Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo: ‘I’m Not Replacing’ Mookie Betts

Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo was the centerpiece for Boston in the trade that sent Mookie Betts to the Dodgers. That much is true.

However, the 24-year-old wants everyone to know he is not here to replace the four-time All-Star in right field. He said as much following a two-homer, home run-robbing performance as part of a 5-3 win over the Blue Jays on Friday night.

“I’m not replacing him,” Verdugo said of Betts during his postgame media availability. “Yeah, he played here, but this is a game. This is a business. He decided to go elsewhere. I’m not replacing him. That’s what you guys say. That’s what everybody else says. I’m going out there and playing right field, playing my game.”

Verdugo was acquired by the Sox from the Dodgers as part of a blockbuster five-player trade that included Betts back on February 10. The two are both capable of playing all three outfield positions, so the comparisons between them have essentially been nonstop since then. Still, the exuberant outfielder is not a huge fan of that.

“I don’t think about Mookie,” Verdugo added. “I think he’s a great player, he did a lot for Boston, and he’s going to do a lot for the Dodgers. I think about me being here and what I’m going to do and bring to the team. It’s not a comparable thing. I don’t like comparing it. I don’t like when people bring it up. Obviously, the nature of the trade, it’s going to happen. People are going to say it. I’m going to go out there. I’m gonna play my game and bring the energy that I bring. That’s how I always have been. I don’t care about shoes to fill or anything like that. I’m playing my game.”

Adding on to that, Verdugo does not feel any added pressure playing in the same outfield Betts had patrolled since 2014. Again, he’s here to play his game and that’s what he’s going to do.

“Like I said, (the media) sees me going into right field replacing Mookie,” he continued. “I don’t see it like that. I see that I’m playing right field for Boston. That’s it. It’s just another team, another organization. Got to go out there and compete, and do what you do. The same way he’s doing it over there, we’ve got to do it over here.”

Through 11 games with his new club, Verdugo is slashing .294/.368/.559 with three homers and four RBI. He may not be Mookie Betts, but he is making a solid first impression in Boston and is looking forward to the challenges that await.

The pressure the former second-round pick feels has more to do with performing on the field to the best of his abilities, not replacing a former MVP in right field.

“To go out there and feel some type of pressure or feel some type of way about myself like I need to show something, to hit homers or rob homers all the time to fill this void that Mookie left, no. I don’t have that,” Verdugo said. My job is to get on base, to try to make this game a little bit easier for the guys coming up behind me and in front of me.”

On Saturday, we could see Verdugo bat out of the leadoff spot for the first time as a member of the Red Sox, so that’s something to look forward to.

Red Sox Manager Ron Roenicke Has Considered Batting Alex Verdugo Out of Leadoff Spot ‘Over Last Few Days’

For the sixth time in his 10 starts for the Red Sox thus far, outfielder Alex Verdugo will be batting out of the seven-hole in Friday’s series opener against the Blue Jays at Fenway Park.

According to manager Ron Roenicke, though, Verdugo’s status as a bottom half of the lineup-type hitter could change quite soon, as the Sox skipper has considered batting the 24-year-old out of the leadoff spot “over the last few days.”

So far this season, fellow left-handed hitting outfielder Andrew Benintendi has primarily served as Boston’s leadoff man, and, as you may already be aware, has struggled in that role. Through his first 39 plate appearances of 2020, the former first-round pick has mustered just two hits, resulting in a dismal .069/.289/.103 slash line.

Even with that in mind, Benintendi is still batting leadoff for the Sox on Friday, but if his struggles do continue, Roenicke did say that he’s “not going to be stubborn and keep (the 26-year-old in the leadoff spot) forever.”

Prior to coming over from the Dodgers in February, only made one start for Los Angeles as a leadoff hitter, which came back on July 27, 2019. In that contest against the Nationals, the Arizona native went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.

On the flip side of that, Verdugo does own a career .291/.345/.555 slash line over 119 plate appearances when leading off an inning.

