Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo named fourth-best center fielder in baseball heading into 2021 season by MLB Network

Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo has been named the fourth-best center fielder in baseball headed into the 2021 season by MLB Network.

The 24-year-old, finishing behind the likes of Mike Trout, former teammate Cody Bellinger, and George Springer, only started one game in center field for Boston last year during his debut season with the club.

In said start, which came on the road against the Marlins on September 16, Verdugo went 1-for-1 in his defensive chances, recording a putout on a Miguel Rojas pop fly in the first inning of what would turn out to be an 8-4 defeat.

Per Baseball Savant, Rojas’ pop fly off of left-hander Mike Kickham left his bat with an exit velocity of 84.7 mph, giving Verdugo a 99% chance to catch it, which he did after jogging a few steps to his left.

Other than that, the rest of Verdugo’s playing time came in 2020 came in left or right field, where he did a decent job showing off his arm strength en route to recording seven outfield assists.

Prior to coming over from the Dodgers in that infamous trade last February, the former second-round draft pick patrolled center field quite a bit for Los Angeles in 2019.

Over a 61-game sample size (52 starts), Verdugo logged 475 2/3 innings in center, where he posted a positive-3 defensive runs saved as well as a 1.1 ultimate zone rating, which translates to an ultimate zone rating of 3.6 over 150 defensive games, per FanGraphs.

In that same stretch of games in center for the Dodgers, Verdugo was worth zero outs above average, according to Baseball Savant, which essentially means he was average at that position defensively.

Even with those numbers in mind, the Arizona native appears to be the frontrunner to become the Sox’ everyday center fielder in 2021.

This being the case because Jackie Bradley Jr. still remains unsigned while Andrew Benintendi could apparently be traded any day now.

Take those two options away, and outside of Verdugo, Hunter Renfroe, J.D. Martinez are the only other two outfielders on Boston’s 40-man roster who have major-league experience.

Having said all that, it’s safe to assume that The Shredder, MLB Network’s “player rating formula,” ran with the notion that Verdugo will fill the void left by Bradley Jr. come Opening Day in April.

Seeing how Bradley Jr. is a Gold Glove Award winner and one of, if not the best defensive center fielder in baseball, that could be a sizable void to fill, but Red Sox officials seem confident that Verdugo could handle it if given the opportunity.

“I think Verdugo’s probably the one who — if we were starting today — would probably be most suited to it,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said last month when asked who on the Red Sox could play center field on a consistent basis. “But, it’s just great to have a group of athletes that you feel confident that they could all cover it.”

Red Sox general manager and Bloom’s right-hand man Brian O’Halloran echoed this same sort of sentiment when speaking with reporters in early December.

“I think he did a really good job. He’s obviously a very athletic outfielder who moves around very well,” O’Halloran said of the fiery outfielder. “I have not seen him play center field, but I believe that he could do it. And in terms of evaluations, this year I thought he did a terrific job both offensively and defensively.”

Verdugo’s manager, Alex Cora, also expressed optimism that the 6-foot, 192. lb. left-handed hitter would be able to handle things as the anchor of the Red Sox outfield this coming season.

“We do believe that he’s athletic enough to do that,” said Cora, when appearing on MLB Network Radio in December. “He’s got the instincts. His first step is pretty good. He can do it… We do feel comfortable with Alex playing center field.”

There is still plenty of time for the Red Sox’ outfield outlook to change during these winter months, but for now, let’s just roll with the idea that Verdugo will be Boston’s Opening Day center fielder, likely batting leadoff or out of the two-hole.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

New Mets star Francisco Lindor grew up watching Red Sox ‘a lot’ in Puerto Rico; Could Boston be in play for shortstop’s services next winter?

Growing up in Puerto Rico, new Mets star shortstop Francisco Lindor did not have too many options when it came to watching specific Major League Baseball teams on television.

Star players from the island — such as Roberto Alomar and Carlos Delgado –took precedence, but among the 30 major-league clubs out there, Lindor’s options were really whittled down to just a handful of teams: the Braves, Dodgers, Yankees, Mets, Marlins, and last but not least, the Red Sox.

Surrounded by fans infatuated with the Bronx Bombers, the young Lindor opted to follow their biggest rivals at the time in the Red Sox.

