Analyzing the Value of Former MVPs After Mookie Betts Trade

Mookie Betts
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A wide range of emotions erupted in wake of the trade sending Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers last Sunday. Now that the dust has settled, it is clear that all parties involved are content with their returns. 

With the Minnesota Twins dropping out of the three team trade and rather conducting a separate trade with the Dodgers, the Boston Red Sox were able to secure a better return than originally agreed upon. While the team is content, questions still remain about the adequacy of the return for the 2018 AL MVP.

That being said, trading former MVPs is more of a common occurrence than one might expect. Mookie Betts is now the fifth former MVP to be traded since August of 2017. Each player was dealt at different ages with different circumstances, thus bringing intriguing packages in return.

Mookie Betts:

Players received: Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong

Age When traded: 27

Years since MVP: 2

Starting with Mookie Betts, the Red Sox were able to turn an MVP in his prime into three players. They also attached David Price and threw in cash to offset his contract. Verdugo is entering his age-24 season, and he has played 158 games since 2017, including 106 in 2019, his official rookie season. That rookie season did see Verdugo struggle with a back injury, but he posted a .294/.342/.475 slash line with 12 home runs and 44 RBI. 

Coming through the pipeline, Verdugo was rated as the 32nd-best prospect in MLB heading into 2019. He strongly possesses all five tools, and scouts gave him a grade of at least 50/80 on all of them. His greatest strengths were his arm with a 70/80 and his hit tool with a 60/80. 

Downs has yet to play a MLB game, but he also rates highly on the top prospect list. Currently, he sits at number 44 with an ETA of 2021. None of his tools grade as highly as Verdugo’s best tools did, but he is consistently a 50/80 or 55/80 on all of them. He can drive the ball to the opposite field and runs the bases well despite average speed. Additionally, he will get to slide back to second base, where his range fits best, in Boston with Xander Bogaerts locked up long term at shortstop. 

Wong is not ranked among the top-100 prospects in baseball. He is entering his age-24 season and has yet to play above Double-A. While he does not have the ceiling of Verdugo and Downs, it is believed that he can contribute at the MLB level. In 40 Double-A games last season, he slugged .604 with a .997 OPS.

Giancarlo Stanton:

Players received: Starlin CastroJorge Guzman, and Jose Devers

Age When Traded: 27

Years Since MVP: 0

The Miami Marlins traded Giancarlo Stanton a few weeks after being named the 2017 NL MVP to shed payroll. They did send money to the New York Yankees to help offset some of his contract, but ultimately the return was not as high as one would hope for someone who just hit 59 home runs playing in Marlins Park. That being said, there was and still is promise in this package.

Starlin Castro was coming off of an All-Star season with the Yankees in which he hit .300 with a .792 OPS in 112 games. Castro played two seasons in Miami before they did not pick up his option for 2020. In those two years, his collective OPS+ of 98 and DRS of -2 indicate that he played slightly below average offensively and defensively, but he did play in all 162 games in 2019. 

At the time of the trade, Guzman was ranked ninth in the Yankees farm system. He slid in as a top-five prospect for Miami. Since then, he slipped to 16th in the Marlins organization and has yet to play above Double-A. In spite of that, he is expected to debut his 100+ MPH fastball at some point in 2020.

Devers was not a ranked prospect within the Marlins organization when acquired, but he has climbed his way through the rankings and now shows enough promise to be top ten. Although he is one of five shortstops on the Marlins top-prospects list, scouts consider him one of the best contact hitters in the organization with great speed and plate discipline. 

Andrew McCutchen:

Players received: Bryan Reynolds and Kyle Crick

Age When Traded: 31

Years Since MVP: 5

When the Pittsburgh Pirates traded Andrew McCutchen to the San Francisco Giants, the return did not look as great on paper as it has played out. The team acquired Bryan Reynolds and Kyle Crick. Neither player was ever ranked in the top-100 prospects, and Reynolds was the Giants fourth-best prospect at the time while Crick the 25th-best prospect. They both slotted in those exact spots on the Pirates depth chart as 2017 began.

McCutchen had a down year in 2016 with a career-worst slash line, OPS, and DRS. He rebounded in 2017 with better numbers across the board although he was still a step-back from his MVP form of 2012-2015. Therefore, the return for McCutchen seemed to factor in his decline.

The sample size is small, but both players look to be serviceable MLB players for the Pirates moving forward. Crick has pitched in 146 games out of the bullpen since 2017, 116 with the Pirates. For his career, he has a posted a 3.43 ERA and 1.292 WHIP. His ERA did sit at 4.96 in 2019 with a 6.4 BB/9. In spite of that, he also showed promise with a 11.2 K/9 in 49 innings pitched. 

As for Reynolds, he finished fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2019. He hit .314 and slugged .503 in 546 plate appearances. His 131 OPS+ and 3 DRS show that he was well above league average on both offense and defense. He will look to build off of that as he heads into his age-25 season. 

Justin Verlander:

Players received: Franklin Perez, Jake Rogers, and Daz Cameron

Age When Traded: 34

Years Since MVP: 6

The Detroit Tigers traded Justin Verlander six years after he had won his MVP award, the longest stretch of any player on this list. Factors including his age, 34, and his remaining contract, $58 million over two seasons, impacted the Tigers return. 

The Houston Astros sent the Tigers their third, ninth, and eleventh ranked prospects in exchange for Verlander and $16 million to offset some of the contract. All three players immediately slotted into the Tigers top-seven prospects, with Franklin Perez ranking number one. Perez ended that season as the 41st-best prospect in baseball.

The return showed promise for the Tigers although it has not played out as well as they would have liked. Cameron has yet to debut in MLB. He is only 23 and still has time to develop although he has logged an OPS of under .800 in each of his two full seasons in the Tigers organization, including .707 in 2019. 

Perez has only started nine games in 2018 and 2019 combined in the minor leagues. Jake Rogers did debut in Detroit, but he slashed .125/.222/.259 in 128 plate appearances.

All three of these players are still under the age of 25 and have room to grow although at this point in time, the return for Verlander has not paid great dividends to the Tigers. 

Josh Donaldson:

Players received: Player To Be Named Later→ Julian Merryweather

Age When Traded: 32

Years Since MVP: 3

The Toronto Blue Jays traded Josh Donaldson to the Cleveland Indians before the August deadline in 2018. They intended to salvage any value left in the third basemen after an injury-plagued walk year. As a result, they received the lightest package in terms of both players and talent acquired by anyone on this list. 

The Player To Be Named Later turned into pitcher Julian Merryweather, and he has never appeared on the organization’s top prospects list. Merryweather is currently 28 years old, and he has not pitched in Triple-A since 2017 due to injury. He only pitched in two games in 2019.  

Clearly the value received for trading a former MVP can fluctuate based on the situation. Currently, the team with the best return appears to be the Pirates given that Reynolds and Crick are currently contributing at the MLB level.

Time will tell how the Mookie Betts return plays out in Boston. Ultimately, he netted them a top prospect, a former top prospect with control, and another potential MLB player. Despite the backlash, the Red Sox look to have received the best value on paper for trading Mookie Betts then any of the aforementioned teams received when trading a former MVP.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images