How Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo became a better major-leaguer because of veteran teammates like Mitch Moreland, Rich Hill

Alex Verdugo’s inaugural season with the Red Sox ended with the outfielder finishing 12th in American League MVP voting.

Well before that, though, the 24-year-old had gotten off to a rough start with his new team.

After being left off the Sox’ Opening Day lineup last July, Verdugo struggled to the tune of a .231/.286/.231 slash line with no extra-base hits, no RBI, two walks, and sevens strikeouts through his first eight games and 28 plate appearances of the year.

The centerpiece for Boston in the five-player trade with the Dodgers that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles, the former top prospect had grown frustrated with his performance, and he let out that frustration in a demonstrative way; much to the chagrin of his veteran teammates — like Mitch Moreland.

“Every at-bat it felt like I was going into the tunnel and hitting something or throwing a helmet down,” Verdugo said recently on the Baseball Tonight podcast with ESPN’s Buster Olney. “And Mitch kind of made a side comment, like ‘Shoot. Seeing him act like that has got me exhausted.’ Like I’m tiring him out just watching what I’m doing. And I sat back on that. I thought about it, and I went over there and I apologized to the team.

“This anger — this stuff that I show — I want you guys to know that it’s from a good place,” he added while recalling how he apologized. “It’s because I’m a competitor. I’m so used to competing.”

Since being selected by the Dodgers in the second round of the 2014 amateur draft out of Sahuaro High School, the Arizona native has always had a fiery personality.

It’s a personality and a way of going about things that may rub others the wrong way, but Verdugo has managed to succeed at every level he’s played at while still maintaining that boisterous edge to him.

That trend of performing to a high level continued for Verdugo over the summer and into the early stages of the fall. From August 4 through the end of the 2020 season, the left-handed hitter slashed .320/.378/.514 with six home runs, 15 RBI, and four stolen bases over his final 45 games (193 plate appearances) of the year.

“I felt like towards the middle and end of the season, I was a lot better,” said Verdugo. “I was a lot better. I was able to handle it more. It was kind of cool, Jason Varitek got a nice little punching bag right in the tunnel. So we’d go down there and I got a nice little inflatable pitching bag with my Verdugo jersey on it. No. 99.”

Verdugo will look to carry over the individual success he enjoyed in 2020 into 2021 for a Red Sox team that figures to be much more competitive than they were last year.

The 6-foot, 205 pounder is no stranger to playing for a team with postseason aspirations, and one of his former teammates on that particular team — Milton’s own Rich Hill — believes that Verdugo can take that next stop with the Sox.

The 41-year-old Hill, now a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, was Verdugo’s teammate with the Dodgers for parts of the 2017, 2018, and 2019 campaigns.

While the veteran left-hander was one of those who initially took issue with the way Verdugo went about his business upon getting called up by the Dodgers in 2017, he also realized — and still realizes — the potential the young outfielder has to do special things on the field.

“When I heard the trade happened, I had gotten the chance to talk to a few people in Boston and just said, ‘Hey, you guys got a really good player here, and not just any player,'” Hill told Olney. “I think he can be a perennial All-Star and be a standout in Boston because of his ability to put the bat to the ball and consistently create damage with runners on and/or start a rally.

“Again, it’s the way he goes about playing the game,” the former Red Sox hurler added. “I think of players right off the top of my head who play hard. Like a Chase Utley for example, a Clayton Kershaw, a Dustin Pedroia. You look at Jose Abreu with the White Sox. I put Alex in that category. It doesn’t have to be just position players, right? I mentioned a few pitchers because when you go to the game and you buy the ticket, you want to see the intensity and the passion from the player — whether it’s the pitcher or position player.”

Pedroia, who retired from the game of baseball in February after spending 14 big-league seasons with the Sox, was teammates with Hill for parts of the 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015 seasons.

“Dustin kind of rejuvenated me and got more out of myself when I saw his effort and what he brought on a daily basis and what consistent intensity looked like ,” said Hill. “That was something I saw and was like, ‘Wow, if this guy is showing up at 1 o’clock and he’s ready with a full batting practice uniform on, it wasn’t fake. It was real.’ It was every single day.

“And that’s what Alex has,” he continued. “Alex has that every single day, it’s the same mentality. It’s the passion, the joy, the intensity, the love for the game. However you want to put a title over it, he has that for the game. So he’s going to do fine here in Boston.”

Based off his style of play, Verdugo is someone who feeds the energy of the crowd regardless of which ballpark he is at.

After going through an entire season with no fans in the stands in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Verdugo is relishing the opportunity to play in front of a crowd –albeit a reduced one — at not only Fenway Park, but venues like Yankee Stadium as well in 2021.

