Imagine wanting to praise an emerging player's maturity with a completely uncontroversial puff piece two years in a row, and having the organization shoot it down like you're investigating a felony?
That's apparently the reality Red Sox insider Chris Cotillo experienced in 2022 while trying to praise Alex Verdugo, the cornerstone of the trade that sent Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers.
Verdugo emerged as a fan favorite in Boston immediately after arriving in 2020, hitting .308 with an .844 OPS in an otherwise lost season. Maybe it was pandemic brain fog. Maybe it was the desperate need to win something the world had already agreed you'd lost emphatically. But Beantown fans seemed to unite behind the cause that, since Betts "did not want to be in Boston" (something he's disputed recently yet again), they'd actually won the high-profile swap.
Behind the scenes, though, it seems the front office wasn't won over by the same vociferous Verdugo fandom that swept Sox Nation. That distaste culminated in a high-profile benching this past weekend that made manager Alex Cora as angry as he's ever been publicly.
Cora becoming irate after a loss to the Blue Jays was not borne out of nothing. Neither was the manager's apparent (to the naked eye) out of left field challenge of Verdugo after the 2022 season, desperate to see more from his emerging star. As Cotillo revealed on a recent podcast, he'd done the legwork on a "Verdugo is maturing before our very eyes" article in '22, interviewing current and former teammates. When the article was about to run, the team reached out and put the kibosh on it, claiming they hadn't seen the maturity Cotillo was chasing.
Cotillo attempted the article again this year, but after Verdugo's first of two benchings (in Cleveland this time), he self-kibosh'd.
Dodgers should be glad they eliminated Alex Verdugo headache (oh, and that they got Mookie Betts)
Betts has, of course, continued to post career year after career year in Los Angeles, providing surplus value.
Verdugo? The on-field performance has been largely good. Whatever he's been up to off the field nearly got him traded at this summer's deadline, then got him benched in a fit of fury (that was apparently a long time coming).
Verdugo, of course, was no stranger to off-field malfeasance during his time in the Dodgers organization, either. He was reportedly present for a sexual and physical assault (with teammates involved) in 2015 and accused of failing to prevent violence he'd witnessed, but was eventually cleared of wrongdoing by Arizona police. Despite the conclusion, the incident crafted a cloud over his head in Los Angeles, even as he began to show the big-league promise that had been foretold in 2019.
His stay in Boston might end after four eventful years, a tough-to-foresee outcome after his powerful opening salvo while the Betts trade was still fresh. No matter the ending, it can't be argued he didn't have plenty of time to turn things around, given repeated chances to right whatever wrongs he'd created. Perhaps, when the dust settles, Cotillo will be able to give the definitive account without the Red Sox butting in and yanking it from publication.