It took until the final day of the offseason, after a long pursuit capped off by a strange weeklong saga, but the two splashy acquisitions the Dodgers believe will help end their World Series title drought strolled into Dodger Stadium on Wednesday for their formal introduction.
“They look good in Dodger blue, don’t they?” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said as he helped Mookie Betts put on his No. 50 jersey over a black hoodie on a pleasantly sunny afternoon. A few feet away Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, aided David Price, No. 33.
Getting them in Dodger blue was not easy. It took a failed trade that went public and a rush to mend the situation before reporting to Camelback Ranch for spring training this week. In the end, the Dodgers acquired one of baseball’s best players in Betts and a former Cy Young Award winner to bolster their rotation in the 34-year-old Price for the October sprint.
Both were members of the Boston Red Sox club that toppled the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series. They hadn’t been at Dodger Stadium since winning the championship.
“I’d like to celebrate again here, in this jersey,” Betts said, “for sure.”
As it stands, Betts is a one-year rental for the Dodgers. He is slated to become a free agent after making $27 million this season in his last year of arbitration. He was quoted as a member of the Red Sox as saying he is intent on testing free agency, which reportedly factored into Boston’s bold decision to trade its most beloved player. Asked if his plans to reach free agency have changed now that he is a Dodger, Betts declined to comment.
For now, the 27-year-old Betts will bat leadoff, setting the table for the deepest lineup in the National League. He will play right field with Cody Bellinger, the 2019 NL most valuable player, in center field.
“I’ll do my best to keep up with him,” Betts quipped.
Friedman’s infatuation with Betts, one he shares with just about everybody in the industry, was not recently born. He joked that Betts should have filed a restraining order on him by now.
He revealed he discussed with Dave Dombrowski, Boston’s president of baseball operations at the time, about acquiring Betts in July. He recalled progress was made on a deal but the Red Sox got hot late in the month and stopped the negotiations, believing they could make a run to reach the postseason. They failed.
The chase resumed in late December with Dombrowski’s replacement, Chaim Bloom. Friedman and Bloom are close; Friedman was Bloom’s boss for several years in the Tampa Bay Rays front office. The Dodgers had missed out on other top targets, namely pitcher Gerrit Cole, and were focused on acquiring a superstar. Friedman reasoned it was one of two ways to improve a roster that posted 106 wins last season. The other was adding players with upside.
A three-team trade with the Minnesota Twins was agreed upon last week. Los Angeles would receive Betts, Price and $48 million to cover half of the money Price is owed over the next three years; Boston would receive outfielder Alex Verdugo and pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol; and Minnesota would receive pitcher Kenta Maeda.
The pact leaked publicly but the Red Sox backed out when they reviewed Graterol’s medical records. The derailment unleashed confusion and anger from players, fans, agents, executives and the players’ association.
“It was unfortunate how public everything got,” Friedman said. “It was kind of an imperfect storm.”
The mess was resolved Sunday with two separate trades — the Dodgers dealt with the Red Sox and Twins directly to consummate separate deals. The Dodgers ended up acquiring Graterol from Minnesota, along with the No. 67 pick in the draft and minor league outfielder Luke Raley, for Maeda and up to $10 million. They sent Verdugo and prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong to Boston.
“It was just trying to get a place to live,” Betts said. “I had a plane set and I just didn’t know which way it was going to go.”
The flight ended up going to Los Angeles for a brief stop. Betts and Price were back on a flight Wednesday night, flying to Arizona, where Dodgers pitchers and catchers report Thursday. It was a quick turnaround after a drawn-out week.
Dodgers right-hander Pedro Baez won his arbitration case Wednesday. The 31-year-old reliever will make $4 million this year instead of the $3.5 million the Dodgers submitted to the arbitrator. He is the first major leaguer to win in arbitration against his club this offseason. Friedman had never lost an arbitration case, going 5-0 with Tampa Bay and winning his only case with the Dodgers over Joc Pederson this year.