The New York Yankees have landed a lefty-hitting outfielder, just probably not the one that their fans were hoping for. In the biggest move of a very quiet Winter Meetings so far, Brian Cashman struck a rare deal with the Boston Red Sox, with disgruntled right fielder Alex Verdugo headed to New York in exchange for Minor Leaguer righties Richard Fitts, Greg Weissert and Nicholas Judice.
BREAKING: The New York Yankees are acquiring outfielder Alex Verdugo in a trade with the Boston Red Sox for right-handeres Richard Fitts, Greg Weissert and Nicholas Judice, sources familiar with the deal tell ESPN.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 6, 2023
It’s hardly a surprise that Verdugo is on the move this winter. There’s a reason we included him on our list of the 10 most likely trade candidates of the offseason: He’s set to enter his final year of team control, and given Boston’s surplus of intriguing young outfield talent — and Verdugo’s penchant for drawing the ire of Red Sox manager Alex Cora — he figured to be the odd man out.
It is a bit of a surprise that he’s heading to New York specifically, as these two division rivals rarely get together for major deals like this. So who got the better end? Let’s break it all down.
Alex Verdugo trade grades
Yankees: B (with an all-important caveat)
Verdugo never blossomed into the star Boston hoped they were getting when they brought him to town as the centerpiece of the much-maligned Mookie Betts deal, and Yankees fans will have a hard time warming up to a player they loved to hate in recent years. But the 27-year-old is an adequate player across the board: He’s slashed .278/.334/.417 over the last three years, good for an OPS+ of 103, and his defense is stretched in center but perfectly fine in a corner. He doesn’t do a ton of damage — he’s never hit more than 13 homers or slugged higher than .426 in a single season — but he brings excellent contact skills, and the Yankees will hope that a shift from a brutal park for lefty power (Fenway Park) to an ideal park for lefty power (the short porch at Yankee Stadium) will turn more of his line drives into homers and extra-base hits.
Put simply, Verdugo is a starting-caliber corner outfielder, and New York acquired him without putting much of a dent in its farm system: Of the three pitchers heading to Boston, only Fitts (No. 12) ranks among MLB Pipeline’s top 30 Yankees prospects. Weissert, 28, is the only one of the three with big-league experience, appearing in 29 games over the last two seasons and amassing a 4.60 ERA. These are the kinds of arms that the Yankees have developed routinely in recent years, and they shouldn’t sweat them too much.
But of course, it’s impossible to talk about this deal without talking about the All-Star elephant in the room. Some Yankees fans will no doubt wonder why their team is trading for an outfielder not named Juan Soto, but they should take a deep breath. New York wasn’t just one hitter away from an offensive renaissance; they ranked 25th in runs scored last season, and you don’t rank 25th in runs scored unless you need a serious infusion of talent. (Cashman openly stated that his goal this winter was to bring in not just one outfield bat, but multiple outfield bats.)
In Verdugo, he’s added a contact-oriented lefty to the lineup, two things this team sorely lacked last year. And he did it without touching any of the top-end talent that was likely to be included in a deal for Soto; reports indicate that talks with the Padres remain ongoing, and that the Verdugo trade won’t have any bearing on New York’s pursuit of the 25-year-old superstar. If Soto winds up elsewhere, and Verdugo represents the best player Cashman adds to the Yankees outfield this offseason, fans will have every right to be furious. But in a vacuum, this is decent business, and New York is a better team today than it was yesterday.
Red Sox: B-
For the Red Sox, this is a bold first move from new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow. Boston didn’t land a top prospect here, but given Verdugo’s average production, one year of team control and well-documented issues in the clubhouse, a top prospect was never going to happen. Landing Fitts, a former sixth-round pick from Auburn who posted a 3.48 ERA and a 3.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 Double-A starts this season, is good work for a team that is desperately in need of young pitching, and the Red Sox can still roll into 2024 with an outfield picture of Masataka Yoshida, 2023 breakout Jarren Duran, top prospect Ceddanne Rafaela and depth pieces Wilyer Abreu and Rob Refsnyder.