Roenicke also mentioned that “it doesn’t seem [like] left or right-handers bother” Verdugo, so it would appear that the exuberant outfielder’s reputation as a “reverse splits guy” is here to stay.

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo on Crushing First Home Run of Season With New Team: ‘To Finally Be Able to Help Out and Get a Couple Runs for Us, It’s Huge’

Going into Wednesday night, Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo was without a home run or RBI through his first nine games and 30 plate appearances with his new team.

That all changed against Rays left-hander Ryan Yarbrough in the fourth inning of an eventual 5-0 win for Boston at Tropicana Field to close out a seven-game road trip.

After striking out on eight pitches in his first at-bat against the Rays starter, Verdugo come to the plate for a second time with two outs and a runner on first following a Michael Chavis single.

On the second pitch he saw in his second at-bat against Yarbrough, which was nearly identical to the first’s location, the 24-year-old unloaded on an 0-1, 71 mph curveball at the bottom of the zone and deposited it 352 feet to the right field seats for his first home run of 2020 and his first in a Red Sox uniform. It also gave his side an early two-run lead.

“It felt amazing, man,” Verdugo said of his homer during his postgame media availability. “It’s pretty obvious a lot of us are going through it right now trying to find our swings. There’s a lot of new things in baseball, not being able to see the videos until after the games and all that. Usually, the in-game adjustments have been hard. It felt really good to finally be able to stay on one, to stay through it and get one out.”

Per Statcast, Verdugo’s two-run blast had an Expected Batting Average (xBA) of .220, so it wasn’t exactly barreled, per se, but it was still encouraging to see him make relatively hard contact nonetheless. His manager, Ron Roenicke felt that way as well.

“He was pretty happy, I’ll tell you that, when he came to the dugout,” said the Sox skipper. “It was huge. At the time, it was huge. I thought Yarbrough was throwing the ball fantastic and the next thing you know, we’ve got two runs on the board. The players know it, they feel what’s going on. To get that lead, I’m sure Dugie felt pretty good about that.”

Indeed, Verdugo did feel pretty good about getting his first one out of here since coming over from the Dodgers in February. More importantly, he was happy it contributed to a victory.

“I think the biggest thing for me was just to help the team out,” Verdugo said. “It was a tie game, so just to get up there and give us a 2-0 lead, give the pitcher and everybody a little breath. Like, ‘Hey, alright, we’ve got some room to work.’ That was my biggest part. I came here to contribute. I’ve played the game hard and I want to contribute in everything that I do. To finally be able to help out and get a couple runs for us, it’s huge.”

Following Wednesday’s impressive performance, Verdugo is showing why he should be starting more against left-handed starters, especially when the likes of Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. are mired in slumps.

While with Los Angeles for parts of the previous three seasons, the left-handed hitting Arizona native slashed .306/.333/.452 slash line in 133 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, earning the reputation of being a “reverse splits” guy.

Thus far with the Red Sox, Verdugo now owns an OPS of 1.009 through his first 16 plate appearances against southpaws this year, again proving that he should be playing more. Even still, the outfielder understands that finding playing time for everyone is no easy task.

“I always mess around with that,” Verdugo said with a smile. “When I’m not in there against a lefty, I’m like, ‘Hey, Ron, just so you know, man, I can hit ‘em.’ I think he knows it, too. I think he also knows when players are pressing. He’s doing his job, he’s doing what he has to do. I take a lot of pride against lefties.”

Also, it’s probably about time Verdugo moves up in the lineup, too. Just a thought.

 

Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom Says Club’s Long-Term Goals Outweigh ‘Any One Player, Any One Decision’

It has been nearly two weeks since Mookie Betts signed a 12-year, $365 million contract extension with Dodgers, and for Red Sox fans, it hurts knowing the 27-year-old will likely finish his Hall of Fame career in Los Angeles.