“In Puerto Rico, back in the day, they weren’t showing every team,” the27-year-old explained on SNY following his introductory press conference earlier Monday. “They were showing the Atlanta Braves, they would show the Dodgers, they would show the Yankees, Boston, the Marlins when they had Ivan Rodriguez, the Mets when they started getting players from Puerto Rico.

“So, Boston was a team that I watched a lot,” he continued. “Because everybody was [for the] Yankees in Puerto Rico, so it was like ‘All right, I got to pick something to have the rebuttal. So, that was one of the teams that I watched.”

In addition to the Red Sox, Lindor also watched quite a bit of the Mets, the organization he now plays for. However, in citing the players from old Mets teams he enjoyed to watch, the four-time All-Star mentioned former big-league infielder and current Red Sox manager Alex Cora.

Cora, about to embark upon his second stint as Sox skipper, served as Lindor’s general manager for Team Puerto Rico during the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

The pair of Puerto Ricans share a very close bond, as evidenced by the former Indians star likening Cora to his “big brother” in 2019.

Even with that close bond in mind, the Red Sox were never really close to trading for Lindor before Cleveland dealt the star infielder to the Mets in a blockbuster, six-player trade last week.

MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported back in November that Boston wouldn’t “prioritize” a trade for the two-time Silver Slugger given their need to allocate resources towards pitching.

The reason Lindor was a trade candidate in the first place is because he is entering his third and final season of arbitration eligibility, meaning he can become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2021 campaign.

That being said, the Mets could very well lock up their new superstar to a lucrative contract extension before that happens. They certainly dealt for him with the intention to do that. Sandy Alderson, New York’s head of baseball operations, even said last week that he expected to talk to Lindor’s representatives about a potential long-term deal relatively soon.

Lindor himself said Monday that he’s open to signing an extension with the Mets to remain in the Big Apple for the foreseeable future, but only if an agreement that makes sense for both sides can be reached before the start of the season.

“I have never negotiated a contract during the season,” he told reporters. “Never. I’ve always said either before spring training, but once it gets to a point in spring training, it’s time to enjoy the ride and focus on winning. That’s the only thing I should be focused on — not how much money do I get, how much money do I need to get for my family. No, it’s about focusing on every day, my task.”

Given his willingness to potentially sign an extension, Lindor is not exactly locked in on hitting the open market this winter. But then again, free agency is definitely something that has been on his mind recently.

“I have never said, ‘I can’t wait to get to free agency,'” stated Lindor. “That was always so far ahead for me… When the negotiations with the Indians weren’t going how we were planning, then it was like, ‘Okay, this at some point might become a reality.’ Either I go to free agency or I get traded. But, if I told you I didn’t think about [free agency] this offseason, I would be lying. Yes, it was on my mind, but I’m happy to be where I am today and we’ll see what happens.”

When it comes down to it, Lindor’s situation resembles that of former Red Sox sensation Mookie Betts from over the summer.

Having just been traded from the Sox to the Dodgers in February, Betts opted to sign a record-breaking 12-year, $365 million extension with Los Angeles in July before even playing a game for the team.

Betts agreeing to that extension came at a time when the 28-year-old had already publicly stated he was intent on reaching free agency, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic likely changed his mind.

Taking into account the financial constraints that have been placed on clubs as a result of said pandemic, Lindor may opt to follow Betts and agree to a deal with the Mets before suiting up for them.

New York, with owner Steve Cohen now at the helm, has shown a willingness to spend after all, and re-upping a bona fide talent such as Lindor would certainly be money well spent.

Having written all this, I did think it was interesting that Lindor brought up the Red Sox in his presser earlier Monday.

Given the connection to Cora, as well as the fact that Boston’s current shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, can opt out of his contract and become a free agent at the end of the 2022 season, I feel like the Sox can’t be ruled out on Lindor as long as he doesn’t commit to the Mets for the long-term.

In other words, under the assumption that Lindor heads into next winter as a free agent, which I should add is unlikely, I have to assume that the Red Sox will to some extent be in play for his services next winter.

Even as I type that out, whatever is in store for the Red Sox all depends on what chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have in mind for the time being. I will leave it at that.

(Picture of Francisco Lindor and Alex Cora: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

After missing out on Tommy Kahnle, could Red Sox pursue former Blue Jays closer Ken Giles in free agency?

