Do you think Alex Verdugo, who spends so much time in Alex Cora’s doghouse that he probably does his laundry there, has any clue how desperately his bosses want to see him succeed?
I’m going to say no, and not just because “Verdugo” and ‘’having a clue” are pretty much antonyms at this point. I’m not here to re-litigate the Mookie Betts trade again (some among you simply refuse to believe he would have stayed, you are not going to change your mind, and the Red Sox greatly appreciate your stubbornness), but there is one thing we can all agree on:
The return of Verdugo, a decent catcher in Connor Wong, and long-gone Jeter Downs (a poor man’s Nomar Downs) was about as underwhelming as Tim Anderson’s right jab.
The Red Sox traded a generational player who does everything right for . . . some parts and trinkets and stuff. You think about that trade long enough and suddenly Jeff Bagwell for Larry Andersen doesn’t feel quite so lousy.
All right, fine, I re-litigated it. It won’t be the last time. See you in Cooperstown in 2038, Mookie. What’s that? OK, make it 2040.
Of course Chaim Bloom and Alex Cora want to see Verdugo succeed. If the 27-year-old outfielder performs up to his full capabilities, as he did for a good portion of the first half while building a modest All-Star case, it helps Bloom save a little face on a trade in which everyone from fellow baseball ops folks to dopey columnists to passionate and dispassionate fans alike know he didn’t get enough in return.
Verdugo is an undeniably talented player, which is actually best evidenced by his defense this year. An indifferent left fielder a season ago, he has taken on the challenge of playing right field at Fenway and excelled like the second coming of Shane Victorino.
If he had his act together, he could become the star and cornerstone of a relatively bright Red Sox future that he seems to already believe he is. An engaged, focused, and consistent version of himself can help the Red Sox win baseball games at a greater clip, which Cora, who is at his best when the stakes are highest, is desperate to do.
But his act isn’t together. It’s tired. Whether it’s going into cruise control out of the batter’s box on a ground ball or showing up two hours before — and two hours after Cora expected him — Saturday’s important game with the Blue Jays, Verdugo struggles with . . . well, engagement, focus, and consistency.
He is a repeat offender, and his manager has seen enough, yanking him from the lineup before what would be one of the most embarrassing losses of the season Saturday on what Cora called one of his “worst days with the Red Sox.”
Verdugo didn’t say the wrong things after the game, but he didn’t quite say the right things either, saying “that’s what we went with” when asked if he was benched, and referring to Cora, somewhat amusingly, as the “jefe.” It made me wonder what nicknames Cora might have for him.
Verdugo should have realized the importance of that game and been there two hours before his manager wanted him there. Instead, he seemed resigned and not all that bothered by his residence in the doghouse. It’s not as if it’s unfamiliar.
I don’t think it’s fair to some of the reliable 2023 Red Sox (Masataka Yoshida or Justin Turner or Brayan Bello) to suggest that Verdugo is the embodiment of the team as a whole. But one characteristic is impossible to ignore: Verdugo, like this year’s Red Sox, will let you down just when you start mustering some faith.
The Red Sox entered the three-game series with the Blue Jays two games behind in the American League wild-card race. After three embarrassing losses, including Saturday’s 5-4 defeat in which Reese McGuire got doubled up for the final out after assuming Wong’s fly out was headed for the seats, the Red Sox ended the series five back and with little hope of a playoff berth.
It wasn’t quite as drastic, but this had the same turn-out-the-lights-the-party’s-over vibe as the five-game sweep at the hands of the Yankees in August 2006. Those Red Sox, ravaged by injuries, missed the playoffs but managed to win 86 games. This team, which plays defense as if someone pulled the pin on the baseball and has never had enough pitching, should be so lucky.
I thought Bloom should have dealt Verdugo at the trading deadline, but if no reasonable offer materialized, so be it. The best hope right now is that he shows up on time, goes on a tear at the plate (he is due), and continues to play a swell right field . . . so Bloom can do the right thing and get him out of town over the winter.
Verdugo is far from the entire problem here, but he’s not part of the solution, and he needs to go.
His talent might be enough to entice another team to take a chance, and maybe even send the Red Sox someone who might actually help.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask for Bloom to actually win a deal involving Verdugo, do you?