“I think the fans are a big part of the game,” he said. “I miss that interaction where they’re talking their smack. They’re letting you have it. Especially when I’m in New York. If I’m in the Yankees’ stadium, I want that, man. I want it. I know you got to be careful what you ask for, but for me, I love it. I really do.”

(Picture of Mitch Moreland and Alex Verdugo: Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Jeter Downs, top Red Sox prospect, is a ‘workaholic,’ Alex Cora says; ‘His bat is going to play’

Jeter Downs collected his second home run of the spring in the Red Sox’ 7-3 loss to the Rays in Port Charlotte on Friday afternoon.

Starting at shortstop and batting out of the seven-hole, the 22-year-old infielder went 1-for-3 at the plate with a walk, a strikeout, and that aforementioned home run.

Downs’ homer came in the top half of the second, when with one out and a runner on first he took a 2-2 changeup at the bottom of the zone from Rays starter David Hess and clobbered it well over the left-center field wall.

Though the wind was blowing hard in that particular direction at Charlotte Sports Park, Downs’ display of power was impressive nonetheless.

“He does a good job of controlling the strike zone,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said of Downs’ plate discipline. “He knows what he wants to do at the plate. Even in the last at-bat when he chased a pitch up, he knew right away he was out of the zone. “That’s something that we’ve been impressed [by].

Following Friday’s showing, Downs is now slashing .357/.500/.786 with a pair of homers and five RBI through his first 15 games and 18 plate appearances of Grapefruit League play while primarily playing shortstop.

A bruise to his left side suffered during a game against the Twins on March 14 resulted in Downs being held out of in-game action for a little more than week, but the Colombian-born prospect returned to action this past Monday and has gotten back into the swing of things.

Throughout the spring, Cora has not shied away from commending some of the organization’s top prospects — like Downs, catcher Connor Wong, and infielder Nick Yorke — for their ability to seemingly slow down what’s going on around them. He did more of the same while praising Downs on Friday.

“The bat will play,” said the Sox skipper. “He’s a good defender. I know he had that tough game the second game of spring training, but he’s a workaholic. One thing is for sure: He has a very slow pulse, and that helps him out. People might see him and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, low-energy guy. He’s not into it.’ That’s not the case.

“Offensively, he understands what he wants to do,” Cora added. “He understands the strike zone, and that’s why his bat is going to play.”

Downs, who like Cora has connections to the city of Miami, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 2 prospect in the Sox’ farm system behind only Triston Casas.

Listed at 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds, the right-handed hitter was reassigned to the minor-leagues on March 12. He is projected to begin the year at the Red Sox’ alternate training site in Worcester.

Downs, of course, was one of three players the Sox acquired from the Dodgers in the blockbuster trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to Los Angeles last February — with Wong and outfielder Alex Verdugo being the other two.

Verdugo, the only one of the three with any major-league experience to this point, seemed impressed with what he has seen from both Downs and Wong at camp thus far when speaking with reporters earlier this week.

“They’re great players. Obviously, Downs, a middle infielder, and I love his swing,” Verdugo said this past Tuesday. “I think his swing is really good. I think it’s going to play in the big leagues. The same goes with Wong. Wong is a really good catcher and has a really good arm back there. He can fire it and he can swing it, too.

“With those guys, it’s obviously tough because last year we didn’t have a minor leagues,” he added. “They weren’t able to go to Pawtucket and put up big numbers or whatever it may be. It kind of hurts them a little bit but these are guys who are professionals. They’re working in the cage, talking to guys and trying to learn more and more so in the next two years — maybe this year, we never know — we’ll start seeing them come up.”

(Picture of Jeter Downs: Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Alex Verdugo experiencing first real spring training with Red Sox: ‘I’m feeling really comfortable and feeling really good about where I’m at right now’

Alex Verdugo’s first spring training as a member of the Red Sox was far from a conventional one.

After coming over from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts/David Price trade last February, the young outfielder — then 23 years old — reported to Fort Myers, where it was revealed that he was working his way back from a stress fracture in his lower back.

When the Red Sox began their Grapefruit League slate later that month, Verdugo was unable to play in any spring games and would instead spend his time rehabbing, getting treatment, or hitting in the cage.

The following month, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic really took off and eventually forced Major League Baseball and its clubs to shut down their spring training facilities on March 12.

Despite the shutdown, which would last into July, Verdugo was still able to go to the Sox’ Fenway South complex in order to continue getting treatment on his back.

By the time players reported to their respective teams’ summer camps, the 24-year-old was essentially a full-go, but he would have to prepare for a shortened season without the benefit of a spring training schedule to work off of.