Before signing a two-year deal with the Dodgers late last month, right-handed reliever Tommy Kahnle nearly agreed to a contract with the Red Sox. So much so that “the Red Sox were considered the runner-up” for the 31-year-old’s services, per MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Kahnle, who officially signed a two-year, $4.75 million pact with Los Angeles on December 29, will likely miss the entirety of the 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August. So, the Dodgers will essentially be paying the veteran hurler to rehab his elbow in his first year with the club in hopes that he will be a quality contributor out of the their bullpen in 2022.

That being said, the Red Sox presumably had this same plan in mind in their pursuit of Kahnle as well. And as noted by Cotillo, their pursuit of the righty “suggests that the club is looking at a wide variety of options to improve its pitching depth, including arms that won’t help in 2021.”

One of those arms available that won’t be immediately ready to help in 2021 would be former Phillies, Astros, and Blue Jays closer Ken Giles.

According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Giles “figures to sign the type of two-year deal that teams frequently award pitchers recovering from an elbow reconstruction.” And he “might appeal to clubs that plan to be more competitive and/or financially flexible in ’22, as well as those that might lose their closer to free agency.” 

The 30-year-old right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery on September 30 after making just four appearances out of the Toronto bullpen in 2020.

The year before, his first full season with the Jays, Giles put together a solid 2019 campaign, posting a 1.87 ERA and .574 OPS against over 53 appearances and 53 innings of work while converting 23 of a possible 24 save opportunities.

Right elbow inflammation did cost Giles a decent chunk of time in July, which ultimately prevented the Blue Jays from trading the former seventh-round pick ahead of the 2019 trade deadline.

Around that same time, the Red Sox were reportedly one of several teams in the mix for potentially acquiring Giles.

Nothing may have happened then, and Boston’s baseball operations department may be under new leadership now, but there certainly is a potential match to be made here.

For starters, fellow righty Matt Barnes, who at the moment is slated to be the Sox’ closer this coming season, is set to become a free agent for the first time next winter.

Though Barnes has publicly stated that he is interested in signing an extension with Boston, bringing in Giles on a two-year deal could prove to be an effective contingency plan for 2022.

On top of that, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said in an interview with WEEI last week that “there’s a lot of players” on his list of potential offseason additions.

“Part of that is a function of where we are, where there’s a lot of ways we can improve. Part of that is how we’re looking to improve,” explained Bloom. “In the short-term, we have touched base with so many different players who we think could help us and fit us. Pitching, obviously, but also on the position player side. I think there’s different ways we can improve and different players we can bring in to help us. We also don’t want to take our eye off of the ball that, at the end of the day, we’re not just looking to put a little plaster in here and patch some holes. We’re looking to take this organization back to where we can compete for championships consistently year in and year out. That means we have to be open to different moves, different acquisitions that might not be just about 2021. I think we have enough talent here that we should be able to compete and win along the way there. But there are some things we’ve explored and some things we’ve kicked around that might be able to impact us even more in future years than they might be in 2021.”

Bringing in Giles would appear to fit the description of a move “that might not just be about 2021” for the Red Sox since, as mentioned before, he will miss all of this year while recovering and rehabbing from Tommy John.

Again, this is just a mere suggestion. I am not implying that the Red Sox will sign or even have any serious interest in signing Giles at some point this winter. We will have to wait and see what happens on that front.

Also, for what it’s worth, the Padres have reportedly traded speedy outfielder Greg Allen to the Yankees, so he will remain on another club’s 40-man roster for the time being.

(Photo of Ken Giles: Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Red Sox showing ‘strong interest’ in free-agent utilityman Kiké Hernandez, per report

The Red Sox reportedly have strong interest in free-agent utilityman Kike Hernandez, according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

Per Cotillo, “a deal is not believed to be imminent between the sides but Boston is one of the teams in pursuit of the former Dodger.”

Hernandez, 29, has spent the last six seasons with the Dodgers after beginning his major-league career with the Astros and Marlins in 2014.

Most recently, the right-handed hitting Puerto Rico native put together a 2020 campaign in which he slashed .230/.270/410 with five home runs and 20 RBI across 48 regular season games for Los Angeles, though he did post a .755 OPS in the postseason before being declared a free agent in late October.

