Alex Verdugo was the centerpiece of the much maligned trade that sent Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Replacing a franchise player is always going to be messy, and Verdugo will never be able to win over certain fans who will always despise Chaim Bloom’s decision to clean up Dave Dombrowski’s payroll disaster. You cannot get a superstar return when trading away a single year of control for a superstar player, so getting a decent starting outfielder as the main piece actually isn’t too shabby. The trade may begin to look even better if Connor Wong has a decent rookie campaign, although Jeter Downs going bust is certainly a bad look.
Although he is under team control through 2024, Verdugo has now gone public with his desire to remain in Boston long-term. He’s had some good stretches here, but the Red Sox expect much more from him. Alex Cora singled him out specifically at the end of last season as someone that the Red Sox are hoping will elevate his game to the point of finally meeting his potential.
But what is his potential? Is Alex Verdugo the type of player that Chaim Bloom should cement in the Red Sox outfield for the next several years?
There’s a lot of gray area with Verdugo. He can swing the bat pretty well, and he has shown flashes of excellence at the plate, yet he’s prone to long, drawn out slumps. He plays hard and looks like he should be a good athlete, yet he’s actually pretty damn slow. His coaches say that he has power, yet he’s never topped 13 home runs in a season.
The commitment he showed to hitting to the opposite field last year was encouraging, and he is very good at putting the ball in play. His performance during the second half of 2022 led me to believe that he was a good candidate to become the Red Sox’ leadoff hitter in 2023. He notched career highs in hits (166), doubles (39), RBI (74), total bases (240), and games played (152) last season, and it’s conceivable that he is on the verge of a breakout year.
If Bloom believes that Verdugo is about to make a leap in production, it would be a good idea to lock him in for three or four years now before his value increases. However, a rise to stardom is no sure thing. Extending him early bears the risk of enduring a regression to the form Verdugo showed in the second half of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, which is not the type of performance you’re looking for in a foundational player.
And then, of course, there are the ‘Dugies.
Alex Verdugo is not what you would call a “heady” player. In fact, he does a lot of downright stupid things on the diamond. He’s been known to play “hero ball,” making ill-advised dives or leaps for batted balls that come up empty, often resulting in an extra base or two for the hitter.
And don’t even get me started on his baserunning (skip to 1:38).
I call these disturbingly frequent lapses in judgement ‘Dugies.
Intangibles and intelligence can turn a good baseball player into a great player. The absence of them, on the other hand, can reduce a good player into a mediocre player. Verdugo plays with a lot of energy and seems to be a good-natured guy, but his abysmal baseball IQ has dragged the team down in several big spots. Those types of repeated gaffes are not going to improve your negotiating position.
At 26 years old, Verdugo has only played four full MLB seasons. He has not peaked yet, and he is evidently capable of more than he’s shown to-date. He’ll make $6.3 million this year, which I think is commensurate for what he brings to the table. I personally would not sign him to an extension at this point. He has a lot of growing to do physically, and a ton of growing to do mentally. If he develops on both those fronts this season, I could see myself buying in on the idea of Alex Verdugo being a part of the Red Sox’ long-term future.
At this moment, I don’t think Verdugo is worth any more than a three year deal worth $24 million. If he wants a fat contract, he needs to show me that he can either hit .300 for an entire season or slug 20 home runs. He showed that kind of promise playing 53 games during a fake season (.308/.367/.478/.844, 6 HR, 16 doubles), but he has not yet been able to perform at that level for a full year. Unless he meets either of those milestones, he’s simply not worthy of a significant payday in my estimation. Not unless he manages to remove his head from his rectal cavity while he’s playing defense and running the bases.
And if he really needs money, he can always pawn some of his ice.
In my opinion, you have to be a much better player than Alex Verdugo to get away with rocking this much gold. Forget the extension, Verdugo needs to hit .300 or sock 20 dingers just to live up to the ballin’ image he has cultivated. Outside of that, the only way I’ll approve of his ridiculous bling game is if he takes all the chains off in the on-deck circle, hands them over to the bat boy, and warns him, “Chico, if something happen to this gold, something gonna happen to you” before flicking a toothpick in his face.
I look forward to seeing Verdugo improve this season. With Masataka Yoshida now reportedly slated to hit in the middle of the order, Verdugo may actually hit leadoff after all.
At the same time, I fear that another regression may be in store. It’s a very long season, and there’s ample risk of falling back into bad habits. I hope he maintains his commitment to hitting to the opposite field, and I really hope he figures out how to remain calm in the heat of the moment so he can eliminate those ‘Dugies from his repertoire.
A guy with Alex Verdugo’s skillset can be a huge asset if he can get his head on straight and make good decisions on the field. Until he makes that leap forward mentally and/or steps up his offense a notch, he is not worthy of a considerable investment.
Let’s all hope he gets to that level. If he can rack up twenty more hits and a handful more homers per year, Alex Verdugo is gonna …