Even after getting dealt to the Dodgers along with David Price back in February, some still held out hope that Betts would re-sign with Boston this winter seeing how locked in he appeared to be on becoming a free agent while still with the Red Sox.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, though, Betts’ outlook likely changed when considering the possibility that clubs could be strapped for cash or unwilling to spend on big-money free agents this offseason, so he took the best deal that was in front of him. That being a record-setting $365 million deal that included a $65 million signing bonus up front.

The man who traded Betts, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, had been on the job for less than four months when the blockbuster five-player swap with Los Angeles was at last finalized on February 10.

As you may recall, the Sox got back outfielder Alex Verdugo as well as infield prospect Jeter Downs and catching prospect Connor Wong in exchange for Betts and Price. That may be a nice enough return, but losing a player of Betts’ caliber still hurts, even for someone like Bloom who did not even know him that well.

When speaking with ESPN’s Joon Lee recently, Bloom said as much, stating that, “I didn’t get to know him obviously that well in my time in the organization, but certainly know how great a player he is. And even in just the short time I got to know him, I got to see why everybody thinks so highly of him.”

On top of that, Bloom also congratulated Betts on his extension with the Dodgers.

“He is a wonderful person, great teammate, great player and I’m very, very happy for him,” he added.

As happy as Bloom may be for Betts, the former Rays executive had an interesting response when asked by Lee if he is ‘philosophically opposed to mega-contracts like those given to Betts.’

“I do think this is a tough question to answer in the abstract,” he said. “Every move you consider you need to consider the merits of that particular move and you need to make sure you have a good process for looking at that and assessing how it fits into where you are as an organization and your larger goals. I think it’s a difficult thing to talk about in the abstract because of that.”

By trading Betts, it seems the Red Sox are trying to kick-start a new kind of rebuild where they can remain consistently competitive over a long period of time. In order to accomplish this, Bloom says, it’s important to not get too emotionally attached to any one player or decision, such was the case with trading Betts.

“It’s very painful when you’re attached to a player, especially a great player, to see him in another uniform,” said the Sox’ CBO in regards to trading away Betts. “I know that’s not something that really my words or anybody’s words are going to make less painful. As I said, I think our job as a front office is to set ourselves up to win as much as we can over the long haul and 2020. That’s a picture that’s much bigger than any one player, any one decision.”

 

Watching Mookie Betts Do Mookie Betts Things Is Not as Enjoyable as It Once Was

In case you missed it, former Red Sox star Mookie Betts had a vintage Mookie Betts game for the Dodgers on Friday night.

Playing in his second game at Chase Field in Dodger blue, the 27-year-old outfielder went 3-for-5 at the plate with a double, a home run, and two runs driven in out of the two-hole.

That homer, which came off Diamondbacks right-hander Zac Gallen to lead off the fourth inning, was Betts’ first as a member of the Dodgers. According to Statcast, the ball traveled 375 feet and had an exit velocity of 96.2 mph off his axe-handle bat.

“I was just swinging to stay in the at-bat,” Betts said later on. “I don’t know how that stayed fair.”

Not only did Betts impress offensively, but he also dazzled in right field as well, something Red Sox fans had grown accustomed to in the four-time All-Star’s time in Boston.

The latest instance of Betts’ superb defensive prowess emerged right away in the bottom of the first on Friday, when DBacks star Ketel Marte tried to turn a leadoff double off Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin into a leadoff triple, but ultimately paid the price in the end. That being the case because, upon fielding Marte’s grounder in the right field corner, the four-time Gold Glover unleashed a 305-foot missile of an outfield assist to Corey Seager to nab the Arizona infielder at third.

Betts’ throw got to Seager in a matter of seconds, all without taking a single bounce to get to the Dodgers shortstop covering the bag. He did something very similar against the Rays at Tropicana Field last September.

“That’s over 300 feet in the air on a dime,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said postgame, in awe. “Whether it’s the glove, the bat — he had a good offensive night — or the arm. Guess that’s why he’s wearing gold out there.”

