BOSTON — Well, that escalated quickly.
In the 15 months since winning the World Series, the Boston Red Sox have traded away MVP winner Mookie Betts and onetime ace David Price, lost manager Alex Cora in a cheating scandal and fired the baseball boss who put together the greatest team in franchise history.
With less than a week before pitchers and catchers were scheduled to report to spring training, the Red Sox agreed to the terms of a deal that will send Betts and Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers and bring outfielder Alex Verdugo and Twins pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol to Boston. They’ll be among the new faces in the dugout; the manager, who had not been hired when the equipment truck left Fenway Park on Monday, could be another.
It was a stunning and sudden sacrifice of the upcoming season for a team that won a franchise-record 108 games and its fourth World Series in 15 years in 2018. And it came at the altar of baseball’s collective bargaining tax, which convinced one of the richest teams in the sport to cut its payroll beneath the $208 million threshold in order to save money.
Now the Red Sox have a new opening in right field, which will probably be filled by Verdugo, and a spot in the rotation, which will probably not be filled by Graterol. Little else is up for grabs in the lineup, but without Betts and Price on the roster, neither is the AL East title.
“They’ll be back. If they’re not going to be here this year, they’ll be back,” Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner said from the owners’ meetings. “I guess it didn’t surprise me just because there was so much talk about it. Can’t really speak to the decision-making process, but it would have had to be a difficult one and a complicated one.”
Pitchers and catchers report for the Red Sox on Wednesday in Fort Myers, Fla., while positional players report on Feb. 17.
Verdugo batted .294 with 12 homers and 44 RBIs in 106 games for the Dodgers before a back injury ended his season in early August. He will join Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi in an outfield that had been one of Boston’s biggest strengths.
Price’s spot will more likely be filled by lefthander Martin Perez, who joins fellow lefties Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez and righty Nathan Eovaldi in the rotation. The fifth spot is up for grabs; it could be Darwinzon Hernandez and it could be an opener.
Kevin Plawecki comes in as a back-up catcher.
Oh, and someone will try to be the third straight Red Sox manager to win the World Series in his first season on the Boston bench.
Rookies to watch
Graterol is a top 100 prospect who hit 102 mph during a September callup last season, when he had a 4.66 ERA. Bobby Dalbec, who hit .239 with 27 homers and 73 RBIs in Double- and Triple-A last year, could make roster as an extra bat and backup at the corner infield.
The lineup is largely the same one from last year — and the 2018 champions: catcher Christian Vazquez, first baseman Mitch Moreland, shortstop Xander Bogaerts, third baseman Rafael Devers, and Bradley Jr. and Benintendi returning to the outfield.
The Red Sox need to replace Dustin Pedroia — this time, perhaps, for good. The 2008 AL MVP has played just nine games over the past two seasons, and he had another setback in his rehab this offseason that could be the end of his career.
They also need a closer, with Brandon Workman (10-1, 1.88 ERA, 16 saves, 73 games) handling most of the ninth-inning chores last season.
The Red Sox open the regular season in Toronto on March 26. After four games against the Blue Jays, they head to Baltimore for three before the home opener against the White Sox on April 2.