Breaking down Mookie Betts trade as Red Sox begin life without former MVP

John Tomase
NBC Sports Boston

And 133 days later, the Boston Red Sox officially put us out of our misery.

The lost 2019 season ended on Sept. 29 with one idea abundantly clear: the Red Sox intended to trade former American League MVP Mookie Betts. We didn't know where or when, but the outcome felt inevitable.

Inevitability does not equal urgency, however, and man, did the Red Sox try our patience on that front. For months we heard nothing, at least until last week's frenzy yielded a three-team blockbuster with a surprisingly small return, at least from a talent standpoint.

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Then Brusdar Graterol's medicals interceded, the deal nearly imploded, and we finally arrived on Sunday night at another inevitable outcome: an imperfect conclusion. A true evaluation of winners and losers may take five years, but for now the best we can say is that the Red Sox saved some money, but definitely not some face.

As first major moves go, this one leaves a mark on Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom. The Red Sox waited all winter to trade Betts and half the Brinks truck idling in David Price's driveway, and what they got for their efforts was $75 million in savings, young outfielder Alex Verdugo, and prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong.

That's a light haul for a player of Betts' caliber, but this was never really about talent. It was about clearing the books, and if Betts needed to serve as a means to that end to rid the Red Sox of half of the remaining $96 million owed Price, then so be it.

Problems arose when the Red Sox decided that Graterol's shoulder did not look like it should be attached to a big league starter. So they demanded more from the Twins, who politely told them to take a hike, leading Minnesota to send the boxy flamethrower directly to L.A. for veteran starter Kenta Maeda.

This now gives the Red Sox another avenue to lose the trade, because if Graterol turns into Kenley Jansen's successor -- and with a 101 mph fastball, the stuff is there to close -- then the Red Sox will end up looking doubly stupid for refusing Graterol after acquiring him.

In the short term, there's no way around how much this one hurts.

Betts is a former MVP in his prime (27), who will almost certainly make the trade a KO for the Dodgers in 2020 by himself. Making matters worse is the possibility that Price is healthy, in which case the Red Sox will be paying one of the game's richest franchises to receive ace-like production from a former malcontent. Price would doubtlessly love to remind every critic in Boston what the Red Sox are missing.

Personally, I'd put him in the same 100-inning club as Red Sox holdovers Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi: hurlers who can't really be counted on to deliver 33 starts and 200 innings. But if there's one guy who can turn this trade into an overwhelming loss, it's Price.

So what did the Red Sox receive in return? The fact that they come out of this without a single starting pitcher -- Downs is a shortstop and Wong a catcher -- is pretty shocking, especially given the depth of pitching in the L.A. system. Not only could they have used Graterol in the bullpen, it's worth asking if they should've made a play for Maeda, since he's a league-average starter -- or slightly better -- who's only due a little over $12 million total through 2023.

In any event, Verdugo projects as a similar hitter to Andrew Benintendi, with a comparable line drive stroke, but better strike zone discipline. The 23-year-old has a great arm in right field, but has also battled immaturity, which the Red Sox will need to watch closely. The pressure on him as Betts' replacement in right field, and maybe even atop the order, will be immense.

Downs, 21, is a former first round pick who is indeed named after the Yankees Hall of Famer. His 19 homers ranked seventh in the California League, and also made him the youngest player in the top 10. He added five more homers in Double-A to give him 24 for the season. It's unclear if he has the range to stay at short, but he could fill Boston's long-term hole at second base.

That leaves Wong, a 6-foot-1, 181-pounder who also smacked 24 home runs last year, including nine at Double-A Tulsa, where he hit an impressive .349. He owns a lifetime OPS of .852 in the minors since being selected in the third round of the 2017 draft, though there are questions about his size and whether he'll hold up at catcher, which remains a relatively new position.

With Betts and Price gone and three prospects in hand, the Red Sox can begin life after Mookie. We may one day look back at the deal as a necessary recalibration, but don't be surprised if it feels like a giant loss in 2020.

Breaking down Mookie Betts trade as Red Sox begin life without former MVP originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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