The Dodgers ultimately fell to the Diamondbacks, 5-3, after squandering a late 3-1 lead, but still, the night Betts put together after a rather slow start to the 2020 campaign is probably a decent compromise.

After getting dealt from the Red Sox to the Dodgers as part of a five-player trade in February, Betts inked a record-setting 12-year, $365 million extension with Los Angeles late last month to remain in southern California for the foreseeable future.

“I know the Dodgers are gonna be good for a long time,” he said at his July 22 press conference announcing the extension. “I love being here. I love everything about here.”

For the Red Sox, Betts was just about everything you would want in a major-league player. Homegrown, five-tool caliber, perennial All-Star and MVP candidate, a great smile, and a great figure in the community. All that being said, Sox brass convinced themselves that the 2018 AL MVP needed to be traded or else they would lose him for nothing in free agency this winter.

Financials aside, which really shouldn’t be a problem for a big-market club like the Red Sox anyway, Betts now looks like the modern-day superstar who got away from Boston as he is already establishing himself once again in Los Angeles.

Former Red Sox Star Mookie Betts Officially Signs 12-Year, $365 Million Extension With Dodgers

Former Red Sox star Mookie Betts and the Los Angeles Dodgers are in agreement on a 12-year, $365 million contract extension, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Per Passan, because Betts is under contract for $27 million ($10 million in prorated salary) this season, the total value of his extension with Los Angeles is $392 million over the next 13 years. Also from Passan:

And from the Dodgers, it’s now official:

Prior to being dealt to Los Angeles in February, Betts and the Red Sox were reportedly $120 million apart in extension talks, as Boston had offered the 27-year-old $300 million over 10 years and Betts countered with $420 million over 12 years, according to WEEI’s Lou Merloni.

The two sides obviously could not reach a compromise though, as the 2018 American League MVP was eventually traded to the Dodgers with left-hander David Price in exchange for outfielder Alex Verdugo and prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong.

As his tenure with the Red Sox was winding down, it appeared as though Betts was set on becoming a free agent this winter. But, due to the financial insecurities across baseball that have stemmed as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps the Tennessee native had a change in heart and decided to take the money when he could.

With this record-setting extension, Betts will be under contract through the end of the 2032 season. By then, the former fifth-round pick will be 39 years old.

This news also marks the end of any speculation that Betts could re-sign with the Red Sox as a free agent this winter, as had been the hope among fans when the four-time All-Star was traded away.

If Betts continues to be as productive as he has since making his first Opening Day roster in 2015, he’ll likely be on a Hall of Fame trajectory. In other words, he’ll eventually be donning a Dodgers cap on his plaque in Cooperstown.

Even after five months, it’s still somewhat mind-boggling that the Red Sox would trade a player of Betts’ caliber. Without taking the financial aspects into consideration, which are important, Betts is just about everything you would want in a professional baseball player. From being a once-undervalued homegrown talent to an MVP and perennial All-Star. he was the perfect face of the franchise for Boston. It’s just too bad John Henry and Co. didn’t value that as much as the Dodgers clearly do.

Former Red Sox Star Mookie Betts on Verge of Signing Massive Contract Extension With Dodgers, per Report

Any hopes of the Red Sox reuniting with Mookie Betts this winter appear to be dead, as the Los Angeles Dodgers are reportedly closing in on a massive contract extension with the 27-year-old outfielder, according to WEEI’s Lou Merloni.

Per Merloni, the extension the Dodgers and Betts are on the verge of agreeing to is worth anywhere between $350 to $400 million for 10-plus seasons.

Based off this follow-up from ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it would appear that these rumors are in fact legitimate and Betts will indeed ink a long-term extension with the Dodgers relatively soon.

After both sides were reportedly off by $120 million in extension talks over the winter, the Sox, with chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom at the helm, dealt Betts and left-hander David Price to Los Angeles in February in exchange for outfielder Alex Verdugo and prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong.

