There are always intricacies and specificities when it comes to what all 30 MLB teams are planning during an offseason. While a certain profile of high-risk high-reward might be more appealing to one team, to another it could be a case of just wanting a safer choice. Over the past few days, there has been significant movement in the outfield picture for the AL East. The centerpiece of the movement has been Juan Soto and the game-changing presence he brings to Yankee Stadium, but we’re here to discuss the other names that moved around.
Alex Verdugo was dealt from the Red Sox in a rare inter-rivalry trade to the Yankees, and a few days later, Boston went back out on the trade market and acquired Tyler O’Neill from the Cardinals. Both players are under contract for just one more year, set to be free agents after 2024, and both are coming off of down years relative to their peak, but there’s a bit of a difference in their profiles moving into next year. Before we get into that, however, let’s look at things from the Yankees’ perspective in acquiring Verdugo in the first place.
It might have been surprising to see Verdugo traded to the Yankees, but the fact he was moved is the farthest thing from shocking. Boston made it clear early in the offseason that it was entertaining offers for their lefty-hitting outfielder. There was rumblings of clubhouse tensions, and they’ve got a number of options who could’ve slotted in for him. Masataka Yoshida is locked up long-term, and you also have Jarren Duran, Ceddanne Rafaela, and Wilyer Abreu all ready for playing time, particularly Duran, who looked good in 2023. All of that means that Verdugo was expendable, and the Yankees had been looking at him for a while beforehand.
After four full seasons with Boston, Verdugo has established who he is as a big leaguer: a reliable, consistent league-average bat. The Yankees are more than fine acquiring a player like that. The lack of depth one through nine in the batting order was a well-noted issue for the team throughout, especially when Aaron Judge was out.
When the Verdugo trade went through, the Yankees were still negotiating to get the Juan Soto deal done, but they likely knew at least they were pretty close to it. With Soto now in line next to Judge, the star power is set at the top. Now the best available option for revamping the lineup is finding decent and consistent production, and they’ve at least found that in Verdugo (and covered for their potential weakness all-around in fielding with the addition of Trent Grisham as part of the Soto deal).
Verdugo hasn’t missed more than 20 games in a season throughout all his time with Boston. And despite declining to his lowest offensive production as a regular starter in 2023, Verdugo has still been a league-average bat (100 OPS+ last season) with adequate defense.
Now, we previously mentioned the host of options that the Sox had to fall back on when they dealt Verdugo, but they quickly pivoted towards another deal. Whereas the Yankees needed some depth to sure up a lineup lacking in its bottom part, Boston decided to swing for the fences a bit. Tyler O’Neill has played at a level that Verdugo hasn’t touched in the big leagues. However, that happened a few seasons ago, and since then, the former Cardinal has been dealing with subpar production and a plethora of injuries.
Boston isn’t trading for the 2021 version of Tyler O’Neill, and that’s factored into the package they moved for him, but at the same time, they see that as a possibility. If he fails to stay healthy and produce, they can always call up their prospects and give them the development time that an open spot in the outfield provides. Being in the bottom of the division and having the leeway to try and experiment gives them the room to gamble on O’Neill’s ceiling, even if his floor is lower than Verdugo’s.
The Yankees just went through a season of plugging low-floor outfielders in once the wheels started falling off of the 2023 campaign and couldn’t afford to run that risk again. The Sox are restructuring under a new general manager and looking to reload the farm system while hunting for potential gems to kick start their reboot, similar to how the Cubs have been in their post-World Series era. Those paths crossed to form a rare moment where a trade could be mutually beneficial between arch-rivals, even if it’s jarring to see — now we’ll just have to wait and see whether the riskier gamble or the steady bet pays off.