The Dodgers are going to be incredible in 2020
The Los Angeles Dodgers fielded what was undoubtedly the strongest roster of their seven-year stretch of dominance atop the National League West in 2019 before meeting their customary postseason fate.
Overflowing with stars of every ilk, be they young (National League MVP Cody Bellinger) or old (Justin Turner), foreign (Hyun-Jin Ryu) or domestic (Walker Buehler), the Dodgers set a new franchise record with 106 wins, finishing 21 games ahead of the second-best team in their division. Their league-leading plus-273 run differential was the franchise's best mark since they were the Brooklyn Bridegrooms in 1889. The Dodgers also set a National League record for home runs (279) in 2019, while their pitching staff, not to be outdone, led the majors in ERA (3.39) and WHIP (1.10).
Yes, they were ultimately ousted in the National League Division Series by the Washington Nationals, extending their World Series drought to 31 years, but that's not an indictment of their roster so much as a reflection of the crapshoot that is baseball's postseason. They were incredible, is the point, their early exit in October notwithstanding. And with little roster turnover this winter - among their principals, the Dodgers lost only Ryu and Rich Hill to free agency - they were going to be incredible in 2020, too, even if Blake Treinen ended up being their most notable offseason addition.
Reader, he didn't.
After fruitless bids for free-agent stars Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon earlier this winter, the Dodgers finally got their superstar Tuesday night, acquiring right fielder Mookie Betts, along with veteran left-hander David Price, in a three-team blockbuster that sent 23-year-old outfielder Alex Verdugo to the Boston Red Sox and veteran right-hander Kenta Maeda to the Minnesota Twins. (As of this writing, the Dodgers were finalizing a secondary trade in which they would send outfielder Joc Pederson and swingman Ross Stripling to the Los Angeles Angels for infielder Luis Rengifo and others, according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal.)
It's a deal with some long-term risk, given both Betts' impending free agency and Verdugo's considerable promise, but it's precisely the kind of risk that the Dodgers - who are richer than every MLB franchise except the New York Yankees and have fewer championships in the last three decades than the Kansas City Royals - should take. Ultimately, the best team in the National League just got significantly better, with Betts transforming a 2020 World Series contender into a 2020 World Series favorite.
Outside of Mike Trout, Betts may well be the game's best player, boasting a full five-tool complement that has allowed him to accrue more WAR since his 2014 debut than every player in the game except Trout. Betts has finished no lower than eighth in American League MVP voting in the last four seasons. He even managed to wrest the honor away from Trout in 2018, when he hit .346/.438/.640 (185 wRC+) with 32 home runs, 30 stolen bases, and 20 defensive runs saved, ultimately producing the 16th-best single season since integration by fWAR (10.4).
He wasn't quite as dominant last year, but, again, outside of Trout, nobody puts up consecutive 10-WAR seasons; Betts was still the ninth-most valuable player in the majors in 2019, putting up 6.6 WAR with a 135 wRC+, 29 homers, and 15 defensive runs saved in 150 games for the Red Sox.
He is, in short, a massive upgrade over Verdugo, which is saying something considering that Verdugo outproduced the Colorado Rockies' Charlie Blackmon in 2019 despite playing only 106 games. Betts deepens a lineup that was already hilariously deep and improves an outfield that was already plenty strong defensively. (Betts will presumably slide in at right field for the Dodgers, with Bellinger in center and A.J. Pollock in left field, taking over for Pederson.)
Betts is a superstar in every sense of the word, a singular talent who's impossible not to fall in love with, and while the Dodgers didn't need him to win their division for an eighth straight year, Betts is the type of player who could be the difference between another gut-wrenching October and that elusive championship.
Price, for his part, is no longer a superstar, as age and injuries have zapped his productivity in recent years, but the former Cy Young Award winner is far from useless. Although he may not be worth the $96 million he'll make over the next three seasons, the Red Sox are expected to cover about half of the money left on his contract, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. And even in his current iteration, Price - who made only 22 starts last year but managed his best fielding independent pitching mark (3.62) since 2010 - is an upgrade over Maeda, who bounced between the rotation and bullpen for the last several seasons and whose starting job with the Dodgers in 2020 was far from guaranteed.
Steamer projections, 2020
See? Price is a perfectly fine mid-rotation starter, which is the role he'll be asked to play in Los Angeles behind Buehler and Clayton Kershaw. Even if he was entirely washed, though, the Dodgers would've been right to take on his contract because doing so got them Mookie F@!$(&# Betts. The Dodgers were already so good, adding a player of Betts' caliber was the only way to improve.
Clearly, the Dodgers are tired of merely winning their division. They want a World Series title, and they want one now.
With Mookie Betts in their lineup, they might just get one.
Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.