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The Decline And Fall Of Alex Verdugo

So, yeah, about that early season MVP talk. . .

Boston Red Sox v San Francisco Giants Photo by Kavin Mistry/Getty Images

Alex Verdugo had made the leap. He was going to start the All-Star Game. He was going to be the American League MVP. He was better than Mookie Betts.

That was April 2023. Now, in August 2023, there are rumors that Alex Verdugo is going to be traded — and not because he’s maintained such a torrid pace that he’s going to be the centerpiece in a deal for Shohei Ohtani.

Man, April baseball can be a trip, huh?

In a twist that’s somehow equal parts remarkable and totally predictable, Alex Verdugo — who’d started the season on such a tear that it seemed certain he would have a career year — is now on pace to have . . . almost the exact same season he’s always had (offensively, anyway). He’s slashing .272/.344/.422 with an OPS+ of 104, compared to a career line of .284/.341/.429 with an OPS+ of 106. Cue the Jenna Fischer “they’re the same picture” meme.

Who could have predicted this? Well, most of us, truthfully. And I kind of did. In a piece I wrote about possible early season regression candidates, I noted that, despite the gaudy numbers, the quality of contact Verdugo was making looked more or less identical to last year. As the old saying goes: [batted] ball [profile] don’t lie.

Nearly three months later, little has changed:

What has changed is his stat line. On May 8, Verdugo was slashing .317/.386/.514 with 5 homers. Each component of that slash line would have easily been career bests, as would the 15 or so home runs he was on pace to hit. But since then, he’s hit just .251/.323/.375 with 2 homers, a putrid stretch that somehow included two whole months in which he didn’t hit a single home run.

Now we’ve arrived at trade deadline day, and it isn’t clear whether Alex Verdugo, so recently seen as a candidate to be offered long-term deal as part of the core of the next great Red Sox team, will even be a part of the September 2023 Red Sox team. Yesterday, we saw conflicting reports about his status. Sean McAdam of MassLive reported that the Sox were actively shopping him to another AL team. A few hours later, Bob Nightingale told us that the Sox were telling teams that he was off the table.

In truth, he wouldn’t be a bad piece to move. The Red Sox outfield is one of the strongest areas of the team, with Masataka Yoshida and Jarren Duran consistently raking, Adam Duvall having returned to form, and Rob Refsnyder still doing a Mike Trout impression against lefties. In the upper minors, Ceddanne Rafaela already possesses an elite glove and will need to be given a chance in the big leagues next season, even with persistent questions about his approach at the plate. Lower down the ladder, outfielders Roman Anthony and Miguel Bleis represent two of the organization’s three highest-ceilinged prospects. Verdugo may be most valuable as part of a trade that brings the team back a cost-controlled starter.

And despite Bob Nightengale’s tweet, I suspect the Sox have been willing to move him. That’s how Chaim Bloom tends to operate, considering all angles in his ongoing search for value deals. In fact, I wonder whether the Sox shopped Verdugo around, were underwhelmed by the return (or were beaten by the Rays in pursuit of Aaron Civale), and subsequently pulled him off the table, leaking to Nightingale that he never was available in an attempt at damage control.

So what happens to Alex Verdugo now? He still may end up having a career year, thanks to the excellent outfield defense that he has been able to maintain. But he’s now 27-years-old and it’s clear that the leap to stardom isn’t coming; he’s merely Alex Verdugo, nice player to have. The question is whether the Sox will have him for one more year or just one more day.