Replacing Mookie Betts in right field is an impossible task for the Red Sox. He’s a four-time All-Star, a four-time Gold Glove winner, and has posted an .898 OPS since 2015.
Outside of Mike Trout, there hasn’t been a more valuable player in baseball the last five seasons.
But with Betts still presumably headed to Hollywood, 23-year-old Alex Verdugo will get the chance to prove what he is worth once he arrives at Red Sox camp.
Beyond the millions of dollars lopped off the payroll, Verdugo was the primary asset the Sox picked up in the trade that sent Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Verdugo is a former second-round pick who has hit .282 with a .784 OPS in 158 games (over three seasons) for the Dodgers. He has started games in left, center, and right field, and was generally ranked among the top 35 prospects in the game before last season.
The first significant move by Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom generated headlines across baseball and anger among Sox fans because of their appreciation for Betts.
To get a better sense of what Verdugo will bring to the Red Sox on the field and how Bloom fared on the trade, I sought the opinion of three veteran scouts from teams not involved in the deal.
Scout 1: “Verdugo’s got a chance to be a consistently above-average player. He won’t hit for big power but he’s going to get on base. He’s going to be what he’s supposed to be.
“You could compare him to Jacoby Ellsbury when he was going well, but he won’t steal as many bases. He’ll get extra-base hits and score plenty of runs. He does a lot of things well.
“I thought Chaim did pretty well. They were up against Betts becoming a free agent after one more season. Most teams weren’t going to take on that kind of money, but the Dodgers could. He did the best job he could. Verdugo will be a good player for them. He’s a good athlete.”
Scout 2: “I saw him quite a bit last year. He’s got talent across the board — offensively, defensively, and running the bases. He’s a very talented kid who hasn’t fully tapped into that talent yet. He’s inexperienced.
“I didn’t always like his act, but all the Dodgers carry themselves that way. There’s a lot of antics. But Verdugo is a five-tool guy and you can’t deny the talent. He’s got bat speed, strength, and shows glimpses of plate discipline.
“Sometimes he’s right on the ball and taking his walks, and sometimes he’s flailing away. But that will get better as he gets more experience.
“He can play all three spots in the outfield. I saw him a lot in center and he’s got the arm to play right field. He has the range to play right field at Fenway Park. I’m not saying he can replace Mookie Betts in right field; nobody can do that. But he’s more than capable defensively. He’s an average to above-average right fielder.
Scout 3: “You’re never going to get anything close to the same value for Betts. But they did well to get Price off the books. He seems to get traded every few years. I’d have wanted a second player from the Dodgers, but Verdugo can help them this season, right from the top. He’s an everyday player who could work his way up the lineup.
“Verdugo plays with a lot of energy and he’s a good outfielder. I think his power will get there but he’s probably not going to hit a ton of home runs. But he doesn’t strike out a lot, either. There’s a lot to be said for putting the ball in play and he does that. Betts does that, too, obviously.
“I think he’s immature, kind of like [Clint] Frazier [of the Yankees]. He’s talented but he knows he’s talented and he’s got an edge.
“Red Sox fans will probably like him. They’ll be able to plug him into the lineup and give him a chance.”
ON THE TABLE?
Sox could becomean issue in CBA
As Major League Baseball and the Players Association gear up to negotiate the collective bargaining agreement after the season, the union could point to the travails of the Red Sox as a prime reason to shift the financial structure of the sport.
Consider that a theoretically contending team with a vast revenue stream felt compelled to drop roughly $51 million off its payroll in one offseason. That is something the players could raise as not being good for the sport overall.
The Red Sox were set up to challenge the Yankees if they improved their starting rotation. They instead traded David Price, let Rick Porcello walk away as a free agent, and signed underwhelming Martin Perez for $6.5 million.
At the moment, there is no clear candidate to be the No. 5 starter.
That one of baseball’s bedrock franchises went this route almost certainly will motivate the players to seek change in the parameters of the luxury tax.