Over the course of his tenure with the Dodgers, Hernandez has proven to be quite versatile defensively, as he has logged time at every position besides catcher since 2015.

This past season, the former sixth-round draft pick saw the majority of his playing time come at second base (220 1/3 innings). According to FanGraphs, he was worth positive-8 defensive runs saved at that position despite posting a negative-2.6 ultimate zone rating.

Given their struggles at second base in 2020, the Red Sox, as noted by Cotillo, “would likely view Hernandez as an option there with the added ability to play all three outfield spots.”

In addition to his versatility, Hernandez should also be familiar with Red Sox manager and fellow Puerto Rican Alex Cora, who served as Hernandez’s and Team Puerto Rico’s general manager during the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

Red Sox ‘feel comfortable’ with Alex Verdugo playing center field, Alex Cora says

Even as the Red Sox remain interested in bringing back Jackie Bradley Jr. this winter, club officials appear confident that fellow outfielder Alex Verdugo can take the Gold Glover’s spot in center if needed in 2021.

“One of the great things is [Verdugo, Andrew Benintendi, and Hunter Renfroe] all could do it,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said via Zoom earlier this week when asked who stands out as the primary centerfield option at this point. “I think Verdugo’s probably the one who — if we were starting today — would probably be most suited to it. But, it’s just great to have a group of athletes that you feel confident that they could all cover it.”

Bloom’s right-hand man, Sox general manager Brian O’Halloran praised Verdugo for what he did on both sides of the ball in his debut season with Boston when speaking with reporters last week.

“I think he did a really good job. He’s obviously a very athletic outfielder who moves around very well,” O’Halloran said of the fiery 24-year-old. “I have not seen him play center field, but I believe that he could do it. And in terms of evaluations, this year I thought he did a terrific job both offensively and defensively.”

Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who described Verdugo as the team’s 2020 MVP back in November, echoed this same sort of sentiment on Tuesday when appearing on MLB Network Radio.

“We do believe that he’s athletic enough to do that,” the Sox skipper said of Verdugo’s ability to play center field. “He’s got the instincts. His first step is pretty good. He can do it.”

This past season, Verdugo managed to start just one game in center for now-ousted manager Ron Roenicke against the Marlins on September 16, a contest in which the Arizona native made one putout over eight innings of work.

Prior to coming over to Boston back in February, though, Verdugo actually saw the majority of his playing time for the Dodgers in 2019 come in center field.

Across 61 games in which he logged 475 2/3 innings in center for Los Angeles, Verdugo posted a positive-3 defensive runs saved and 1.1 ultimate zone rating, which translates to an ultimate zone rating of 3.6 over 150 defensive games, per FanGraphs.

Baseball Savant, meanwhile, states that Verdugo was worth zero outs above average as a center fielder last year, which essentially means he was average at that position in terms of defensive capabilities.

With that in mind, it would appear that the Red Sox would indeed benefit from bringing back Bradley Jr. to regularly patrol center field, and there’s still time to make that happen.

As of now, however, Boston’s current, everyday outfield alignment would have Benintendi in left, Verdugo in center, and the recently-signed Renfroe in right.

“That’s a pretty solid outfield,” Cora said Tuesday. “But obviously the season doesn’t start tomorrow. Let’s see what the offseason brings and what Chaim and the group decide to do. But we do feel comfortable with Alex playing center field.”

Former Red Sox star Mookie Betts wins fifth consecutive Gold Glove Award

Former Red Sox star Mookie Betts took home his fifth consecutive Gold Glove Award and his first of the National League variety for right fielders on Tuesday night.

The 28-year-old had won the American League Gold Glove Award for right fielders in each of his last four seasons with the Sox from 2016 until 2019.

In his first go-around with the Dodgers, Betts logged 52 games and 438 2/3 innings in right field. While doing so, the Tennessee native led qualified National League right fielders in defensive runs saved (11), ultimate zone rate per 150 games (15.9), and Defense (3.7), according to FanGraphs. On top of that, he finished first among all right fielders in Outs Above Average (6), per Statcast.

By winning his fifth career and fifth consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award, Betts becomes the 30th outfielder in major-league history to win five Gold Gloves while also becoming the first outfielder to win as many as five straight since Ichiro Suzuki won 10 straight from 2001 until 2010.

