Alex Verdugo’s injury hinders Red Sox ability to compete 2020

FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Alex Verdugo #99 of the Boston Red Sox poses for a portrait during team photo day on February 19, 2020 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Alex Verdugo #99 of the Boston Red Sox poses for a portrait during team photo day on February 19, 2020 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox claim that they intend to compete in 2020, but they knowingly traded Mookie Betts for a player who may not play until May which makes it less likely.

The Boston Red Sox have taken a lot of heat for trading Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers. Most of the vitriol has been focused on the fact that A) the team didn’t get as much in return as they should have, and B) it left a gaping hole in their pitching rotation. The main piece they received in return, and the only major league ready player, was Alex Verdugo, a kid who had a solid rookie campaign before back injuries cost him the last two months of the season.

Verdugo brought some off-field baggage with him to Boston, but because that’s irrelevant to the thesis of what follows and because I’ve already written that article, it won’t be discussed further. As for on-field issues, at the time of the trade all the Red Sox seemed to know was that Verdugo had experienced “back issues” described as an “oblique injury” or “back spasms” which caused him to miss August, September, and the NLDS in 2019.

It seemed strange that the Red Sox would be so concerned about Brusdar Graterol‘s medical history in the first, aborted version of the Betts trade but not as much with Verdugo’s. Back injuries, especially in someone so young, usually get worse as one ages, not better. Still, it seemed as though by the time spring training started a couple of weeks ago that Verdugo would be ready and able to hit the ground running.

Instead, it was revealed that Verdugo has a stress fracture in his back and will be out indefinitely. He covered several questions about the injury in his introductory spring training press conference, as did interim manager Ron Roenicke, and both mentioned he should be ready shortly after Opening Day. The team also admitted they knew about the injury all along as they were making the trade. What they didn’t know was how long Verdugo would be sidelined.

The Red Sox went from initially believing Verdugo would be ready to start the season to announcing that he wouldn’t be ready until sometime after spring training. Imagine the surprise, then, when it was revealed over the weekend that the timetable for his return could now be as late as May. This terrible offseason for the Red Sox just keeps getting worse.

Before I go any further, let me make it very clear that nothing to do with this injury is Verdugo’s fault. He obviously didn’t choose to get injured nor did he decide on the severity of the injury, and he has no control over how his body heals and recovers from it. I have no doubt that he’s doing everything he can to get better and get back on the field as soon as he can, but that’s not something he can (or should) rush.

With all of that being said, this should also remove any shadow of a doubt that the Red Sox front office’s claims that the team can still compete are credible. It’s bad enough that the main player received in return for Betts is a lesser talent (and again, this is no fault of Verdugo’s), but to knowingly take on the accompanying injury with the understanding that he’d miss spring training and now potentially the first month and a half (or more) of the season is utterly ridiculous.

First, the Red Sox were so concerned with Graderol’s medical records that they halted the initial trade, but in both versions of the trade were okay with Verdugo’s broken back? Even taking into account that the Red Sox most likely bowed to public backlash in cancelling the initial trade (at least as a contributing factor alongside Graderol’s medial concerns), how does that make any sense?

Second, the only major league player the Red Sox received in the trade, the young talent who was the centerpiece of the deal, won’t even be ready to play? Again, this isn’t Verdugo’s fault, it’s on the team. For a front office and ownership who are so obsessive over their image and controlling the message, they are so, so incredibly bad at it. Regardless of its impact on the field, the optics of the trade (and by extension the offseason) just keep finding new ways to get worse.

Third, it proves what almost every fan and pundit have been saying for the last month: the Red Sox punted on the 2020 season the minute they traded Betts and Price. You don’t trade away your best player (and a veteran pitcher) for someone you know is damaged goods if you’re serious about competing this season. They’re looking ahead to 2021 when they’ll have more payroll flexibility to go after free agents and when the farm system will hopefully start bearing fruit.

That’s fine and it’s admirable that they have a long-range vision for team building, but they should just admit it. Trying to perpetuate the charade that they’re trying to be competitive this year is patronizing and an insult to the fanbase’s intelligence. When John Henry is claiming with a straight face that the Betts trade had nothing to do with the CBT or trimming the payroll and when Sam Kennedy is all but begging fans to buy price-hiked tickets because sales are down 15% (and if they’re saying 15%, it’s more likely 25%), that’s a new level of tone-deaf, even for these guys.

The signing of Kevin Pillar (assuming he stays healthy) will mitigate the absence of Verdugo on the field and allows both the player and the team to take their time and not prematurely rush back from the injury. The Red Sox still have massive holes to fill in the starting rotation and the bullpen, both of which will be the team’s Achilles heel this season. They’re most likely going to finish around third or fourth place in the AL East.

The 2020 season looks like it’s going to be a dreaded “bridge year” and I think most fans are okay with that, understanding that some short-term pain for long-term gain is worth the price. What’s not okay is ownership and the front office continuing to act as though fans are supposed to believe that that the team had every intention of competing this season and that trading Betts and Price wasn’t a pure salary dump.

Next. Ortiz gives thoughts on Betts trade. dark

It’s not at all Alex Verdugo’s fault that he’s injured, that Chaim Bloom knowingly took him on with a back injury, or that he won’t be ready until sometime after the season’ starts. Unfortunately, the talent vacuum created in the wake of Mookie Betts’ departure will take a lot longer to fill since Verdugo will be on the shelf. It’s crystal-clear that the Red Sox never really intended to go for it in 2020. As a fan, though, it would be so much easier to accept it if the team just admitted it.