Prediction: Alex Verdugo’s Red Sox career will not go well
Being “the guy who replaced Mookie” is hard enough, but Alex Verdugo’s baggage means his Red Sox career probably won’t go very well..or last very long.
I’m going to try to leave my feelings about the (finally) completed Mookie Betts trade out of this article beyond saying that it’s disgraceful that he was used to sweeten the deal in order to salary dump David Price on the Dodgers. Even with the revised deal and improved return after Minnesota pulled out of the three-team version of the trade, the Red Sox still didn’t get enough in return.
Two prospects at positions the team is all set at (shortstop and catcher) who are both at A/AA ball and at least two or three years away do nothing to help this team right now. The Red Sox desperately need pitching, both starting and relief, and instead will go into the season in even worse shape at the position than they finished 2019. I hated the original version of this trade and I hate this one, but it’s done and Mookie is gone so it’s time to move on.
The “centerpiece” of the trade, if you can call a guy with less than a full season of major league experience a good return for a top five player in all of baseball, is Alex Verdugo. The young outfielder played decently for the Dodgers in his first “full” season (106 games) in 2019, but no one will confuse him for the guy he was traded for. He hit .294 with 12 home runs and 44 RBI before missing the end of the season and the NLDS with a back ailment.
I’m not saying he’s going to be a complete bust in Boston, but there’s such a small sample size that I’m also not buying fan and media prognostications who think he’s going to be a total stud, either. Most scouting projections I’ve read on him have his ceiling as a borderline All-Star… basically, another version of Andrew Benintendi. His projected numbers for 2020 are a .282 average with 12 home runs and 46 RBI, nothing close to what Betts would’ve done, but perhaps he’ll surprise us all and outperform those numbers (they’re just projections, after all).
Moving on from that, I have a bold prediction that will probably turn half of Red Sox Nation against me, but here goes: Alex Verdugo’s Boston Red Sox career will no go well. I also don’t expect it to last more than two or three seasons. There are a few reasons I believe this will be the case, so I’ll go through them one by one. I’m going to try to be as objective as possible, but some of my bias will inevitably slip in, so be forewarned.
First, and this is through no fault of his own, Verdugo will forever be known as “the guy the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts for.” That’s a ridiculously difficult situation to be placed in and it’s not in any way his fault, but it is what it is and there’s no getting around it. Others have been in that situation with the Red Sox, such as Jason Bay (obtained in the Manny Ramirez trade) and Orlando Cabrera (obtained in the Nomar Garciaparra trade), so there is precedent.
What’s working against Verdugo in this case is that the player he’s replacing is not only supremely talented (so much so that it’s not worth even comparing their numbers), but wildly popular with fans. Mookie was the face of the franchise and the Red Sox most popular player, something that can’t be said of Ramirez or Nomar at the times they were traded. Additionally, Bay and Cabrera arrived with no baggage and seamlessly fit in with the team and fans.
With his involvement in a shady sexual assault and numerous instances of oversleeping and a poor work ethic in his Dodgers days, Verdugo is bringing a lot of baggage with him. That will make it almost impossible for all but the most devotedly blinded Red Sox fans to look past when it comes to rooting for the player.
As for his laziness, in addition to the aforementioned times when he overslept and missed workouts, there are serious questions about his maturity. This issue goes hand in hand with his work ethic, but the fact that the word “immature” was used by one scout to describe him three times in a paragraph (and the fact that the entire paragraph seemed to be saying “he can hit, but he won’t hustle”) is pretty damning.
Red Sox fans are very demanding and we expect players to give their all every time they step on to the field. A guy who has gotten grief from his former teammates for not putting in the work and not running out ground balls (again, in the scouting report) is going to get ridden and ridden hard by both the media and fans. Remember, the last play the guy he’s replacing made in a Red Sox uniform was scoring from first base on a single in a meaningless game.
Finally, he missed the end of the 2019 season and the NLDS with back issues. Obviously, injuries aren’t (usually) a player’s fault and that’s certainly the case with Verdugo. Still, it’s more than a bit concerning that a kid who’s only 23 has had back problems severe enough such that the Dodgers didn’t even know what to do. Again, the injury wasn’t his fault, but if he struggles to stay on the field, especially replacing the durable Betts, the Fenway fans are going to let him hear it.
Unless Verdugo grows up (and does it fast), it could get ugly for him quickly at Fenway. Being “the guy who replaced Mookie” would be difficult enough for a normal player. Add the character questions, sexual assault cloud, and concerns about his work ethic and it could get bad quickly. This isn’t Los Angeles where the fans and media are relaxed and forgiving; this is Boston, one of if not the toughest market to play in. The media will give no quarter if things aren’t perfect with Verdugo and the fans will give even less.
My guess is that it won’t go well and that after two or three years, Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox will cut their losses and quietly trade or release him. They’ll move on, he’ll move on, and Red Sox fans will always remember the trade less than fondly.