The Boston Red Sox acquired outfielder Tyler O'Neill this offseason to fill an Alex Verdugo-shaped hole in right field.
The 27-year-old spent six seasons in St. Louis, with his 2021 campaign representing his potential ceiling. He hit .286/.352/.560 with 34 homers, 80 RBI and 15 stolen bases across 138 games — all of which were career highs — and securing his second straight Gold Glove.
In his following seasons with the Cardinals, O'Neill's production stalled, and it all boiled over in 2023 when he was benched for a lack of effort.
O'Neill and Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol got into a disagreement that turned public barely a week into the season.
With O'Neill on second, Brendan Donovan hit a bloop into right field just in front of Braves star outfielder and 2023 National League MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. Acuña hosed O'Neill at the plate, as he tends to do, but Marmol interpreted the play differently.
Marmol publicly condemned the outfielder for a lack of hustle on the play and O'Neill defended himself to reporters.
"I came up through the minor leagues and into the big leagues playing hard, playing scrappy and that's who I am. That's my character and I don't ever want anyone to take that away from me," O'Neill said to reporters. His quote aired on Bally Sports Midwest after the incident.
O'Neill also stated that there was no reason for Marmol's complaints about him to be made public and Marmol responded, again, publicly.
“There is a standard here. You meet it, you play. You don’t, you don’t."
The Red Sox could unlock a new level of play out of Tyler O'Neill
Marmol may have had a point about O'Neill's lack of effort. The outfielder is quite fast, with his sprint speed falling in the 80th percentile in the league, according to Baseball Savant. But running anyone on Acuña is a risk. The MVP's arm strength is nearly unmatched, ranking in the 98th percentile.
These two were forced to coexist, but according to O'Neill on a recent episode of the "Foul Territory" podcast, their relationship turned into "respect at arm's length," likely meaning that the two never remedied the conflict or repaired their relationship fully.
Now, O'Neill will be playing under Alex Cora, a manager who is regarded as one who will go to bat for his players and is known for defending them while also holding them accountable.
Sox fans hope Cora will forge a better relationship with O'Neill than Marmol did. Players being more comfortable in the clubhouse is conducive to better play on the field. The Red Sox and Cora could unlock O'Neill's 2021 production, which would be an upgrade over Verdugo.
Hopefully, O'Neill will jive with Cora and Boston's other players to bring out the best in the righty. Another Gold Glove season could be coming down the pipe for a player with something to prove in a new uniform.