Of course, the rebuttal is that the Red Sox should have better managed their spending and been more efficient at producing players from their farm system to avoid this problem.
A few other observations on the Red Sox as spring training gets going:
■ Now that the payroll is projected for approximately $192 million, they have room to improve their roster and not get close to the first luxury-tax threshold of $208 million.
That’s unlikely to include the return of Brock Holt. But the Sox could consider free agent starter Taijuan Walker, who is making a comeback after pitching only 14 innings the last two seasons following Tommy John surgery.
If Walker is willing to take a minor league contract, it’s worth a shot considering he’s only 27 and had a 3.49 ERA for Arizona in 2017.
■ I’ve spoken to six Red Sox players since the trade was announced and one theme was common: They respect Mookie Betts for wanting to go to free agency.
“Back in the day, that was the thing to do,” Jackie Bradley Jr. said. “It wasn’t about, how can I sign something as fast as possible? It was, how can I get that time and get to free agency? [Betts] has every right to exercise his rights. It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks.
“A lot of people ask, ‘But what if it was you?’ It doesn’t matter. I’m not in his shoes. You’ve got to respect a player who believes in himself and is willing to bet on himself. I have nothing but the utmost respect for that.”
Said Matt Barnes: “Mookie has been consistent with what he wanted to do, and I admire that. I loved playing with him, but we all know it’s a business and he has the right to become a free agent if he thinks that’s what best for him and his family.”
■ Infielder Tzu-Wei Lin, who is from Taiwan, connected in Hong Kong on his way to the United States this past week. The coronavirus outbreak made for a nervous trip.
“Everybody on the plane was wearing a [surgical] mask,” Lin said. “I kept washing my hands. It’s all everybody was talking about on the plane and in the airport.”
Lin appeared in only 13 major league games last season because of injuries that included a concussion. The 25-year-old utility player is also out of minor league options.
“I have a lot to prove,” Lin said. “This is a big year for me.”
■ Baseball America reports that the Sox are lined up to sign 16-year-old outfielder Miguel Bleis to a bonus of at least $2 million in July. Bleis, who is from the Dominican Republic, is 6 feet 2 inches and very athletic. He has a pronounced leg kick in his swing, a bit like Manny Ramirez.
The Sox have parceled out their international bonuses in recent years, signing lower-grade prospects in bulk. But they feel strongly about Bleis.
■ The Sox will reportedly be responsible for half of the remaining $96 million on Price’s contract. Dustin Pedroia has two years and $25 million left on his deal. And Rusney Castillo’s back-loaded contract is for $13.5 million this season.
That’s $86.5 million in dead money the next three seasons, assuming Pedroia isn’t able to play again.
■ As of Friday, the Red Sox had 62 players on their spring training roster. Outfield prospect Jarren Duran was assigned No. 92. The Sox have not yet issued the No. 12 Holt wore.
■ This news went largely unnoticed in Boston, but the Phillies named Red Sox assistant athletic trainer Paul Buchheit as their head athletic trainer.
Buchheit was with the Red Sox from 2004–19, starting as an intern and working his way up to the major league staff in 2016. The Sox have yet to announce a replacement.
■ The concert lineup at Fenway Park this summer reads like a salute to the 1970s and ’80s. You have Aerosmith, Billy Joel, Dead & Company, Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue, New Kids on the Block, and James Taylor.
Green Day and Maroon 5 are what pass for new music. In all, there are 11 dates scheduled so far.
Pulling doubleduty in question
With spring training upon us, some off-the-field updates:
■ The issue of whether broadcasters should also work as team executives is fully in the spotlight with Jessica Mendoza’s resignation from the Mets.
Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, who hired Mendoza as an adviser last season, cast her departure as a function of time management.
But the conflict of interest was hard to ignore, especially after Mendoza criticized Mike Fiers for blowing the whistle on the Astros and their sign-stealing operation.
Commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged the awkwardness of split loyalties.
“No, I’m not all that comfortable with it. I’m really not. But it’s a topic that remains under discussion internally,” he said. “As you know, it causes a lot of complications, not just on this particular incident or comments, but in general.”
Pedro Martinez (Red Sox), Al Leiter (Mets), and David Ortiz (Red Sox) are among the team employees who also have roles in the media. New Cubs manager David Ross was a special assistant to Theo Epstein last season and worked for ESPN at the same time.
Mendoza will work weekday games for ESPN after four-plus years on “Sunday Night Baseball.” She also will appear more frequently on other shows.
■ With 79-year-old Joe Torre stepping back into more of an advisory role, three former players will take on significant responsibilities regarding how the game is played.
Chris Young, who pitched 13 seasons in the majors, was named vice president for on-field operations. Two recently retired players, Gregor Blanco and Nick Hundley, were named senior directors of baseball operations under Young.
Their department oversees the umpires, rules, on-field standards, discipline, and pace of game.
The 40-year-old Young, who played at Princeton, has moved quickly through MLB’s hierarchy to become an influential voice in Manfred’s cabinet.
■ In an interview with MLB Network, former Houston manager A.J. Hinch did not deny Astros players used buzzers under their jerseys to get signaled what pitches were coming.
When asked a straightforward question by Tom Verducci, Hinch’s indirect answer cited MLB’s findings that no buzzers were used.
Jose Altuve demonstrably warning teammates not to tear his jersey off following a walkoff home run to win the 2017 American League Championship Series remains suspicious.
Meanwhile, thousands of Dodgers fans have purchased tickets for Houston’s four-game series against the Angels in Anaheim to boo the Astros. A fan group organized the effort.
Longtime scout Phil Rizzo, the father of Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, died Feb. 1 at the age of 90. A former minor league player who went on to work in baseball for 38 years, Phil Rizzo was too ill to attend the World Series. But he watched his son’s team on television, and they spoke shortly after the Nationals won . . . Yankees manager Aaron Boone took to Twitter 30 minutes before the Super Bowl kicked off and correctly predicted the winner and score. “FWIW, I’m goin’ w the Chiefs. 31-20,” he wrote . . . Major League Baseball is set to host UConn, Cal Poly, Michigan, and Vanderbilt for a four-team MLB4 round-robin tournament next weekend at Salt River Fields in Arizona. Vanderbilt, the defending national champion, features 6-4, 255-pound sophomore righthander Kumar Rocker. Its roster also includes sophomore utility player Dominic Keegan of Methuen, who played at Central Catholic . . . Matt Kemp has made approximately $171 million in his career, so there’s only so much sympathy one can have for him. But according to the Los Angeles Times, the 35-year-old outfielder recently sold his home in the Los Angeles area for $4.3 million, far less than the $9 million he paid in 2013. Kemp also sank $3 million in renovations into the 15,884-square-foot mansion. No, Mookie Betts did not buy it. Kemp is going to spring training on a minor league deal with the Marlins . . . Here’s to Roger Kahn, who died Thursday at the age of 92. He was the author of “The Boys of Summer,” a baseball book that wasn’t always about baseball. Kahn’s personal narrative and ability to weave in the social issues of the time changed how baseball was written about . . . Agent B.B. Abbott, whose clients include Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, Mike Minor, and Charlie Morton, is going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro this coming week to raise money for childhood cancer research. He has so far raised $125,000 . . . Happy 86th birthday to Ted Wills, who pitched for the Red Sox from 1959–62. Wills won the first big-league game he started, throwing a complete game at Fenway Park against the Orioles on May 30, 1959. Ted Williams helped the rookie out with a two-run homer in the seventh inning of an 8-3 victory. Willis was traded to the Reds in 1962. He retired from baseball in 1965 and went on to a career in the insurance business. He lives in California.