FORT MYERS, Fla. — Newly acquired Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo may not be ready for the start of the season.
According to major league sources, Verdugo’s availability for Opening Day is in question because of a back injury that contributed to his inability to play for the Dodgers after early August last season.
The issue was known during negotiations between the Red Sox and Dodgers about the deal that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles in exchange for Verdugo and prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong.
The Red Sox did not view the issue as a significant long-term concern when they examined Verdugo’s medical history prior to completing the trade. They will wait to make a more precise evaluation of his timetable once he can be seen by their medical staff.
It remains possible that the 23-year-old outfielder will be ready to start the season. That said, the Red Sox are prepared to take a conservative approach, believing that a small number of games missed early in the year is better than a substantial stretch on the sideline if he is rushed into the lineup.
Verdugo told MLB.com in December that he had a goal of being ready for Opening Day after last year’s injuries, but acknowledged that wasn’t a certainty.
“I think anybody that’s had something wrong with your back would understand,” Verdugo told the website. “I’m going in the right direction. My goal is to be starting Opening Day. We’ll just see how the days and weeks go and how I recover.”
Verdugo hit .294/.342/.475 with 12 homers in 106 games as a rookie for the Dodgers last year. Red Sox interim manager Ron Roenicke said Verdugo may be a consideration for the leadoff spot when healthy.
The possibility of Verdugo missing time has contributed to the Red Sox’ interest in free agent outfielder Kevin Pillar, though they already viewed him as a strong fit for their roster. The Sox have three primary outfielders — Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Verdugo — who are lefthanded, making a righthanded-hitting complement capable of strong defense at all three positions a natural fit.
Pillar hit .259/.287/.432 with 21 homers and 14 steals in 161 games for the Giants last year, posting more impressive marks of .278/.305/.519 against lefties. Pillar, who became a free agent this winter when the Giants opted not to tender the arbitration-eligible player a contract, has agreed to a one-year deal in the $4 million range with the Sox for 2020. His deal could become official as soon as this weekend, pending his arrival in camp and a physical.
“He’s going to help the team win,” said Bradley. “I respect him, period, as a player. He can play the game at a high level, is very talented, and can help a ball club on both sides of the ball.”