Thanks mostly to Betts’ efforts, the eventual-World Series champion Dodgers had the top right field defense in the National League this past season going off multiple FanGraphs metrics. The Red Sox, meanwhile, saw their right field defense decline immensely in 2020, as the club finished 12th in the American League in DRS (-2), eighth in UZR/150 (1.8), and eighth in Defense (-1.4).

Betts, a former fifth-round draft pick, was traded to the Dodgers along with David Price back in February. Because he is under contract with Los Angeles through the end of the 2032 campaign, one might expect the four-time All-Star to add a few more Gold Gloves to his collection before all is said and done.

Opinion: Mookie Betts Saying He Thought He Was ‘Going To Be a Red Sox for Life’ Does Not Exactly Add up When Looking Back at His Time in Boston

Before winning his second World Series title in three years and his first as a member of the Dodgers Tuesday night, former Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts sat down with former teammate-turned-FOX Sports personality David Ortiz this past weekend.

Among the topics discussed in this virtual interview were Betts’ thoughts on playing in Los Angeles, his approach on and off the field, what he likes the most about his game, and of course, the trade that sent him to the Dodgers in the first place.

“Man, I got to tell you, Mook,” Ortiz said. “It’s hard for me to see you in that Dodgers uniform, but you look good in a Dodgers uniform. Did you ever think you were going to spend the next 12 years wearing that Dodgers uniform?”

Betts, in response, admitted he never thought that was going to happen.

“No,” he said. “I had initially thought that I was going to be a Red Sox for life. But, God always has a plan for things so I was following what he tells me to do.”

Here is the problem with that statement: Betts very well could have remained with the Red Sox for the remainder of his major-league career if he so chose.

Before dealing him to Los Angeles, the Sox made multiple attempts to keep the four-time All-Star in Boston for the foreseeable future.

In 2017, they offered him a five-year, $100 million extension. He rejected it. In 2018, they offered him an eight-year, $200 million extension. He rejected it. In the spring of 2019, they offered him an extension upwards of $300 million over 10 years. He did not reject it, and instead countered with $420 million over 12 years, according to WEEI’s Lou Merloni.

So here we have at least three instances where the Red Sox tried to retain Betts’ services for 2020 and beyond, and by the time we arrive at that third instance, the two sides are an apparent $120 million apart in negotiations.

By making the decision to not commit $400-plus million to one player, the Red Sox found themselves in a position where they essentially had to trade Betts or else they would risk losing him the following winter for nothing outside of a compensatory draft pick.

Trading Betts is the choice the Red Sox ultimately made in February, but it is difficult to not think that the 28-year-old could have done more to prevent that from happening.

If at one point in time Betts saw himself a member of the Red Sox for his entire professional career, why not make more of a push to remain with the only organization he had ever known?

If Betts is calling up Jim Rice before the trade and telling him ‘This is my home. I don’t want to go anyplace else,’ why not make more of an effort to see that through?

If Betts never wanted to leave Boston in the first place, why, when discussing the legacies of franchise legends like Ortiz and Carl Yastrzemski last September, say ‘You can be remembered in that same fashion even if you put on a couple different jerseys’ and all but tease the idea of playing for another team relatively soon?

One thing that became apparent in Betts’ final season with the Sox is that he appeared to be all in on becoming a free agent at the end of the 2020 campaign. Had the COVID-19 pandemic not hit, he likely would have done that. However, due to the financial concerns the pandemic has created across the country, not just in baseball, it’s possible that Betts’ outlook on things changed after he was traded.

On the surface, the 12-year, $365 million extension he inked with the Dodgers seems like one the Red Sox should have been able to afford earlier in the year.

That much may be true, but it’s worth mentioning that Betts signed said extension in late July. That was roughly four months after Major League Baseball had pushed back the start of the season and the owners and players’ association were seemingly at each other’s throats every day in between.

Seeing that turmoil arise between the owners and MLBPA may have forced Betts to settle a little bit. At the end of the day, he still got a lucrative extension that offers long-term security with uncertain times ahead, though it may not be the $400 million-plus deal he was initially hoping for.

Basically, the point here is that if Betts really wanted to be ‘a Red Sox for life,’ he could have made it happen.

