NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In his first major transaction as chief baseball officer of the Red Sox, Craig Breslow cleaned up one of the messes Chaim Bloom left behind.
Consider Tuesday night’s trade of Alex Verdugo to the Yankees as the baseball equivalent of opening a window and letting fresh air into the room.
Verdugo was a goner on Aug. 5 when he arrived late for a game at Fenway Park and was benched by manager Alex Cora.
Cora, still seething after the game, called it one of his worst days as a member of the Sox. Verdugo tried to dodge questions before falsely denying being late. Then he complained about being picked on before the final game of the season.
With the 27-year-old outfielder a year away from free agency, there was little chance the Red Sox would risk giving him a contract extension.
There were two choices: trade him now or wait until during the season. They decided to move quickly and sent Verdugo to New York for three pitching prospects.
In the short term, the Sox saved the estimated $9.2 million Verdugo was due in arbitration and can repurpose that money. In the long term, the Sox now have better pitching depth.
But this was more about the Red Sox deciding they had to stand for something.
Verdugo, a talented player, was warned about being late and crossed the line one too many times. Let that slide and what is the message being sent to Triston Casas, Jarren Duran, and other young players the Sox see as part of their future?
On Tuesday, hours before the trade was finalized, Cora and Breslow spoke about the need to instill a better atmosphere around the team, something they want to start right away in spring training.
“Competition and accountability and pushing each other brings out the best in all of us,” Breslow said. “I would say that’s not exclusive to what happens on the field.”
Verdugo’s name didn’t come up at the time. But that he was traded hours later doesn’t seem like a coincidence.
There are risks here. Verdugo could well get his act together with the Yankees, a clubhouse where Aaron Judge sets the tone.
Verdugo is undeniably talented, a Gold Glove finalist in right field who is an above-average hitter, although he lacks the power you typically want from a corner outfielder.
For the Yankees, it’s worth a shot. Verdugo will be motivated going into his free agent season and can provide strong defense in right field. That pushes Judge to center and allows the Yankees to keep oft-injured and untradeable Giancarlo Stanton as the designated hitter.
If the Yankees trade for Juan Soto to play left field, that’s a strong group.
This was only the seventh trade between the Sox and Yankees since 1973 and perhaps the most notable since March 28, 1986, when the Sox sent Mike Easler to the Bronx for Don Baylor.
Or maybe it was the 1997 deal that sent Mike Stanley to New York for pitching prospect Tony Armas, who was then flipped for Pedro Martinez a few months later.
The other interesting aspect of this move is that it further underlines the awfulness of trading Mookie Betts to the Dodgers in 2020.
Verdugo was the key player the Sox received in the deal. Infielder Jeter Downs was eventually released and only light-hitting catcher Connor Wong remains.
All Betts has done since is put up a .912 OPS and twice finish second in National League MVP voting. But, hey, the Sox dumped half of David Price’s salary.
Verdugo had some good moments for the Sox. He had a knack for clutch hits and played with a swagger some fans found appealing. But the August incident was something that could not be put aside.
Four months to the day later, Verdugo is gone and Breslow has started to put his stamp on the team.
Read more about the Alex Verdugo trade
- Red Sox trade Alex Verdugo to Yankees for three pitching prospects
- What’s next? How the Alex Verdugo trade sets the stage for the rest of the Red Sox offseason.
- Here’s a look at the pitching prospects the Red Sox got from the Yankees for Alex Verdugo