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With Alex Verdugo, the Yankees address an immediate need

Unlocking more power from Verdugo will be the key to the success of this move though.

MLB: AUG 18 Red Sox at Yankees Photo by Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Late on Tuesday night, the Yankees announced a trade for a lefty outfielder. It wasn’t Juan Soto, or at least not yet as talks remain ongoing as of Wednesday morning and a deal looks likely. It was Alex Verdugo, who came over from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for reliever Greg Weissert and pitching prospects Richard Fitts and Nicholas Judice.

The Yankees had said all along that they would be looking for two outfielders, preferably left-handed. Verdugo fits that description — even though he is clearly no Soto. Dealing for Verdugo makes sense from a baseball standpoint, but it is a secondary move. The Yankees’ offense was depleted enough in 2023 that they need to acquire Soto, Cody Bellinger, or another top producer.

The Yankees add an interesting hitter to their lineup, but it’s important to point out Verdugo has a career .281/.337/.428 line with a 105 wRC+. He has been slightly above average as an offensive player over a 2,559-plate appearance sample. Although it’s not particularly exciting or what the Red Sox dreamed of when Verdugo was the main prospect prize in the Mookie Betts deal, he’s a competent big-league hitter.

In 2023, Verdugo hit .264/.324/.421 with 13 home runs and a 98 wRC+ across 142 games. He did score 81 runs and had a very solid 15.4-percent strikeout rate. With nine Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and 1 Out Above Average (OAA), he accumulated 2.0 fWAR.

The key factors here would be trying to get Verdugo to increase his barrel rate (5.9 percent for his career) and his hard-hit rate (38.4 percent) in order to turn up the crank on his power. He’s averaged 36 doubles per year since the start of 2021, but not once has he has never topped 13 homers in a single season.

Now, just by changing ballparks and going from Fenway Park (which can be tough for lefty hitters) to Yankee Stadium will give him some additional homers. It will be up to him and the team’s player development staff and coaches to finish close to 20 dingers, which would be a best-case scenario.

Verdugo’s fit on the roster is rather odd because he is mostly a right fielder and, well, Aaron Judge is a right fielder. But manager Aaron Boone has said that that they are OK with playing Judge in center, leaving right field to Verdugo (or left, should they acquire Soto and prefer to put him in the other corner). The most ideal alignment will have to wait until Jasson Domínguez has fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery, and by then, it would not be a shock at all to to see the depth being tested. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that Giancarlo Stanton’s spot at DH opened up due to injury.

In Verdugo’s final season of salary arbitration, he is scheduled to make north of $9.2 million. It’s a modest sum in 2024 dollars for a guy who has been a steady 2-WAR contributor, and the Yankees will have him for just one season anyway, unless they extend him or re-sign him after 2024.

As for the Red Sox, they had been looking to move Verdugo for a while and found a nice return for him from their bitter rivals, no less. There hadn’t been any indications that they were interested in extending Verdugo, and they got some value for him.

The Red Sox are in on many of the major free agents, including Yoshinobu Yamamoto, so they intend to compete. This means they will likely address the outfield, but they could also go with a young unit featuring Jarren Duran, Wilyer Abreu, and Ceddanne Rafaela, with Masataka Yoshida DHing (not to mention superstar Rafael Devers).

As for the package Boston received, it wasn’t Gleyber Torres like they were rumored to discuss at the Trade Deadline, but it was a modest return of eyebrow-raising arms. One might even wonder if the Yankees overpaid a little for an outfielder with a limited offensive ceiling with just one year of team control left.

Fitts had a fine season in Double-A, with a 3.48 ERA in 152.2 innings, with 163 strikeouts. He has a very solid fastball-slider combo and elite control, giving up just 2.53 walks per nine innings last season. The soon-to-be 24-year-old out of Auburn University was ranked by MLB Pipeline as their 12th-best prospect by season’s end.

The sweeper-happy Weissert could thrive with an extended opportunity because he misses bats, though his command needs some serious polish. As for Judice, he’s a 2023 draft pick who did not pitch after being selected, but as noted by analyst Chris Clegg below, he could be a stealthy good pickup.

The main positive for the Yankees is that outside of Fitts, they did not deal from the main group of pitching prospects who are being discussed in a Soto trade. Drew Thorpe, Chase Hampton, and Will Warren are still in tow, as are 2023 major leaguers Michael King, Clarke Schmidt, Randy Vásquez, and Jhony Brito.

For the Yankees, the grade of the Verdugo trade will hinge on what else can they do to improve the lineup and the outfield. If they can trade for Soto or bring in Bellinger, then this particular transaction makes sense as a supplemental move. If they can’t, well, it’s safe to say they didn’t move the needle very much.