Red Sox News: Two new outfielders each bring baggage

FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 15: Alex Verdugo #99 of the Boston Red Sox speaks to the media during a press conference during a team workout on February 15, 2020 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 15: Alex Verdugo #99 of the Boston Red Sox speaks to the media during a press conference during a team workout on February 15, 2020 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox two new outfielders met with the media for the first time at spring training. Both are talented but they also each bring some baggage with them.

As spring training got into full swing this weekend, members of the Red Sox sat down and talked to the media in what were mostly light-hearted and fun conversations. Two of them in particular stood out, though. The two new members of the Red Sox outfield, Alex Verdugo and Kevin Pillar, each sat down and answered questions for around twenty minutes and both seem to be genuinely excited to join the team.

Of course, what most fans also probably realize is that both of them bring some baggage, of varying degrees, with them to the Red Sox. Their transgressions occurred prior to their joining the team, but are still a part of their histories and as such should at least be acknowledged and addressed.

Pillar’s session with the media was good and saw the veteran touch on a variety of subjects. He denied reports that his defense has lost a step and said that he feels great. He seemed genuinely awed and excited for the opportunity to play for the Red Sox, saying that it’s “an honor” to put on the team’s uniform.

Red Sox fans will be all too familiar with Pillar from his time with the Toronto Blue Jays, with whom he spent the first six years of his career. He robbed many a Red Sox hitter with his defense in center field, so for the team to add him to an outfield that already contains Jackie Bradley and Andrew Benintendi can only be a good thing. He won’t replace Mookie Betts‘ production at the plate (as discussed previously, his numbers eerily mirror Bradley’s), but he’ll come close to replacing Betts’ defense.

Pillar stated that he expects to play mainly corner outfield (and right field in particular) which should put fans at ease that Bradley will still patrol center field for the foreseeable future. He also gives them a right-handed bat in the outfield with Bradley, Benintendi, and Verdugo all hitting from the left side. Given Verdugo’s chronic back issues which are going to keep him off the field until at least Opening Day (and for who knows how long after), signing Pillar was a shrewd move by Chaim Bloom.

Pillar does carry a bit of a stain on his resume, though, as he was suspended two games in 2017 after calling Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte a homophobic slur after being quick-pitched and struck out in a game. To his credit, Pillar expressed regret after the incident and has shown contrition, working with LGBT groups and taking responsibility for his actions. In the grand scheme of things, it was a fairly minor transgression, but still one that many hold against Pillar.

As for Verdugo, his press conference with the media struck a different tone. At times buoyant and joyful, and at other times defensive and guarded, the young outfielder faced a far tougher press corps than Pillar did. He admitted that he’s got big shoes to fill in replacing Betts and that, while he knows that he’s not Mookie, he’s confident in his abilities, is “not putting any pressure” on himself, and is going to play his hardest once he finally gets on the field.

He talked about his back injury and how he’s working hard to heal and get back to being able to play and waxed poetic on how the Red Sox were one of his favorite teams growing up because David Ortiz was his favorite player. He even mentioned looking forward to meeting the Red Sox legend and giving him a hug. Things took a bit of a different turn once he was asked about his involvement in the 2015 incident that resulted in the physical and sexual assault of a minor.

After expressing regret and claiming that he was “cleared of any wrongdoing,” he went on to say:

"“With that being said, it was a terrible thing that happened. It was in my past,” Verdugo said. “It was something that I’ve grown from it; I’ve learned from it.”“If I was around for anything that had happened, I would have put a stop to it,” said Verdugo, who was 18 at the time. “I would have helped out. I would have done something.”“It was something I had to address to let everyone know the truth of it and hear it from my side, to hear the actual what happened.”“Obviously, my name being mentioned in the allegations, it hurts. It really does hurt. It’s hard. I don’t want Boston fans, I don’t want people to judge me for something that they have read or seen posted,” he said."

He also mentioned that he addressed his new Red Sox teammates and interim mangaer Ron Roenicke to give them his side of the story. It was reported that same day that other teams who were interested in trading for Verdugo, upon learning of the incident, decided to end their pursuit of him. While the full story of what happened on that night in 2015 is still not known (and may never be), it’s still enough of a concern that it will color Verdugo and, by association, the Red Sox for the foreseeable future.

This has been a very difficult offseason for both the Red Sox and (especially) their fans. While Red Sox fans are notoriously hard to please, they’re also by and large a forgiving group and are willing to give someone a second chance. As long as these two newcomers perform well on the field and stay out of trouble (and while I have no doubt that Pillar will, the younger Verdugo will have to prove that he can), they should be able to put these incidents behind them and just focus on winning baseball games.