“When we had the spring training 2.0, there still wasn’t very many games,” Verdugo explained on Tuesday via Zoom. “We were kind of just playing against ourselves. It was good because I was getting at-bats, I was seeing pitches. But physically, I felt a little bit off. When the season kicked in, it took me probably a week — maybe a week-and-a-half — into the season for me to finally get that adjustment and realize, ‘Oh, OK, this is what I got to do.’ And from there, I didn’t look back.”

In his first eight regular season games of 2020, Verdugo went a mere 6-for-26 (.231) at the plate with two walks and seven strikeouts from July 25 through August 23.

Starting on the night of August 4 — in which he went 1-for-2 at the plate against the Rays, the Arizona native put up an impressive .320/.378/.514 slash line to go along with six home runs and 15 RBI over 45 games and 193 plate appearances en route to leading the 2020 Red Sox in bWAR (2.2), per Baseball Reference.

Having solidified himself as an everyday big-league outfielder who was on the rise, Verdugo came into the 2021 season with the opportunity to actually play in some Grapefruit League games for the first time in his career.

Leading up to Tuesday’s contest against the Braves in North Port, though, the left-handed hitter carried with him an OPS of .508 through his first 11 games of the spring.

“For the spring I’m having, it’s been a different one,” Verdugo said. “I think if we go performance-wise and batting average-wise, it’s not quite where I would want it. But physically and all that, I’m in a lot better position than I was last year. I think right now, it’s just getting up there and just letting my eyes see the pitches, having some at-bats. I’ve been having better at-bats, working the count deep. Maybe 3-2, couple of pitches have gotten me. But I’m feeling really comfortable and feeling really good about where I’m at right now.”

Despite the statistical struggles so far this spring, Verdugo did go 1-for-2 with a single, an RBI forceout, a run scored, and a walk while playing six innings of center field against Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon.

“He’s been getting better. He’s making good decisions at the plate,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora in regards to the progress Verdugo is making this spring. “He’s not chasing pitches — in the first at -bat he did — but the walks, trying to stay up the middle, the other way, that’s what he does… He’s feeling good about his swing and he’s been getting a lot of at-bats in the backfields, too.”

Verdugo reinforced some of these points himself when discussing how he should be more locked in when the 2021 season begins as opposed to where he was at in late July last year.

“I’ve been kind of going through some things, fighting some stuff at the plate,” he said. “My biggest thing for me is I use the entire field. So I just got to get back to using left field, letting the ball travel just a split-second more, and then just throwing the hands at it. Like I said, the last couple games, I hit a line-drive over the shortstop, been having better at-bats, walking a little bit more. So we’re right on the final path. This next week, we got to just lock it in a little bit more and get it ready.”

Last season, Verdugo went 22-for-39 (.564) at the plate with a pair of home runs and four RBI when pushing the ball to the opposite field. He will look to replicate that sort of production this year, as he will likely slot into the No. 2 spot in the Sox’ regular lineup behind former Dodgers teammate Enrique Hernandez.

Defensively, Verdugo figures to see the lion’s share of his playing time come in either center or right field.

The former second-round draft pick out of Sahuaro High School only played eight innings in center field in 2020, but he said Tuesday that he’s had no problems getting more acclimated with a position that can be a little more challenging to play inside Fenway Park as opposed to other ballparks.

“The biggest thing, like I said health-wise, is taking care of my body and making sure my legs and everything’s under me,” said Verdugo. “Really, the position doesn’t matter. Center, we do have a little bit more run since it’s gap-to-gap, but there’s no problem with that yet. With our corner outfielders and everybody, we all do a really good job of communicating, shifting, and going where we need to be.”

Outside of J.D. Martinez, Verdugo is technically the longest-tenured outfielder on the Red Sox’ major-league roster following the Andrew Benintendi trade and Jackie Bradley Jr. signing with the Brewers.

One of the reasons Boston has gone through such a seismic shift in regards to roster construction this offseason is because of how poorly they played in 2020. Another reason for it is because the organization, spearheaded by the return of Cora as manager, clearly expects to be more competitive in 2021.

With the infusion of talent chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. have added to the mix, the Sox are a group this spring that has generated a lot of internal positive energy and excitement.

And with the prospect of a limited number of fans returning to Fenway Park for Opening Day on April 1 and beyond, that leaves someone like Verdugo — who can feed off that energy from the crowd — feeling excited for what’s on the horizon.

“It just kind of felt like gut-punch after gut-punch,” Verdugo said about the 2020 season. “This year, going through the trials and errors last year, we got some new pitchers, got some new guys, got some new talent. I think everybody’s just excited. We’re all excited to have fans back, excited to get back into this normality. We’re excited to get back to this normal life that we’re living in.

