Column: Dodgers heed the fervent wish of their fans in acquiring Mookie Betts
They had a well-stocked farm system. They had tens of millions of dollars to spend. Most important, they had the sense to listen.
The Dodgers heard the cries of their fans, and now they have an all-world outfielder in Mookie Betts, their trade with the Boston Red Sox becoming official Monday.
An organization that always looked ahead is finally playing for now. A franchise that valued roster balance finally splurged on a superstar.
Like their customers wanted them to.
The fans voiced their demands last month at the team’s FanFest, when president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman appeared on the main stage at Dodger Stadium.
Rather than welcome him as the architect of the multiple division-winning rosters, they greeted him as the payroll-reducing administrator who lost two World Series and a bidding war for Gerrit Cole.
The Dodgers announced they acquired outfielder Mookie Betters, left-hander David Price and cash from the Boston Red Sox for Alex Verdugo and two prospects.
The task of pacifying the angry crowd fell on radio reporter David Vassegh, who emceed the event. Vassegh cleverly used the formerly clean-shaven Friedman’s facial hair as a distraction.
“Hey, don’t boo the beard,” Vassegh said playfully.
But the point was made.
Division championships weren’t enough. Neither were half-hearted attempts to land a superstar.
In almost any other market, an executive as accomplished as Friedman would have been warmly received. But Los Angeles isn’t any other market.
Friedman deserves applause for his response, which made the Houston native an honorary Angeleno. Los Angeles teams don’t just make moves. They make industry-shaking moves.
The trade for Betts was reminiscent of the early days of Guggenheim Baseball Management’s ownership, when the Dodgers acquired Adrian Gonzalez from the Red Sox by absorbing the bloated contracts of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett.
This time, the Dodgers agreed to take on declining 34-year-old pitcher David Price and half of the $96 million he is owed over the next three seasons.
They are also responsible for the entire $27-million salary of Betts, who will be a free agent after the season.
And the price could escalate further.
Betts’ next contract could be in the ballpark of the 12-year, $426.5-million extension Mike Trout signed with the Angels last year, when he was still two years from free agency.
But if Betts electrifies crowds at Dodger Stadium, if he ends up on a first-name basis with the city, if he delivers a World Series championship, the fans won’t give the Dodgers any choice but to re-sign him.
The Dodgers have to know this. They have to know this city’s history.
The team’s previous owner, Frank McCourt, naively thought Manny Ramirez was playing for the Dodgers for free when the Red Sox agreed to pay the remainder of the his salary as part of their 2008 trade.
Nothing worthwhile is free, of course. Ramirez became one of the most adored athletes in Los Angeles in his time as a two-month rental, forcing the cash-strapped McCourt to re-sign him to a two-year, $45-million contract.
Even after Ramirez was suspended for 50 games the following season for flunking a drug test, a high-ranking team official privately defended the new deal. Ramirez sold season tickets and kept the Dodgers relevant in a Lakers town.
Pending medical evaluations, the Dodgers have agreed to trade Alex Verdugo and minor league prospects to the Boston Red Sox for Mookie Betts and David Price.
The Dodgers could very well encounter a similar situation next winter. Their fans want more for enduring a botched television contract and escalating ticket prices, and rightly so.
But that’s a concern for another day.
With spring training approaching, take a moment to celebrate this potentially transformative trade in Friedman’s career and to look forward the upcoming season.
Betts wasn’t the only player acquired Monday who could help the Dodgers win their first championship in 32 years.
If Price is handled with care, who knows, maybe he can replicate his performance in the 2018 World Series, when he was 2-0 with a 1.98 earned-run average against the Dodgers.
Right-handed reliever Brusdar Graterol, 21, who was added in a separate trade with the Minnesota Twins, could be a late-inning option.
When owners of big-market franchises spend what they’re supposed to spend and executives make the moves they’re supposed to make, the responsibility of winning a championship shifts from them to the players. That’s all that can be asked of management, for people who aren’t on the field to not be the ones holding them back.
With a healthy push from their passionate fans, the Dodgers have moved closer to that reality.
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