It may have taken some sacrifice to do so, and Betts has every right to not do that and instead seek out the biggest payday possible, but when you see guys like Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts sign extensions with the Red Sox for somewhat less than they would have gotten if they were free agents, that says something.

It’s as Barstool Sports‘ Jared Carrabis wrote back in February: “You can’t make it abundantly clear that you will not sign for a cent less than market value, and then say that Boston is your home and that you don’t want to play anywhere else. That’s just not how this works.”

Betts had the chance to stay with the Red Sox in the long-term if he wanted to. He decided that if he was going to remain in Boston, he was going to do so for nothing less than top dollar. That’s fine, but if you are still holding on to the notion that the Red Sox were in the wrong for trading you after making multiple attempts to try to get you to stay, it may be time to move on from the past.

Red Sox Managerial Opening: Cubs Coach, Former Major-League Outfielder Will Venable Has Been Interviewed for Job, per Report

The Red Sox have reportedly interviewed Cubs third base coach Will Venable for their managerial opening, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.

Per Heyman, Venable has already interviewed for the job, while the likes of Dodgers first base coach George Lombard and Pirates bench coach Don Kelly, among others, are thought to be on Boston’s short list of other potential candidates.

Venable, who turns 38 later this month, has spent the last three seasons with the Cubs as both a first and third base coach.

Prior to beginning his coaching career, the former outfielder enjoyed a nine-year major-league career from 2008 until 2016 in which he spent time with the Padres, Rangers, and Dodgers.

An alumnus of Princeton University, Venable was a two-sport athlete in college, excelling in both baseball and basketball prior to getting drafted by San Diego in the seventh round of the 2005 amateur draft.

Even though he has no previous big-league managerial experience, Venable is an appealing candidate for the Sox’ opening based solely on the fact he’s the first person not named Alex Cora to be legitimately linked to the job.

Of course, the Red Sox can not speak to Cora about a potential reunion until the conclusion of this year’s World Series due to the fact that Cora was handed down a one-year suspension by Major League Baseball back in April for the role he played in the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing scandal.

As for Lombard, the 45-year-old has spent the last five seasons with the Dodgers as a coach, but he also spent parts of six seasons as a minor-league coach for the Red Sox from 2010 until 2015.

Kelly, meanwhile, served as Derek Shelton’s bench coach in Pittsburgh this past season after coaching first base for the Astros in 2019. The former big-leaguer, who is brothers-in-law with Neil Walker, also has experience as a professional scout.

Now that we have gotten our first insight into who chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. are targeting for the Red Sox’ managerial opening, it should be fascinating to see how much this search heats up once this year’s World Series between the Dodgers and Rays comes to a close.

What Red Sox Do at Catcher This Offseason Should Be Fascinating

Using FanGraphs’ WAR metric, the Red Sox had one of the best catching groups in the American League in 2020 (1.7 fWAR), trailing only the White Sox (3.0 fWAR) and Royals (2.7 fWAR) for the league lead in that category.

The two backstops who saw just about all the playing time behind the plate for Boston this past season — Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki — both put together solid campaigns in their own right.

Vazquez, 30, clubbed seven home runs in 47 games in addition to posting a wRC+ of 115 and leading all major-league catchers in FanGraphs’ Defense metric (8.3).

Plawecki, meanwhile, emerged as quite the serviceable backup with his new club as the 29-year-old slashed .341/.393/.463 with one homer and 17 RBI over 24 games and 89 plate appearances.

Excluding Jonathan Lucroy, who was released in September, the only other true catcher to see playing time for the Sox in 2020 was Deivy Grullon.

The 24-year-old out of the Dominican Republic was claimed off waivers by Boston from the Phillies on September 3 and only managed to appear in one game as the Red Sox’ 29th man in a doubleheader against Philadelphia on September 8.

Grullon went 1-for-3 with a walk and run driven in during the nightcap of that twin bill against his former team before he was optioned back down to the alternate training site in Pawtucket. SoxProspects currently lists Grullon as the Red Sox’ 30th-ranked prospect.

All three of Vazquez, Plawecki, and Grullon are already on Boston’s 40-man roster, but another backstop is expected to be added to said roster in the coming weeks. His name? Connor Wong.

One of the three players acquired from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts/David Price trade from this past February, the 24-year-old Wong is eligible for this winter’s Rule 5 Draft, which means he would have to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster before November 20 in order to be protected from that.

