Alex Verdugo Deserves Our Appreciation
Alex Verdugo came to Boston under brutal circumstances. He was only 23 years old, and had been extremely impressive in his time with the Dodgers. In three seasons in Los Angeles, Verdugo had played almost exactly one season’s worth of games (158), and had a .282/.335/.449/.784 batting line. He was known as a big personality, a great teammate, and a player who went all out every play of every game. He was, in short, the type of player any team and any fanbase should be thrilled to acquire.
Of course, Boston fans were not necessarily excited about Verdugo. Yes, he was an exciting young player, but when you get traded for Mookie Betts, nearly all fans are going to focus on what their team is losing rather than what they are gaining. Now, Verdugo was not, obviously, traded straight-up for Betts, but he was the only major leaguer the Red Sox acquired in the deal, and was thus the main focus of the fans and Boston media.
Well, we are now in the second season since the trade, and it is time to fully appreciate Alex Verdugo. As an outfielder, it was difficult not to think of Verdugo as a direct replacement for Betts, and impossible not to compare the players’ statistics. Ok then, let’s compare.
Since the start of the 2020 season
Verdugo: .313/.368/.495/.862, 133 OPS+. 3.1 bWAR, making ~$700k
Betts: .283/.367/.528/.894, 143 OPS+, 4.2 bWAR, making ~$27 million
Verdugo has been absolutely fantastic. He is four years younger than Betts, and is under team control through 2024. He has been almost as good as Betts, and is about 1/39 the cost. Verdugo has actually outperformed so far in 2021, as he leads Betts in both bWAR and fWAR. He has made clutch plays on defense (like the diving catch he made to secure the win against the Twins), has had huge at bats (like his 10-pitch at bat resulting in a game-tying, three-run double the day after his diving catch), and is already cementing himself as a leader in the clubhouse and a fan-favorite.
It is nearly impossible to fully judge a trade until at least several years have past. No one knows what Verdugo and Betts will accomplish over the next few years, and we know even less about the fate of Jeter Downs and Connor Wong, the two prospects the Sox received from Los Angeles in addition to Verdugo. The trade may end up looking like a stroke of genius, where Boston replaced Mookie’s production at a fraction of the cost and added two future stars, or it may go down as one of the biggest blunders in team history.
So far, however, it is clear that Verdugo is holding up his end of the bargain. He is not Mookie, and will almost definitely never be as good as Mookie was in, for example, his MVP season of 2018. But Verdugo may well end up being pretty close, and it wouldn’t shock me at all to see him outperform Betts a few times over the next couple of seasons. When Chaim Bloom first pulled the trigger on the trade, fans were absolutely furious, wondering why the team would sacrifice the best home-grown player in decades just to save some cash. So far, Alex Verdugo is doing everything he can to make us forget we ever felt that way.