FORT MYERS, Fla. — Alex Verdugo is betting on himself this season.

He knows what the Red Sox want from him, and he’s confident enough to let the Red Sox know what he wants in return:

A long-term deal.

Monday was the first full day of spring training, and Verdugo approached Red Sox leadership and made it clear he wants to stay in Boston. According to multiple sources, Verdugo told the group, which included principal owner John Henry, that he’s prepared to prove he deserves a new contract.

Becoming an All-Star for the first time is one way he pledged himself to the brass. Adjusting his diet and training to drop weight and come to camp lean was another.

It’s a bold approach, though a source also noted that this is what makes Verdugo the kind of player who fits well in Boston. “Brave” was the word used to describe the interaction.


Especially for the player Manager Alex Cora singled out last fall as the one who needs to take the biggest step forward this season, and in more ways than one.

Acquired in the Mookie Betts trade almost exactly three years ago, Verdugo impressed immediately, albeit in the shortened 60-game 2020 season. He hit .308/.367/.478 over 53 games that first year, with 62 hits, including 16 doubles and six home runs.

Verdugo continued to perform well in his first full season in Boston, though he didn’t replicate his slugging percentage over the full 162-game slate. Playing a career-high 146 games in 2021 (previous high was 106 in 2019), he hit a solid .289/.351/.426 with 157 hits, 32 doubles, two triples, and a career-high 13 home runs.

The Red Sox, projected to finish last in their division for the second consecutive season, not only made a surprise run to the wild card, but took their season all the way to the ALCS. Over the first 11 postseason games of his career, Verdugo hit .310/.383/.452 with 13 hits, three doubles, a home run, five walks, and three strikeouts.

Then, like many of the 2022 Red Sox, he struggled at the plate. He didn’t exactly take a step back, but it wasn’t a step forward, either. He set a career-high 152 games — which also led the team — but hit .280/.328/.405, struggling to hit for power or draw walks. Though he improved his strikeout rate significantly, down to 13.4% from 15.9% the year before, he only drew 42 walks, after collecting 51 in fewer games in 2021.

He was in the 27th percentile for walk rate, 39th for HardHit%, 31st for Barrel rate.


His defense was a different story. He ranked in the 13th percentile in Outs Above Average and was worth minus-4 defensive runs saved. His 26.8 feet/second Sprint Speed put him in the 37th percentile, and he dropped to 360th in MLB, after ranking 300th the year before.

Verdugo will be a free agent in 2025. He and the team avoided arbitration this offseason, agreeing to a $6.3 million salary for the year. Still, the Red Sox made it clear that he’d taken a step backward last season.

With the departures of Betts and Xander Bogaerts, both of whom received deals longer than a decade from other teams, the Red Sox have stated that they want to engage young players earlier to find mutually-beneficial extensions. They’ve already done so with Garrett Whitlock; the 26-year-old righty, whom they snatched from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft, begins his four-year, $18.75 million extension (with a 2027-28 club option), this season.

Aside from Masataka Yoshida, the Japanese star who signed a five-year contract with the Red Sox this winter, there’s room in the outfield to retain Verdugo.

Jarren Duran’s future is unclear, while Adam Duvall and Kiké Hernández are each signed for one year, with the latter shifting to the infield while Trevor Story rehabs after UCL surgery. Rob Refsnyder isn’t an everyday player, and Christian Arroyo will be covering a lot of second base this season. If ever there was a time for Verdugo to prove himself, it’s now.

When Cora singled Verdugo out in October, he expounded, “Yeah, he hit for average, but he can be a lot better baserunning, defensively.”


The tough love “pissed me off,” Verdugo said this week, “But everything pisses me off.” Still, he admitted, “They had reasons to talk, right?”

Turning 27 in May, and entering his seventh year in the majors, “He’s getting to that area in his career that’s, ‘Who is he gonna be?’” Cora questioned last fall.

On the first day of full-squad workouts, Verdugo made it clear he’s ready to answer that question. And if he does, he’d like the Red Sox to answer back.

RED SOX President and CEO Sam Kennedy admits the organization heard lots of displeasure from the fans during the offseason.

“Pressure is definitely on the 2023 Boston Red Sox,” Kennedy said on Monday morning.

Following the departure of shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who signed a $280 million, 11-year free-agent deal with the San Diego Padres during the offseason, and finishing last in the AL East for the fifth time in 11 seasons, Kennedy knows the fans are bothered by stars leaving and inconsistent results.


“We certainly had a lot of interest in our offseason and we heard a lot from fans. We have to be competitive. If we’re competitive it’ll take care of any lack of interest,” Kennedy said.

“We didn’t deliver on 2022 and we need to do a better job of communicating our message to our fans. That’s on me frankly. I’m the leader of the organization and if we’re not effectively communicating our strategy to our fans, that’s on me. That’s on us. We need to get better at it.”

With owner John Henry, who politely declined to speak to the reporters on hand, the Red Sox started to take the field just before 10 a.m.

Fittingly, left-hander Chris Sale was one of the the first ones out the door following a clubhouse meeting.

Sale has thrown just 48 1/3 innings in the regular season during the first three years of a $145 million, five-year extension he signed with the club in March 2019. His health could be a first step to erasing the poor taste of 2022.

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