Key piece in Betts deal boosting Sox

April 30th, 2021

J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers all received votes in’s latest MVP-frontrunner poll, but another Red Sox hitter is beginning to gain attention for his strong start: .

Verdugo, who was the centerpiece of last year’s trade that sent Mookie Betts to the Dodgers, has put his skills on display both offensively and defensively in 2021. The 24-year-old is slashing .314/.371/.523 with three home runs and 13 RBIs through his first 24 games, his 1.0 fWAR placing him 12th among all American League players.

After leading the AL with seven outfield assists last season, Verdugo -- who has started games at all three outfield positions for Boston -- is at the top of that list again in 2021, already compiling three assists in the first month.

“I think he’s their most well-rounded player,” one NL executive said. “The first thing you notice is his energy; no one plays harder or with more joy for the game. It’s almost childlike, which is endearing and unique.”

If he continues at his current pace, Verdugo would continue a trend, raising his OPS for a fifth straight year. He posted a .544 mark in 15 games in 2017 and a .706 in 2018 before becoming an everyday player. In 2019, he posted an .817 mark with the Dodgers in 106 games, then followed that up with an .844 OPS in his first year with the Red Sox in the abbreviated 2020 season. He enters Friday with an .894 OPS.

“He was good last year too, and I think it’s just carried forward,” an AL executive said. “There are a lot of different things you can do on a field to help you win, and he brings it every single day.”

Verdugo might not get the same recognition as some of his more decorated teammates, but the opposition doesn’t overlook him when preparing to play Boston.

“He puts together really good at-bats,” the AL exec said. “He might be overlooked publicly by baseball fans at large because he’s not as established as other guys, but I don’t think other teams look at it that way. They look at that lineup and probably don’t like what they see.”

“He does everything at least average but mostly above,” the NL exec said. “He has plus corner range and can play a solid center field, has an impact arm, is an above-average runner and a very good hitter with quality plate appearances and power.”

Best of all for the Red Sox, Verdugo won’t be arbitration-eligible until next offseason, leaving him under club control through 2024.

“People don’t pay enough attention to how young he is and how well he has hit his entire professional career,” a second AL executive said. “He still has four or five years before he even peaks.”

Reversal of fortune?

When the Cubs traded Yu Darvish and non-tendered Kyle Schwarber this offseason, the perception that Chicago was doing what it could to cut payroll was widespread.

The Cubs did add Joc Pederson and Jake Arrieta, but with a season-opening payroll around $150 million (and a CBT figure of approximately $175 million), it remains to be seen whether the Cubs will be in position to make any moves prior to the Trade Deadline if they’re in the NL Central race.

“They can probably go get someone, just like they got Pederson and Arrieta,” one NL executive said. “But they may not be big spenders in July.”

In fact, should the 11-14 Cubs find themselves on the fringe of the postseason race -- or on the outside of it altogether -- the possibility exists that the club could be a seller come July.

Just five years ago, the Yankees found themselves in a similar predicament in July, prompting GM Brian Cashman to trade Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran and Ivan Nova, adding an abundance of Minor League talent in the process.

The biggest acquisition was Gleyber Torres, who was sent to the Yankees by the Cubs in a package for Chapman. The Cubs, who have Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Craig Kimbrel all potentially headed for free agency – could follow the 2016 Yankees model, getting a taste of the other side of that equation.

“If they fall behind, Bryant has looked really good and could be a really big target at the Deadline,” the executive said. “Maybe they try to shortcut a rebuild through some trades.”

NL East no beast

There was a reasonable argument to be made prior to the season that any one of the five teams in the NL East could emerge as division champions, while another one or two could go on to claim Wild Card spots.

A month into the season, we know there will be a division champ, but the idea of a Wild Card team -- let alone two -- coming out of the East seems less likely with each passing day.

The Braves and Phillies (both 12-13) are tied with the Mets (9-10) for first place, the worst mark for any division-leading club. The Nationals sit in last place at 9-12, a spread of just one game between the penthouse and the basement.

“There’s a whole lot of mediocrity so far,” one NL executive said. “I view the division as fairly flat. The Braves and Mets are the most talented on paper, but the other teams are competitive. The key is everyone has some real strengths; but I don’t think there’s any team anyone will beat up on to help separate the pack.

“It’s not a bunch of super teams; there’s no Dodgers in that division -- but there’s also no Rockies. That could make it hard for any of them to be a Wild Card team. It’s a tough division.”