The Yankees have been pursuing a left-handed corner outfielder all winter. They’ve telegraphed their willingness to trade, and trade multiple pitchers at that, to get their target. Last night, they did what they set out to do – at least, as long as you’re willing to take my words exactly literally. Sure, he’s not Juan Soto, but Alex Verdugo is now a Yankee, after the team traded Richard Fitts, Greg Weissert, and Nicholas Judice to the Red Sox.
For Yankees fans who have been following the sound and fury around a Soto trade in the last week, acquiring Verdugo almost feels like a joke played by Brian Cashman. “Oh, you wanted to improve our offense and get us some more left-handed hitting? Here you go! I did exactly what you asked for!” It’s not so different than your parents telling you that you don’t need to buy Lucky Charms at the grocery store because you have some at home, only to see a box of Generically Fortunate Oat-Shapes in the pantry when you run inside to check.
Is that unfair to Verdugo? Probably. He’s a perfectly serviceable player, a huge upgrade on what the Yankees ran out in the corner outfield last year. Oswaldo Cabrera, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Everson Pereira, and Billy McKinney each logged at least 100 PA in left. Cabrera also chipped in 100 PA in right, as did an injury-hampered Giancarlo Stanton. Jake Bauers checked in with 99 PA. Franchy Cordero contributed 71 PA of his own. In aggregate, even with a transcendent 222 PA from Judge, Yankees corner outfielders produced 0.7 WAR in 1,290 PA last year. 2.6 of that WAR came from Judge, which means the rest of the gang chipped in a whopping -1.9 WAR.
Verdugo is a lot better than that. He’s pretty close to an average hitter – he sports a 105 wRC+ for his career, right in line with his projections for 2024, and his wRC+ over his four-year stint in Boston is also 105. He doesn’t strike out much, takes his share of walks, and generally puts up low double-digit homers every year. He’s a scratch defender in right field with a cannon for an arm. The Yankees struggled mightily to field a competent outfield last year; Verdugo is the very picture of unpretentious competence.
One thing that Verdugo is emphatically not is Juan Soto. That’s true of pretty much every outfielder in baseball right now, but not every outfielder in baseball got acquired by the Yankees after they publicly flirted with the Padres. Soto won the 2022 home run derby; Verdugo will almost certainly never get invited to participate in one, and even if he did, he’d put up a sub-Mookie Betts performance. He’s just not a power hitter, though Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch should give him a small boost there.
If you’re willing to do a little bit of upside forecasting, the stadium change and an accompanying change in approach could boost his production from above average to excellent. As a lefty with middling power, he’s a prime candidate to loop homers over that short wall, and he has the kind of bat control (94th percentile contact rate) that makes me think he could lift and pull the ball more if he set his mind to it. I’m not saying he’ll turn into Isaac Paredes, but if he can sacrifice a bit of BABIP for an extra 5-10 homers, his offense becomes much more intriguing.