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2023 in Review: Alex Verdugo’s Up-Then-Down Year

Taking bets on how much longer he’ll remain on the team...

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Seattle Mariners John Froschauer-USA TODAY Sports

2023 In One Sentence

Alex Verdugo seemed poised for a breakout year and started off hot, but he couldn’t seem to get himself together – or out of Alex Cora’s doghouse.

The Positives

He began the season looking and sounding like he truly came to play. He had a great April, May, and June and was in contention for a spot on the All-Star team. At the time of the All-Star break, Verdugo was hitting .288 with .809 OPS and 117 OPS+ while ranking third among AL outfielders in defensive runs saved (DRS).

He was a defensive bright spot on the 2023 Sox. While so much of the team (notably the infield) was a dumpster fire, Verdugo was reliable with the glove, and for that, I’m supremely thankful. He logged nine DRS in right field, which is notoriously tough to play at Fenway.

Do you consider it a positive that Alex Verdugo may be “on his way out”? Alex Cora might! Craig Breslow shared with reporters that he’d received inquiries from other teams about Verdugo. He was later linked specifically to the Phillies and my favorite crafty ol’ fox, Dave Dombrowski (by Sports Illustrated and others).

He’s been called a “fan favorite” and he did throw my girlfriend’s kid a ball in Seattle two years ago (that’s obviously not a 2023 recap, but I like to give credit where credit is due). So there’s that.

The problem with many of these positives is that they can very reasonably be followed by a “but…” There is a negative attached to too many of his positives.

The Negatives

Yes, he looked and sounded like he came to play but…he was benched twice this season. Cora noticed him dogging it on the basepaths and benched him in June. In August he was benched again, against the Blue Jays; rumors said it was because he’d come late to the park (he also did that while on the Dodgers and was called out by old friend Rich Hill). Verdugo claimed he was on time however, and I thought he sounded kind of huffy toward Cora in his public comments (“Just a manager’s decision. I don’t really wanna go too far into it. It’s his decision and that’s what we went with.”). Later, he chalked it up to family problems. So his work ethic is in serious question, in a year when he’d promised us more.

Verdugo hasn’t been shy about calling out other players on other teams. Is that billboard material? Does it suggest he’s not a great teammate himself? That he should put that energy into improving his own game? Maybe all of the above.

Verdugo was vocal and bitter about not being chosen for the 2023 All-Star Game. He called out the player who he thought took his place:

“I just feel like it’s a fan popularity contest. And, like, the person who went in shouldn’t be there.” - Alex Verdugo, likely referring to Julio Rodriguez

Some people agreed with Dugie, but I thought it was an ugly look. Steve Perrault of Sports Illustrated, who was overall sympathetic to Verdugo, opined that:

“An interesting part of the reserve voting for the All-Star Game is that it’s now decided by MLB players and the Commissioner’s Office. It makes me wonder whether Verdugo has potentially rubbed some other players around the league the wrong way during his seven-year career.”

He’s certainly used his platform to criticize Alek Manoah and now Rodriguez.

Whatever the case, I might argue that either karma came knocking, or his bitter attitude ate into him because he then went on an immediate decline. He slumped big-time in July (.151/.232/.247) and September (.178/.208/.301) which brought his stats down to Earth.

For the season, he slashed .264/.324/.421 with 13 HR, 54 RBI, .745 OPS, and 2.6 bWAR. For some players, that might be a positive, but it’s a far cry from the first half of his season.

Another negative (for Verdugo perhaps—for the Sox overall, it’s an opportunity to upgrade some other areas of need): Boston has a logjam of capable outfielders. As it stands, though anything can happen in the offseason, we have Jarren Duran, Masataka Yoshida, Wilyer Abreu and Ceddanne Rafaela. Rafaela was just called up in September and can also handle the infield, so we don’t know yet exactly how to categorize him. In any case, Verdugo’s perceived attitude problems seem to be putting him at the bottom of the heap and, in my mind, make him utterly expendable. Plenty of teams will be on the hunt for outfield help and his roughly league-average stats will draw attention in this light-hitting class of free agents (though he’s not a free agent himself).

Best Game Or Moment

Let’s honor Verdugo’s defensive contributions. Here’s a sweet grab against the Yankees late in the season.

The Big Question/2024 and Beyond

Will he stay or will he go? Verdugo becomes a free agent after the 2024 season concludes—but I’m not alone in predicting that he won’t be here by that time anyway.