At the time, that transaction got Boston under the vaunted $208 million luxury tax threshold, but as it turns out, the 2020 Major League Baseball season will have to played until at least the start of September for that to carry out into this offseason. In other words, if the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic halts the season at any point prior to the August 31st trading deadline, the Sox’ luxury tax penalties will not reset and they will essentially be in the same position they were prior to dealing Betts and Price.

At least on the surface, one of the motivating factors in the Red Sox trading away Betts was the notion that the four-time All-Star was locked in on becoming a free agent for the very first time in his career this winter. It might not be a great look in the eyes of Red Sox fans if he goes back on that now, but, given the uncertainties surrounding how much teams will be willing to spend in free agency because of the pandemic, it’s certainly understandable why Betts may be more open to forgoing free agency when taking financial security into account in the midst of a nationwide pandemic.

Of course, one of the hopes in the Sox trading Betts to get under the luxury tax was the idea that the club was going to lure the 2018 American League MVP back in free agency with a lucrative contract this winter. That now appears unlikely to happen barring any significant changes on Betts’ or the Dodgers’ front.

Dodgers’ Mookie Betts Says He Has No Regrets About Turning Down $300 Million Contract Extension From Red Sox

Former Red Sox star and current Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts says he has no regrets about turning down a 10-year, $300 million contract extension from Boston during the 2019 offseason.

According to WEEI’s Lou Merloni, the Sox had made that offer to Betts in their third attempt to keep the 2018 American League MVP in Boston long-term.

Betts countered that offer with $420 million over 12 years, and things only fell apart from there as the four-time All-Star was dealt to Los Angeles in February.

At the time he was traded, Betts was gearing up to become one of this winter’s most coveted free agents and seemed locked in on signing a record-setting deal with whichever team would be willing to pay up.

Flash forward a little less than five months later, and the 27-year-old may have to settle for less of a payday than he was originally expecting due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has placed financial constraints on a many major-league ballclub.

Despite facing that potentially harsh reality, Betts still has no remorse about turning down that aforementioned extension from the Red Sox. He said as much at press conference at Dodger Stadium earlier Monday.

“I don’t regret turning down that [offer],” the Tennessee native told reporters. “Once I make a decision, I make a decision. I’m not going back and questioning myself. I don’t worry about that. The market will be what it is. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Added Betts: “Free agency is really on the back-burner. That’ll come. That’s nothing that I’m really thinking about right now. Right now, the main concern is (health and safety). There’s a lot going on, we haven’t gotten tests back and we don’t know who’s sick and not sick. There’s just a lot going on that needs to be addressed and free agency is not one of those things right now. That will come when it comes.”

It’s also worth mentioning that Betts is one of a number of players who don’t seem entirely confident that this truncated 2020 season will reach its conclusion even though Opening Day is less than three weeks away. He even said that he still has doubts about playing for the Dodgers in a real game.

How things continue in terms of adequate COVID-19 testing and protocols for teams will certainly be something to monitor moving forward.

Dodgers’ David Price Opts Out of 2020 Season Due to Concerns Surrounding Coronavirus

Former Red Sox and current Dodgers left-hander David Price is the latest player who has made the decision to sit out the 2020 Major League Baseball season due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a tweet, Price, who turns 35 next month, writes in part: “After considerable thought and discussion with my family and the Dodgers, I have decided it is in the best interest of my health and my family’s health for me not to play this season.”

Along with four-time All-Star Mookie Betts, Price was dealt to the Dodgers back in February from the Red Sox in exchange for outfielder Alex Verdugo, infield prospect Jeter Downs, and catching prospect Connor Wong.

One reason Price opted to not play in this shortened season could be the fact that he has two young children at home in three-year-old Xavier and 11-month old Isabel. Not to mention his wife, Tiffany.

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To paraphrase a section of the March agreement between MLB and the MLBPA, “High-risk players can opt out of the 2020 because of coronavirus concerns and still get paid. Players who are not deemed to be at a high risk can also opt out while surrendering their 2020 salaries and service time.”

