Updated: Nov 2, 2021
Photo Credit: ESPN (left) & MassLive (right)
Introduction to Alex Verdugo:
The Boston Red Sox were officially eliminated from the playoffs last week, and now the work begins for the Sox’s front office to build another contender for the 2022 season. One of the organization’s building blocks, Alex Verdugo - the centerpiece of the Mookie Betts trade in 2020 - is eligible for a raise as a first time arbitration-eligible player. While it may be keen for both the organization and Verdugo to negotiate a long term extension that buys out his arbitration years, this article will provide analysis on what would happen if no deal can be reached and Verdugo proceeds to arbitration this offseason.
Player Representative Summary of Arbitration Profile:
Verdugo’s reps will try to build on the narrative that Verdugo is: consistently productive with a high floor, solid defensively throughout his career, and one of the best hitters on the Red Sox since being traded to Boston.
Verdugo’s reps will spend a lot of time analyzing and framing his elite 2020 season, where he ranked in the top 15 in the American League in 2B, R, H, AVG, OBP, DRS, and rWAR. Although there were no All-Star honors awarded for the season, Verdugo likely would have made the team, given that through the first half of the season Verdugo ranked in the top 6 among AL outfielders in AVG, OBP, and WAR. Verdugo also finished 12th in AL MVP voting. Verdugo’s reps may opine that those who placed down-ballot MVP votes for Verdugo may have been swayed by his stellar defense: he led all AL outfielders in assists and finished in the top 6 in the AL in both DRS and UZR. Verdugo has been a consistent performer since becoming an every-day player - he is one of only four players in all of baseball to hit for an AVG above .285 and maintain an OBP above .340 in each of the past three seasons, along with Freddie Freeman, Trea Turner, and Xander Bogaerts. Verdugo has also been a key cog in the Red Sox’s offense since getting acquired, when he ranked top 5 on the club in G, R, H, SB, OBP, DRS, WS, and WAR. In his platform season, Verdugo ranked top 5 on the club in G, R, H, SB, and fWAR, consistently batting at the top of the lineup for a team that rode its potent offense to the ALCS.
Red Sox Summary of Arbitration Profile:
The Red Sox will push a different narrative: that Verdugo has never been elite, doesn’t play above-average defense, and that he is merely a cog in the club’s strong offense.
The Red Sox will highlight Verdugo’s shortcomings when it comes to counting statistics and elite production. In his career, Verdugo has never recorded a season with 15+ home runs, 90+ runs, or 65+ RBIs. Even in his best offensive season in 2020, Verdugo’s wRC+ was 126, meaning that he was only 26% better than an average hitter, not elite. Verdugo has no all-star appearances and has not even been a finalist for any awards (ie. Silver Slugger or Gold Glove). The fact that Verdugo led the AL in outfield assists but wasn’t nominated as a Gold-Glove finalist may suggest that the Green Monster at Fenway provided an unequal amount of opportunities to record assists, or that assists aren’t the best way to evaluate an outfielder’s defensive performance. In the platform season, Verdugo only recorded 1 DRS and a negative UZR, which indicates that his defense was average at best. That season, Verdugo’s UZR/150 was solid in RF (9.2), but below average in LF (-4.3) and untenable in CF (-14.1).
The Red Sox will contrast how strong their lineup was and spotlight where Verdugo actually ranked on the team in key offensive categories. In his two full seasons with the Red Sox, Verdugo ranked outside of the top 5 on the club in HR, RBI, SLG, and wRC+, despite tallying the 4th most plate appearances. There were other key players that carried the Red Sox lineup in the platform season; Xander Bogaerts (4.9), Kike Hernandez (4.9), Rafael Devers (3.5), J.D. Martinez (3.0), and Hunter Renfroe (2.4) all surpassed Verdugo (2.2) in rWAR. The Red Sox had a potent offense that ranked in the top 5 in MLB in R, RBI, AVG, and SLG.
One of the most important factors to determine a Player’s arbitration award, as dictated by the MLB CBA, is “comparative baseball salaries.” The market range for Verdugo is displayed in Figure 1. Figure 2 shows platform season performance for Verdugo’s market range. The two Player-side comps are listed in green, the two Team-side comps are listed in red, and the two midpoint-dependent comps are in orange. Figure 3 displays performance from the platform season in addition to the season prior to the platform season, and Figure 4 lists career statistics. The following are projected ranges of filing numbers. It’s important to note that both Verdugo’s Reps and the Red Sox will strategically file at numbers which they believe will place Charlie Blackmon ($3.5M) and Joe Panik ($3.45M) on their side of the midpoint.