Wong being added to the 40-man seems just about imminent at this point. Not only does the former third-round pick offer some versatility at different infield positions, according to The Athletic’s Peter Gammons, he also is “considered by [Jason] Varitek and their organization as a rising elite pitcher-first catcher.” On top of that, as noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, “the Sox didn’t acquire [Wong] just to risk losing him.”

So here we have four appealing catchers, all of whom are already within the organization, which means we have not even touched upon catchers from outside the organization who could join the Red Sox in 2021.

One name in particular that comes to mind here would be none other than J.T. Realmuto, who is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career this winter.

Often regarded as the best catcher in baseball (BCIB), Realmuto would be quite the get for Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. The 29-year-old is coming off a 2020 campaign with the Phillies in which he posted a .266/.349/.491 slash line to go along with 11 home runs and 32 RBI over 47 games played.

In addition to his superb offensive efforts, Realmuto is quite the defensive backstop as well, especially when it comes to pitch framing and throwing out runners. Just last year, the Oklahoma native threw out 47% of the runners who tried to steal against him, which was the best caught-stealing rate in baseball.

Even if the Phillies prioritize getting Realmuto to sign a new contract to keep him in Philadelphia, there may only be a handful of clubs who would be able to spend big on someone of Realmuto’s caliber coming off this pandemic-induced, 60-game season. The Red Sox would obviously be one of those clubs.

Of course, the Sox adding Realmuto only makes sense if Vazquez is not in Bloom’s future plans. The Puerto Rico native, who is signed through 2021 and has a team option attached for 2022, was linked to the Rays in the days leading up to the 2020 trade deadline back in August, but nothing ever came out of those rumored talks. Still, as again noted by Cotillo, Boston dealing Vazquez this winter “could definitely happen.”

As currently constructed, Vazquez and Plawecki stand as the Red Sox’ top two catchers at the major-league level, while the likes of Grullon and Wong could both begin the 2021 season at Triple-A Worcester.

Realmuto landing with Boston seems more of a long shot than anything right now, but things could obviously change as the offseason progresses.

With Struggling Red Sox, Former Dodgers Outfielder Alex Verdugo Is in Uncharted Territory

Alex Verdugo crushed his fourth home run and collected his sixth and seventh RBI of the season on Friday night and extended his hitting streak to five games by doing so. It was a solid effort from the 24-year-old, but it alone was not enough to snap what is now a five-game losing streak for his team.

With the 10-3 loss at the hands of the Yankees on Friday, the Red Sox are now 6-14 and have the worst record in the American League exactly one third of the way through this truncated, 60-game season. Verdugo may be contributing in positive ways despite the Sox’ miserable start, but this much turmoil all at once is something the former Dodgers top prospect is not exactly accustomed to.

In three seasons with Los Angeles prior to getting traded to Boston in February, Verdugo was part of three straight National League West-winning Dodgers teams that averaged just over 100 wins per season from 2017 through 2019. He likely won’t be able to enjoy that same sort of accomplishment in his inaugural season with the Red Sox.

“It’s definitely a new place for me,” Verdugo said when asked about the Sox’ struggles during his postgame media availability on Friday. “I hadn’t really gone through this a lot with the Dodgers. It is what it is — I’m here now.”

As pessimistic as those comments may read, Verdugo is with the Red Sox now, and compared to the start of the season last month, he has carved out more of a role for himself and has seen an uptick in playing time as a result. The former second-round pick attributes this to trying to be as stress-free as possible when on the field.

“You see guys stressing out a little bit. I’m one of them,” he said. “Everybody just needs to take a deep breath, relax, and try to do less. That, at least personally, has helped for me. Every time I go out there, whether it’s offense, defense or running bases, if I feel like I’m trying to force something to happen…a lot of times it doesn’t happen. If I feel like I’m going out there and letting the game transpire, just play, and take what they give you, really, I feel like at that point everything settles in.”

Following Friday’s 1-for-4 showing, Verdugo now owns a .258/.324/.468 slash line through his first 18 games as a member of the Red Sox. And although the Red Sox are likely going to finish in the basement of the American League East seeing how they are currently on pace to end the year with 18 wins and 42 losses, watching Verdugo continue to blossom could make this 2020 season somewhat worth it.