If he is not deemed to be at a high risk, Price would have to surrender the $11.9 million he was set to earn in prorated salary this season. Because of this, as The Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham notes, the Red Sox should be off the hook for the $5.95 million they would have owed the lefty in 2020.

Back in late May, Price committed $1,000 to every minor-league player in the Dodgers’ organization to help support them during the coronavirus pandemic. Los Angeles is sure to miss his veteran presence during these unprecedented times.

Red Sox’ Chris Sale on Handling Criticism: ‘I’ve Never Paid Attention to What People Say About Me, Because It Doesn’t Matter’

Red Sox ace left-hander Chris Sale underwent successful Tommy John surgery seven weeks ago.

Before Tuesday, the 31-year-old had only spoken to the media once since undergoing the procedure in Los Angeles, but he spoke with ESPN’s Mary Rivera in an extensive one-on-one, presumably over-phone interview earlier this week.

Topics covered in said interview included Sale’s recovery from Tommy John, criticism from fans over his contract, the Red Sox trading Mookie Betts and David Price, thoughts on a disappointing 2019 season, the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal in 2017, and Alex Cora’s departure from Boston.

You can read Rivera’s conversation with Sale in full here, but I wanted to hit on a few highlights, starting with the Florida native being asked if it’s “hard to handle the criticism” from people who believe he has not lived up to expectations under his new contract.

“When I got to Boston, my first year was really good,” Sale said. “My second season was decent but I ran into some shoulder issues. We ended up winning a World Series, so I’d even call that a relatively good season with a little hiccup. Then, 2019 was an absolute disaster. But in the end, I’ve never paid attention to what people say about me, because it doesn’t matter.”

Prior to the start of the 2019 season, Sale inked a five-year, $145 million contract extension with the Red Sox while Dave Dombrowski still served as the club’s president of baseball operations.

Dombrowski has since been removed from that post and was effectively replaced by former Rays executive and current chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, whose first major move at the helm in Boston was dealing Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers in February.

That sort of transaction, which significantly hindered the Red Sox’ chances of winning in 2020, could have upset a veteran like Sale, whose first priority is to win no matter who he plays for, but he did not seem to take too much offense to it.

“Very rarely in this day and age, you get to play with the same team for a long time,” Sale told Rivera. “We have to adapt and go with it. We don’t make decisions; we don’t trade players. We show up to spring training and we do our best to win with the players we have.”

At the time Betts and Price were dealt to Los Angeles, the 2020 MLB season really wasn’t in question. That has obviously changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though, and Sale isn’t too sure there will even be a season at all. Not like that matters much for him anyway since he is still recovering from Tommy John.

It still is a concerning matter for players who can play this year though, and Sale certainly feels for them while the MLBPA remains in active negotiations with the league.

“There’s too many moving parts with all this right now,” he said in regard to getting baseball back this year. “There’s obviously negotiations between the players and the owners, and that’s what I hope we can iron out sooner rather than later. On my end of it, I’m not missing any games that everyone else isn’t missing. Plus, I’m not getting paid, so no one can call me an overpaid asshole right now [laughs].”

For the time being, Sale will continue the process of coming back from Tommy John surgery. He’s been one of the few players to work out at Fenway South in Fort Myers since the complex opened back up earlier in the month.

“I’ve been doing a shoulder program and we’re doing soft-tissue stuff but I’m starting to get into some pushing stuff, some rows,” Sale said of the rehab process. “A lot of this actually is a lot of shoulder work too, which is good.

“We can kind of start, as they say, tearing it down to the studs. I can work from the ground up. I can completely tear my body down and build it back up. Right now, since I’m not really working out to achieve anything, I can really focus on the little fine details that sometimes might be overlooked getting ready for a big, bulky season. I love the guys I’m working with and I know I’m in good hands.”

If all goes according to plan, Sale should be able to return to a big league mound sometime in June or July 2021.