Alex Verdugo trade: How Yankees’ rare swap with Red Sox impacts Juan Soto pursuit

The Yankees acquired a left-handed hitting outfielder during the winter meetings. Just not the one fans were expecting.

New York made a rare swap with the Red Sox on Tuesday, acquiring Alex Verdugo in a trade that sent three right-handed pitchers back to Boston. It was only the eighth trade between the Yankees and Red Sox since 1969.

There has been no more obvious trade fit for New York this offseason than a left-handed hitting outfielder. The depth beyond Aaron Judge in the outfield has been a major issue for the Bronx Bombers, as has the lack of impact left-handed hitters that aren’t Anthony Rizzo. 

But in the past, the Yankees have always gone out and made moves for the biggest stars. And there’s no bigger star on the trade market than Padres left fielder Juan Soto, a young, slugging left-handed hitter who has drawn early comparisons to Ted Williams in his career. New York has been heavily connected to Soto in trade rumors throughout the offseason.

MORE: Latest news, updates, rumors from 2023 winter meetings

The trade to land Verdugo would now appear to throw some doubt onto whether the Yankees will wind up landing Soto. He fills the same need as Soto (while being a better defender) at a lower trade cost and was acquired not long after reports have suggested the Yankees could be far apart from the Padres in Soto talks.

How does Verdugo impact the Yankees’ hopes of landing Soto? Here’s what you need to know.

How Alex Verdugo trade impacts Yankees’ Juan Soto pursuit

In recent years, Yankees fans have grown accustomed to being connected to the biggest names on the market, only to watch the team land a lesser star in the process. That might not be the case here.

The New York Post’s Jon Heyman reported that the acquisition of Verdugo is unlikely to take the Yankees out of the running for Soto or star free agent Cody Bellinger. And as of Wednesday morning, the Yankees and Padres continue to work out the framework for a potential deal for Soto.

Jack Curry of YES Network went a bit further, characterizing a Soto trade to the Yankees as “likely.” 

Additionally, The New York Post’s Joel Sherman reported it’s possible the Yankees could use Verdugo as part of the trade package to acquire the Padres star. Sherman reported the Red Sox and Padres had talked about sending Verdugo to San Diego, and that the Padres could view Verdugo, who’s owed about $9 million in 2024, as a ready replacement for Soto, who’s owed about $33 million in 2024, at a lower cost.

However, Sherman reported the Yankees are more likely to try and keep Verdugo as a solid defensive outfielder with Judge in center and Soto in right, if New York winds up landing Soto.

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Alex Verdugo trade details

  • Yankees acquire: OF Alex Verdugo
  • Red Sox acquire: RHP Richard Fitts, RHP Greg Weissert, RHP Nicholas Judice

Boston has been expected to be in the market to bolster its pitching, and it did so in acquiring three arms. However, of the three names, only Weissert has appeared in the majors. In his career, he has pitched in two different seasons (2022 and 2023) and has made 29 relief appearances with a 4.60 ERA and 4.29 FIP in 31.1 innings. He has not made a start in his professional career.

Fitts was ranked as the Yankees’ No. 12 prospect by MLB Pipeline at the time of his deal. He has a fastball that can reach 97 mph with a standout slider and advanced control of his arsenal. Only 23 years old, Fitts spent all of 2023 at Double-A, where he compiled a 3.48 ERA in 152.2 innings. He struck out 25.9 percent of batters and walked 6.8 percent of hitters.

Judice was drafted in the eighth round of the 2023 draft by the Yankees out of Louisiana-Monroe. In his senior year with the program, he had a 3.74 ERA in 53 innings, making three starts and 21 total appearances. He fanned 66 batters and walked only 15.

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This is the second time in Verdugo’s career he has been traded. He was previously the centerpiece of Boston’s Mookie Betts trade with the Dodgers before the 2020 season. Along with Verdugo, the Red Sox also acquired shortstop Jeter Downs and catcher Connor Wong. Downs was designated for assignment in December 2022 and claimed by the Nationals. Wong debuted in 2021, and spent a full season with the Red Sox in 2023, posting a .235/.288/.385 slash line with nine home runs in 126 games.

Alex Verdugo stats

Sherman reported New York has been looking not only for left-handed hitting outfielders, but also players who limit strikeouts and are durable. Verdugo has played in at least 140 games in each of the past three seasons, and his 14.9 percent strikeout rate during those three campaigns ranks 21st among qualifying players.

Defensively, Verdugo is a bit of an odd matchup. He has played 291 games in right field, including having spent the entire 2023 season in right, the same spot as Judge’s primary position. He has limited experience (118 games) in center field and has played 251 games in left field. The Yankees most need a center fielder or left fielder unless they move Judge to center, a more demanding position for a player that has already battled injuries in his career.

Year Team G PA HR SB-SBA BB% SO% AVG/OBP/SLG
2017 Dodgers 15 25 1 0-1 8% 16% .174/.240/.304
2018 Dodgers 37 86 1 0-0 9.3% 16.3% .260/.329/.377
2019 Dodgers 106 377 12 4-5 6.9% 13% .294/.342/.475
2020 Red Sox 53 221 6 4-4 7.7% 20.4% .308/.367/.478
2021 Red Sox 146 604 13 6-8 8.4% 15.9% .289/.351/.426
2022 Red Sox 152 644 11 1-4 6.5% 13.4% .280/.328/.405
2023 Red Sox 142 602 13 5-8 7.5% 15.5% .264/.324/.421
Career 615 2,559 57 20-30 7.5% 15.1% .281/.337/.428

Source : ESPN.com

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