- Player Filing Range: $3.6M - $4M
- Team Filing Range: $3M - $3.4M
- Midpoint Range: $3.3M - $3.7M
Verdugo Representatives’ Comparisons:
Eddie Rosario - $4,190,000
Tommy Pham - $4,100,000
Eddie Rosario will be the most important comparable player for Verdugo’s reps, given his similarity in both platform and career statistics, as well as his $4.19M arbitration award. Rosario is a slightly different type of player than Verdugo (lower contact, better power), but Verdugo’s career body of work compares well to Rosario. Both Rosario and Verdugo had not made any all-star games or finished as a finalist for seasonal awards, but unlike Verdugo, Rosario never received MVP votes. Both Rosario and Verdugo consistently produced at a high level for their clubs, playing in lineups with other All-Stars. Since becoming a full-time player in 2019, Verdugo has been at least a 2 WAR player every season, whereas Rosario was a 1 WAR player in his platform-2 season. In terms of career production, Verdugo has been an equal if not better offensive player, given his higher AVG, OBP, and wRC+. When taking into account defensive performance, Verdugo surpasses Rosario in value (32 DRS to 10), leading to a significant advantage for Verdugo in rWAR (11.0 to 9.2). Verdugo’s reps will argue that if he and Rosario are so similar, and Rosario earned $4.19M, which is likely to be way above the midpoint, clearly Verdugo deserves a salary above the ultimate midpoint number.
Comparisons Dependent on Midpoint:
Charlie Blackmon - $3,500,000
Joe Panik - $3,450,000
Depending on what numbers Verdugo’s reps and the Red Sox each file at, either side could find themselves arguing for/against Charlie Blackmon and Joe Panik as strong comparable players.
Verdugo’s representatives can argue that his upside (5.8 WAR player in 2020) clearly differentiates him from each of those two players. Panik has never posted a season with more than 3.8 WAR, and Blackmon never higher than 2.5. Verdugo is the only one of these three players to receive MVP votes. A 2-year lookback comparison between these 3 players shows that Verdugo is in a class of his own. He paces the group in R, AVG, OBP, rWAR, fWAR, wRC+, and DRS. In their careers, Verdugo has been better defensively than the other two players as well: 32 DRS, 10 UZR compared to -15, -8.2 for Blackmon and 3, 6.8 for Panik. Verdugo has also put up stronger numbers than both Blackmon and Panik in terms of career AVG, OBP, SLG, rWAR, and wRC+.
The Red Sox will point out that Verdugo’s “5.8 WAR season” is actually 2.1 WAR in a 60 game season, extrapolated out for a full year. Unlike Verdugo, both Blackmon and Panik were voted to an All-Star game, and Joe Panik also won a Gold-Glove award. The Red Sox may say that if someone like Joe Panik, who was voted to an All-Star game and won a Gold-Glove, only received $3.45M, a player like Alex Verdugo (who has neither of those special accomplishments) should be awarded a salary below the midpoint. Even if he didn’t receive any MVP votes, Charlie Blackmon displayed a remarkable combination of speed and power during his platform season: he was 1 of only 2 MLB players with (i) more than 40 steals, or (ii) more than 15 home runs and more than 30 steals. Verdugo has never hit 15 or more home runs or stolen more than 6 bases.
Red Sox Comparisons:
David Peralta - $3,300,000
Mitch Haniger - $3,010,000
The Red Sox will argue that David Peralta and Mitch Haniger represent more accurate portrayals of who Verdugo is as a player, each in a different way.
Similar to Verdugo, Peralta is a player who has a high floor when healthy and on the field. Peralta put up nearly identical platform season numbers to Verdugo in R (82 to 88), HR (14 to 13), RBI (57 to 63), AVG (.293 to .289), OBP (.352 to .351), SLG (.444 to .426), and rWAR (2.6 to 2.2). Peralta’s career numbers are also similar to Verdugo, despite less games played (421 to 443): HR (tied at 43), RBI (186 to 153), SB (25 to 21), AVG (.293 to .294), OBP (.345 to .352), SLG (.468 to .451) and wRC+ (113 to 114). Although Verdugo has more DRS and UZR, which leads to him having a higher WAR, neither Verdugo nor Peralta has ever been a finalist for a fielding award.
The Red Sox could use Mitch Haniger as another comparable player, given the similarities in career production, but the club would have to acknowledge that Haniger’s poor platform season is worse than any season Verdugo had. However, because Haniger recorded such a strong platform-1 season, where he was an All-Star and received MVP votes, the Red Sox will utilize a 2-year lookback comparison. Despite playing almost 70 less games than Verdugo, Haniger put up similar WAR totals (7.7 rWAR to 7.9, 5.6 fWAR to 6.3). Haniger has attained value in a different way than Verdugo (more HR, higher SLG and wRC+), but is also comparable to Verdugo in career performance. Haniger’s career rWAR is 10.9 (Verdugo’s is 11.0) and his fWAR is 8.3 (Verdugo’s is 8.4), each remarkably close to Verdugo. The Red Sox will use Haniger’s $3.01M award to illustrate that two players with such similar value should not end up so far apart in yearly salary, arguing that Verdugo’s salary be lower than the midpoint.
Dean Rosenberg is a 2L student at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City. He can be found on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/dean-rosenberg-4a1507a1/ and on Twitter @deanrosen7.
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