The Yankees and Red Sox do not trade with each other often. Before the 2023 Winter Meetings, their last major league deal was the Yankees' offloading of Adam Ottavino in January of 2021, with the Red Sox sending back a player to be named later in return. It was the perfect example of a salary dump. The last deal between the two teams before that featured that Stephen Drew coming to the Bronx in exchange for Kelly Johnson. They've only made five total trades since 1969.
That was one of the reasons that many Yankee fans were in shock when it was reported last Tuesday night that the Yankees had acquired Alex Verdugo from the Red Sox in exchange for right-handers Greg Weissert, Richard Fitts, and Nicholas Judice. The other reason was that the Yankees had previously been reported to be deep in talks with the Padres to acquire Juan Soto, which would've given New York a third starting corner outfielder alongside Verdugo and Aaron Judge, with only two spots to play them. Would bringing in Verdugo kill the Soto pursuit?
Two days later, Brian Cashman erased the uncertainty. The Yankees completed a deal for Soto, bringing him and another outfielder, Trent Grisham, into the mix. But with Grisham providing the Yankees with a true center field option, it was at first unclear where Verdugo, a supposed starter, would get his playing time.
As things stand right now, the Yankees will use Soto primarily in right, Judge primarily in center, and hand Verdugo the keys to the left field job. While doing so might downgrade the Yankees' outfield defense and heighten Judge's supposed injury risk by playing him in the much more vast Yankee Stadium center field, the Yankees want to capitalize on Verdugo's bat; the attribute that had made him a target for them since the 2023 trade deadline.
Verdugo is the type of bat that the Yankees have been missing for years now, and he puts up results that many Yankee fans have been clamoring for. First and foremost, he is left-handed, and, according to Baseball Savant's illustrator tool, he could've had six more home runs had he played with Yankee Stadium's short porch out in right field last year.
Additionally, Verdugo provides a contact-first approach to the lineup, adding balance between the high-strikeout tendencies of ... just about everyone else on this roster. Verdugo struck out a measly 15.4% percent of the time in 2023, the 16th-best mark among qualified hitters, and 8.5% better than the Yankees' team mark.
Not striking out is one thing, but getting results on contact is another. Verdugo seems to understand that. Many hitters who avoid the strikeout tend to pound the ball into the ground and get thrown out at first base, but not Verdugo. His 44.8% ground ball rate in 2023 was just about average, and his best mark over his seven seasons in the majors.
Verdugo's biggest glaring weakness is his power. He isn't known for hitting the ball hard, doesn't find the barrel very often (his 5% barrel rate is about 2% below league average), and isn't a home run hitter, sending just 13 over the wall in 2023 across 602 plate appearances. Yet, he was able to put up a solid .421 slugging percentage in 2023 due to his ability to slap line drives into the outfield gaps.
His 27.1% line drive rate was above the league average, and was his a career-best mark. It allowed him to smash 37 doubles, most of which went to the opposite field, despite having below average raw power.
In the end, Verdugo's ability to do damage inside the strike zone and not get hurt outside of it is likely why the Yankees pulled the trigger on acquiring him even while working on a Soto trade, and it'll make him a welcomed presence in the Yankees' lineup.