Sox boost pitching depth by dealing Verdugo to Yanks

December 6th, 2023

NASHVILLE -- The Red Sox cleared Alex Verdugo out of an outfield that was overloaded with left-handed hitters, trading the 27-year-old to the rival Yankees on Tuesday for righty pitching prospects Richard Fitts and Nicholas Judice.

A third righty, Greg Weissert, who pitched in 29 games for the Yankees over the past two seasons, also came over in the deal.

Red Sox get: RHP Richard Fitts, RHP Greg Weissert, RHP Nicholas Judice
Yankees get: OF Alex Verdugo

New Red Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow’s stated mission is to improve the stable of arms in the organization both for the Major League roster and in the pipeline.

“I think we have the ability to spread out those at-bats [vacated by Verdugo] across some of our really exciting emerging young group and also get some guys that we liked in terms of the pitching we got in return,” said Breslow. “The way to start to build that development pipeline is to get some high upside arms that we can put into our system. And we feel like there are some who are ready to compete, to contribute in the short term. And obviously Weissert is a guy who has had some success in the big leagues recently.”

Verdugo came to Boston as the key piece in the trade that sent superstar Mookie Betts to the Dodgers in February 2020. He was an everyday player in his four seasons with the Red Sox and made his share of contributions on both sides of the ball. In ’23, Verdugo finished as an American League Gold Glove Award finalist in right field.

While trades between the storied rivals have been rare, the Sox did acquire Adam Ottavino from the Yankees prior to the 2021 season.

“I think you always approach these things with an appreciation for what trading a player within a division could be,” Breslow said. “At the same time, we needed to get back the guys that we liked best and this package represented just that.”

There was speculation for weeks that Verdugo would be on the move, considering he was entering what would have been his final arbitration-eligible season in Boston, and he is due for a substantial pay raise in 2024.

And there was also the right-left balance issue in the outfield.

Even minus Verdugo, the Sox still have three left-handed-hitting outfielders in Masataka Yoshida, Jarren Duran and the emerging Wilyer Abreu, who came on strong after his callup last season.

Abreu, who possesses a disciplined batting eye and a strong throwing arm, is a candidate to get a lot of at-bats in right field.

The Sox also have Rob Refsnyder as a right-handed hitter who can slot in against lefties in all three outfield slots. If Breslow doesn’t add another righty outfield bat, No. 3 prospect and defensive stud Ceddanne Rafaela could make the team out of Spring Training and get his share of time in center field. That could open up left field for Duran, with Yoshida perhaps spending more time at DH than he did last year.

In Fitts, the Sox get a player who slotted in at No. 10 among the club’s prospects following the trade, per MLB Pipeline.

The 23-year-old Fitts was the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year in 2023, going 11-5 with a 3.48 ERA (59 earned runs in 152 2/3 innings) and 163 strikeouts in 27 starts at Double-A Somerset.

“Fitts is a guy we think can be a starter, and those guys, as we discussed, are really hard to come by,” Breslow said. “A fastball that’s got some unique shape and unique characteristics and a swing-and-miss slider. And on top of that, an elite strike thrower who had a ton of success over 150-plus innings in Double-A last year.”

It won’t be hard to find Judice when he gets to Spring Training. The 22-year-old is 6-foot-8. The Yankees selected him in the eighth round of the 2023 Draft out of Louisiana-Monroe.

Judice, who didn’t pitch for an affiliate in 2023 after signing with the Yankees, has been clocked at 100 mph. His big frame has the potential to create an angle and extension that will be tough on right-handed hitters.

“Judice is a guy our amateur department identified heading into the Draft last year,” said Breslow. “In a lot of ways, kind of a ball of clay at 6-8, kind of big arm, big fastball and someone we’re excited to get into the development infrastructure.”

In his time with the Red Sox, Verdugo had a slash line of .281/.338/.424 with 124 doubles, eight triples, 43 homers and 206 RBIs.

“Somebody asked me about the Yankee thing. You know what, it is what it is,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “If we feel like we can improve trading with the Yankees or the Jays or the Rays or Orioles, we will do it. It’s about the Red Sox. We lose a good player, a solid player, but we improve in another area and it opens up a window for other guys to step up and be part of this.”