between High A and Double A at age 20. He’d fit a Red Sox roster with no clear internal choice to play second base moving forward and the organization is familiar with his family, since his older brother, Jerry, is a first baseman in the Red Sox system.
On the pitching side of the equation, the Dodgers are also blessed with talent. Their top pitching prospect, right-hander Dustin May, is likely unavailable – his sinker hit 99 mph this season – but fellow righty Josiah Gray could be an option. Also acquired in the Puig deal, the 21-year-old owns a 13-4 record and 2.37 ERA in two seasons. He reached Double A in 2019 and went 3-2 with a 2.75 ERA in eight starts while striking out more than a batter an inning.
A former shortstop who didn’t convert to the mound until his final year of college, Gray’s athleticism is off the charts, and his breakout 2019 earned him Dodgers minor league pitcher of the year honors.
If the Red Sox are looking for someone more big-league ready, they could ask for right-hander Tony Gonsolin. The 25-year-old made six starts for the Dodgers and was effective, going 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA in 11 appearances. Another former college position player, he’s the rare prospect to transition from reliever to starter, and he has done so with tremendous success, hitting 100 mph with his fastball and also featuring a plus splitter and curveball.
Any two of these players would make the start of an intriguing package, so keep your eyes on L.A. as the Betts rumor mill starts churning in earnest when the winter meetings open Dec. 8 in San Diego.
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