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On Alex Verdugo and his less savory headlines

The Yankees traded for a player who they hope will leave his baggage in Boston.

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Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images

Alex Verdugo is a magnet for attention. The story of his life cannot be told through the sole lens of on-the-field production, but rather the greater noise that has surrounded him throughout his playing career.

Being included in a franchise-altering trade for Mookie Betts helped launch Verdugo in to the spotlight. The Red Sox were hopeful that he would be a foundational piece for a team going through a reset. Outside of a run to the 2021 ALCS, that never truly materialized, and from the beginning, a certain reputation followed the young player. “Youthful energy” and “big personality” are oftentimes used to describe a player with an edge — particularly when the player is producing on the field (just ask Josh Donaldson) — but Verdugo faced real controversy in his first few months as a member of the Red Sox.

In February 2020, a report surfaced of an alleged assault of a 17-year-old girl during which Alex Verdugo was present back in 2015. Accounts of the incident, which involved multiple women not including the victim, and another Dodgers minor leaguer at the time, state that Verdugo was in the bathroom at the time of an alleged sexual assault. The incident continued when the victim became sick and was beaten up by the two women involved in the incident after they exited the hotel room bathroom. The victim stated that the physical assault was filmed and posted to Snapchat. Nick Francona, the Dodgers assistant director of player development at the time, was asked in an interview if it was Verdugo who posted the video to Snapchat and his response was, “That was my understanding.”

Verdugo’s response to the incident in the media was vague:

“I don’t think there’s much further to comment on it. There was an investigation. There [were] a lot of things that [were] done with it, and like I said, I was cleared of anything wrongdoing, and if I was around for anything that had happened, I would have put a stop to it. I would have helped out. I would have done something.” — Boston.com

Although the tick-tock of the entire situation remains murky (at best) to this day, it’s on his record regardless and sure to raise eyebrows.

Back on the field, Verdugo performed in his COVID-shortened first year with Boston. He had a 125 wRC+ in 53 games in 2020, and despite Betts and the Dodgers winning the World Series that year, it was a solid enough start to Verdugo’s Red Sox career. Surrendering Betts already looked questionable on paper, but Verdugo did his part at the plate.

Verdugo is, well, unapologetically himself, and that personality is apparent when you watch him play baseball. His style and on-field boastfulness immediately catch your attention—particularly in a sport that can be stuffy and muted at times. History tells us that personality can also get you in trouble if it does not mesh with your manager.

Verdugo’s numbers regressed slightly in 2021, where he posted a .289 average and an OPS of .777, though it was steady enough and he followed it up with an .835 OPS in 11 postseason games during Boston’s surprising playoff run. But it was the start of a trend that would see his numbers regress every year in Beantown. 2022 felt like a tipping point between Verdugo and the Red Sox organization. He finished with a wRC+ of 102, which was the lowest of his career, and played poorly on defense. Questions arose about his speed, weight, and overall preparation at the end of the season.

A meeting with skipper Alex Cora at the end of 2022 included a challenge for Verdugo to be the best version of himself in 2023. Although a strong start to the season indicated that Verdugo could be reaching his full potential, that positivity was short-lived. In early June, he failed to run out a groundball in Cleveland, was pulled from the game, and subsequently got benched the next day. In an act that many considered the final straw in what was a strained relationship between player and manager, Cora benched Verdugo in August after he showed up late to a game. Cora did not mince words in the postgame presser:

Verdugo finished with a .264 average and only a middling 98 wRC+ on the campaign. Verdugo’s comments after the season indicated a player balancing the act between being civil and attempting to state that his issues—unlike others on the Red Sox—seemed to always be aired out publicly. The writing was on the wall.

Verdugo was subsequently traded to the Yankees on Tuesday. Aaron Boone downplayed his newly acquired players’ run-ins with Cora when asked about it on Wednesday. I’m sure a manager will look to make his own judgments when it comes to newly-acquired players.

The Yankees filled a need with a left-handed bat in their outfield, and they shifted the spotlight from the middling Verdugo to the superstar Juan Soto the next day. There is an upside and limited long-term risk for the Yankees, given Verdugo will be a free agent after next season. While he’s with the team, the compass that one uses to judge certain players will be based on the individual making the judgment.

I know that his personality and actions have been at best off-putting at times to many fans, and it may be difficult for some to sift through the controversy and now cheer for Verdugo. The Yankees are surely hoping that Verdugo changes the narrative and quiets the noise surrounding him in 2024.