Professional Sports

SPORTS DIGEST: Dodgers finally make a move; trade for Mookie Betts

Finally. Almost four months after they were defeated by the Washington Nationals in game 5 of the National League Divisional Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers have done something to get better for the 2020 season.

And just think. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Glendale, Arizona, next week. Nice timing, team President Andrew Friedman.

As this is being written, the trades still aren’t official yet, but it looks like the Dodgers will be acquiring superstar outfielder Mookie Betts and former Cy Young Award-winning pitcher David Price from the Boston Red Sox. The Dodgers are sending second-year outfielder Alex Verdugo to the Red Sox and pitcher Kenta Maeda to the Minnesota Twins, who are sending relief pitcher Brusdar Graterol to the Red Sox.

In a separate move, the Dodgers are sending outfielder Joc Pederson down the Santa Ana (5) Freeway to the Angels for second baseman Luis Rengifo. As of Feb. 5, rumors surfaced that pitcher Ross Stripling was being included in the deal to the Angels, but that would probably require more compensation from the Angels than Rengifo.

Betts is a major acquisition, even if he only spends one year in a Dodger uniform. He is headed for free agency after the 2020 season and the Red Sox decided to get something for him rather than see him leave at the end of the year as a free agent.

In 5 ½ seasons in Boston, Betts hits .301 with 139 home runs and 470 runs batted in. His on-base plus slugging percentage for his career is .893.

Last year, Betts hit .295 with 29 homers and 60 RBI, down slightly from his 2018 season when he hit .346 with 32 homers and 80 RBI and won the American League Most Valuable Player Award while leading the Red Sox to the World Series championship.

He runs well and has stolen as many as 30 bases in a season and he is a good fielder with a strong throwing arm.

Manager Dave Roberts will have to decide whether Betts plays center field or Cody Bellinger does. Either way, the Dodgers are set in center and right field. Betts could hit leadoff, where his combination of speed and power would be a strong table-setter for the Dodgers lineup.

David Price was the American League’s Cy Young Award winner in 2012. He was 20-5 for the Tampa Bay Rays that year.

In his 12-year career with Tampa Bay, Detroit and Boston he has won 150 games, but he pitched only 16 games in 2017 and only 22 last year with the Red Sox, when he was 7-5 with a 4.25 earned run average.

Price will replace Maeda or Hyun-Jin Ryu in the Dodgers starting rotation, filling the role of a third or fourth starter behind Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw.

The Dodgers had refused to deal Verdugo, one of their top prospects, for several years before finally parting with him. He played 106 games in his rookie season last year, ending up with a .294 batting average with 122 homers and 44 RBI, but he missed most of the last two months with a back injury.

In four years with the Dodgers, Maeda was a steady starting pitcher who got moved to the bullpen every year in the playoffs and performed well there, too.

Maeda’s career record with the Dodgers is 47-35 with a 3.87 ERA. In the postseason, he was 2-1 with a 3.31 ERA.

He won 97 games while pitching eight seasons in the top Japanese league before signing with the Dodgers is 2016.

The trade of Pederson to the Angels is as much a salary dump as anything. With Betts on the roster and A.J. Pollock in his second year with the Dodgers, the team didn’t want to pay Pederson more than $7 million in a part-time role.

In five years with the Dodgers he hit 123 home runs, but struck out 575 times while never hitting higher than the .249 he hit last year, when he also had career highs in home runs (36) and RBI (74).

Rengifo was signed as an amateur free agent by the Seattle Mariners in 2013, was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in a minor league transaction in 2017 and came to the Angeles in a minor league trade the following year.

He played in 106 games in his rookie year with the Angels last season, mostly at second base, and hit .238 with seven home runs.

The Dodgers had been quiet for most of the offseason, signing only relief pitchers Blake Treinen and Jimmy Nelson, and bringing back starting pitcher Alex Wood to the team.

But the Dodgers are in a position where they could stand pat. They won their seventh consecutive National League West division title last year and have been eliminated by the eventual world champions in their last three postseasons.

They are still the team to beat in the National League West and, with Betts in the lineup regularly, will be favored to win the National League again this year.

Will it be enough to break the team’s 32-year World Series drought? We will find out next October.

TRADE DEADLINES: While on the subject of trades, the NBA trade deadline arrives Feb. 6 and the Lakers and Clippers both could be busy making final tweaks to their roster before the push for the playoffs begins.

A month ago it looked like the Lakers might try to move forward Kyle Kuzma for better outside shooting, but Kuzma, who was bothered by a nagging foot injury early in the season, has played himself into shape and is the team’s third most consistent scorer behind LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

The Lakers might try to push to the postseason without making a trade at the deadline.

The Clippers are in a similar predicament. They are in second place in the Western Conference standings and, barring a major injury, expect to have a long playoff run. They are interested in veteran role players like Andre Iguodala, the former Warrior who has set out all season after being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies last summer, or Darren Collison, the former UCLA point guard who retired last June but has been mulling over offers from teams interested in his services.

The Lakers could also be interested in Collison for the right price.

Collison has played for five teams in 10 NBA seasons, averaging 12.5 points a game and 5 assists. He averaged a career-high 6 assists a game with the Indiana Pacers last year before retiring.

What neither team wants to do is shake up team chemistry at a crucial time of the season with marginal players who might not play much come the playoffs.

A BRIGHT FUTURE: People who know youth soccer have had their eyes on Ulysses Llanez of Lynwood for several years. Now 18, he played with the Chivas USA Academy team when he was 13 and 14. He then spent three years on the Los Angeles Galaxy’s U.S. Soccer Development team, helping lead the team to titles in 2017 and 2018. 

On his 18th birthday last April, he signed with the German team Wolfsburg and scored two goals for its under 19 team in a friendly within his first month.

On Feb. 1, Llanez played on the U.S. Men’s National Team at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson and scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win over Costa Rica in an exhibition game. The goal came on a penalty kick.

Llanez was one of four players making his national team debut. He impressed teammate Paul Arriola, who as the U.S. team’s most experienced player on the field, might have been expected to take the penalty kick.

Instead Llanez walked into the penalty box, spotted the ball and promptly booted it past the goalie.

“I’m a team player. It doesn’t matter who’s going to score it as long as we scored that goal,” Arriola said after the game.

U.S. Soccer has done a poor job of developing young soccer talent over the years, which is why the men’s team failed to qualify for the last World Cup.

Llanez has a chance of playing for the U.S. in this summer’s Olympic Games, since the Olympics are restricted to players under 23.

He could become a national team fixture for years to come.