The majority of Red Sox media outlets are set on the bullpen, but is catcher an area of concern?
It isn’t for a lack of talent, as it’s arguably the deepest unit in all of baseball with Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez, and Blake Swihart all looking for time and at-bats. Rather, the issue is that there isn’t enough time to cater to all players’ wants and desires.
President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, recognizes that there’s no possible way to appease all three players. He mentioned in a recent interview with Christopher Smith of MassLive that “If we don’t get a deal that we think is the right deal, then we’ll go to Spring Training with them, but I think it would be preferable if I did it beforehand.”
Dombrowski recognizes the log jam, but which of the three options would be the most likely to be dealt?
Leon is the veteran of the three playing 7 seasons in the majors between the Nationals and Red Sox. He is a career .226 hitter, but batted just .177 last year over 89 games with the Red Sox. His defense is what kept him in the line up despite the struggling bat, his elite defense resulted in just 1 error and 13 passed balls over 685.2 innings.
His relationship with the staff also kept him behind the plate especially with Chris Sale who, during the 2017 season, had Leon as his exclusive catcher. Leon will be entering his age 30 season this year and the Red Sox may look to deal him to make room for the younger Vazquez and Swihart.
Sandy isn’t set to hit the open market until 2021.
The (More) Consistent Backstop
Vazquez is the least likely to move out of the three catchers, due to his recent contract extension. Christian’s known for an extremely valuable glove (and arm), but struggled mightily at the plate.
He hit just .207 over 80 games and had major regression in his fourth big league season with the Red Sox. His batting numbers dropped across the board compared to 2017 where his slash line was .290/.330/.404 which were all career high’s, compared to 2018’s career low’s of .207/.257/.283.
In similar fashion, the defense kept him behind the plate. In 604 innings he had just 3 errors and 11 passed balls. His familiarity with the staff also contributed to him staying behind the plate. Vazquez is the only one of the trio that the Sox have locked up long term, with one year left on his contract. The Red Sox signed Christian to a 3 year deal worth 13.35 million dollars that will keep him in Boston through at least 2022.
Unless the Sox acquire a much better bat for behind the plate, Vazquez will still see plenty of playing time for the Sox.
Swihart is the youngest of the three, but has seen the least amount of innings behind the plate. In his 4 seasons in the majors Swihart has seen 906 innings behind the plate, but just 218 innings over the last three seasons. The young backstop caught just 154 innings in 2018, but had 0 errors and 0 passed balls while behind the plate. Swihart’s bat is the superior of the three with a career .256 career average and a .229 average during 2018.
His bat has not been superior enough to force his way into the lineup over Vazquez or Leon’s defense. Swihart is the most versatile of the three being able to play multiple positions in the infield and outfield. Blake is entering his first season of arbitration with the club and will likely still be the cheapest as he only made $563,000 and will likely not break 2 million. With his versatility, youth, and cheap price Swihart is the most valuable of the three in any trade scenario, but his bat has the most potential out of the three.
Due to constant praise from manager Alex Cora, it’s possible that they could move on from Sandy Leon. For me, moving Leon this offseason is the right move for the Red Sox, if they get the right deal. Leon’s defense is very good but his bat is severely lacking.
The primary realization comes from overall potential. Swihart was a former top prospect in all of Major League Baseball, while Leon was largely regarded as a journeyman that was able to stick in Boston. In Cora’s lineup, Blake provides more positional flexibility and has extreme potential to improve both defensively and offensively. While Leon was a valued member of the 2018 World Series team, it wouldn’t be incredibly surprising to see the Red Sox look elsewhere in the long term.
In a trade, Leon would net nothing more than a low-to-mid tier prospect or a player coming off of a poor season. Due to his age and poor offensive output, he won’t net nearly enough to be a part of a blockbuster. On the other hand the Red Sox could opt to trade Swihart as a part of a package deal to try and make a bigger splash.
Regardless of what Dave Dombrowski does, they should look to clear the logjam that is developing behind home plate.