“This year, we know that we can be pretty good and be competitive,” he added. “We’re just keeping a positive mindset and everybody’s working and doing what we need to do.”

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo says Dodgers winning World Series was ‘bittersweet’ for him, calls Boston place ‘where I was supposed to be’

Last year, Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo went through something for the first time as a major-leaguer in that he played for a team that failed to qualify for the postseason.

Prior to getting traded to Boston last February, the 24-year-old had been a part of three straight National League West-clinching Dodgers teams from 2017-2019.

Although he never appeared in a postseason game as a member of the Dodgers, Verdugo still worked hard to reach that ultimate goal of being a member of the last team standing come late October.

So when Los Angeles finally ended their 32-year World Series drought this past fall while Verdugo was at home watching his former teammates celebrate that accomplishment, it was a bit weird for the former Dodgers top prospect.

“I’m happy for the guys,” Verdugo said Thursday when speaking with reporters via Zoom. “It’s a bittersweet moment because at the same time, I want that ring. I want to be a champion, but I think things work out for reasons.”

While the Red Sox may have struggled to the tune of a 24-36 record in Verdugo’s first season with the club, the left-handed hitter did enjoy success on an individual level in 2020.

Over 53 games played last year, Verdugo slashed an impressive .308/.367/.478 to go along with six home runs, 16 doubles, and 15 RBI across 221 plate appearances. He also recorded seven outfield assists en route to finishing 12th in American League MVP voting.

“Coming over here and being with Boston and being with the staff and the teammates, and how I feel like I get along and jell with the guys, I think the fit here is better,” said Verdugo. “I think this is where I was supposed to be, and I think it’s going to make it even more special when we do get that ring and we win it here.”

Having said that, Verdugo — who was selected by Los Angeles in the second round of the 2014 amateur draft — still enjoyed seeing some of his old friends like Cody Bellinger, Edwin Rios, and Walker Buehler win it all considering the fact they all grinded through the minor-leagues together not too long ago.

“It was fun. I still got a lot of friends over there,” he said. “Still had some guys that you root for and at the end of the day, I put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, into the minor-leagues to get into the bigs and play next to these guys. To see their dreams come true, it’s amazing.”

As the Dodgers head into the 2021 season coming off their first World Series title since 1988, Verdugo hopes the Red Sox can meet them in the Fall Classic once more to get a little retribution sometime in the near future.

“Now, it’s just, hopefully we see them and we get to beat them and get a little satisfaction that way,” said Verdugo.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox officially sign utilityman Kiké Hernández to two-year deal

The Red Sox have officially signed utilityman Enrique Hernandez to a two-year contract, the team announced Tuesday.

Dustin Pedroia officially retiring from the game of baseball on Monday opened up a spot on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster, allowing Boston to sign Hernandez nearly two weeks after he agreed to a multi-year deal with the club.

Hernandez, 29, will earn approximately $14 million with this new contract ($6 million in 2021, $8 million in 2022), though the deal does include deferrals, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.

The native of Puerto Rico had spent six of the first seven years of his big-league career with the Dodgers and is coming off a 2020 campaign in which he slashed .230/.270/.410 to go along with five home runs and 20 RBI over 48 games (148 PAs) for Los Angeles.

In the postseason, Hernandez proved to be a valuable piece of the Dodgers’ puzzle by posting a .755 OPS while clubbing two homers and driving in four runs en route to Los Angeles’ first World Series title in 32 years.

Capable of playing multiple defensive positions around the infield and outfield, Hernandez’s versatility, as well as his lifetime .820 OPS against left-handed pitching, should come in handy for the Sox in 2021.

Hernandez’s new manager, Alex Cora, selected the 5-foot-11, 190 lb. right-handed hitter to play for Team Puerto Rico during the 2017 World Baseball Classic, when he served as the team’s general manager. But, their relationship goes back much further than that.

“I know a lot of people are talking about Enrique,” Cora said on the TC & Jerry Podcast last week, before the signing was made official. “I call him Enrique because he was my batboy when I played winter ball when he was eight years old. He’s a good player, he’s a solid player… Looking from afar, he’s a guy that is versatile. I think he’s a better hitter than what people think, he has a lot of pop. But at the same time, what he brings to the equation outside the clubhouse is amazing. He’s a very humble kid from a great family. His dad actually is a cancer survivor. They’ve been amazing. A family that we really respect here in Puerto Rico.”

Hernandez will speak to reporters via Zoom at 5 p.m. eastern time Tuesday evening. He will also wear the No. 5 for the Red Sox, becoming the 38th player in team history to do so.

(Picture of Enrique Hernandez: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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.”