The Dodgers have not been shy about challenging their prospects in recent years. Julio Urías debuted at 19. Corey Seager came up at age 21, as did Cody Bellinger. Alex Verdugo also debuted at 21. The only difference here is, Seager and Bellinger were brought up to be starters, while Verdugo has only been up so far in a part-time role.
As a pure hitter, Verdugo is more advanced than either Bellinger or Seager, yet he hasn’t been given a full opportunity yet. Not because he’s not good enough, but because of space/playing time issues. And the way the roster is currently constructed, there isn’t a clear path to playing time for him.
He has a .321/.389/.452 in 874 Triple-A plate appearances over the last two seasons. Verdugo has nothing left to prove in Triple-A, which is why the Dodgers either need to play him or trade him. While he still has options, there really isn’t a justification for the Dodgers to send him back to Oklahoma City. Also, he has a skill-set that isn’t prevalent with this Dodger team — contact ability. That is something that might make him more valuable to them than to other teams, and might make it worth opening a spot for him.
For him to remain in LA, the Dodgers will have to make a trade to open up a spot for Verdugo. The most obvious trade target is Joc Pederson. He’s in his second year of arbitration and will only get more expensive from here on. Pederson is coming off a 126 wRC+ season, the second-best of his career. He also hit 25 home runs while being strictly a platoon player. He has value to anyone looking for offense against right-handed pitching. He acquitted himself well defensively in left field, which should make him a bit more attractive to an acquiring team.
With Bellinger penciled in as the starting center fielder, it doesn’t seem like Verdugo has much of a future there. So, that brings us to Yasiel Puig. He’s projected to make $11.3 million via arbitration this year — his last controllable year before free agency — and Verdugo does profile quite well defensively in right with his plus-plus arm. The Dodgers have tried to trade Puig in the past, but never when his value was actually on the positive side. There could be a team willing to take a chance on him, as he’s a guy who doesn’t necessarily need to be platooned (despite his poor splits against left-handed pitching the last two season) because he has good power potential and is a double-plus defender. Still, the idea or notion of trading Puig just doesn’t feel right. But if Verdugo is in this organization’s long-term plans, moving Puig to make room for him wouldn’t be the most surprising move.
I’m assuming Matt Kemp will be traded at some point. Seeing as he played primarily left field last season, that would help open up the position for Verdugo. Kemp’s $21.5 million is a bit prohibitive, but if the Dodgers can package him in another deal or knock down his financial commitment for another team by paying half (or more) of his contract, a team might be willing to take him on for the 2019 season.
Since Andrew Toles has, seemingly, fallen behind him on the depth chart, he won’t need to be moved. That leaves guys like Enrique Hernandez and Chris Taylor. But since they’re good at multiple positions and have some offensive upside, they’re probably safe. Honestly, though, the fact they hit right-handed is the biggest reason they’re safe.
If the Dodgers want to trade Verdugo so he doesn’t have to wade through another Triple-A season, they could. He could be a headliner for an above-average MLB player. He won’t land a controllable, young stud by himself, but you could see him being the main piece in a deal for a James Paxton, Marcus Stroman or someone of that caliber. But that would also require trading other quality pieces, so Verdugo might have more present value as a Dodger than as a trade chip.
One way or another, the Dodgers have to do right by Verdugo. He has long since earned a shot at an everyday role in the majors. They either need to find a spot for him in the outfield or move him to a team that will play him (and an acquiring team would do just that).