While it’s never been firmly stated, the Red Sox have found their stalwart behind the plate.
The reigning World Series champions didn’t have an abundance of decisions to make throughout the offseason. Sure, there was the decision to not re-sign All-Star closer, Craig Kimbrel, and allowing key reliever, Joe Kelly, to depart to Los Angeles via free agency left some questions, but it was largely thought that the bulk of the club was going to stay in place. Therefore, when the decision was made to DFA Sandy Leon just days before the start of the season, the reaction was a mix of surprise, confusion and shock.
The source of the surprise and confusion was that Leon was the odd man out. On the surface, Leon’s .177 batting average and .511 OPS, probably didn’t justify his $2.475M salary figure for 2019, as those numbers would rate him as the worst everyday position player in league offensively if carried over to a full season of at-bats. However it’s known that the value of a catcher goes far beyond what can be measured with a bat in hand, and Sandy’s 3.29 “catcher ERA” was the league’s best. He was essentially the “personal catcher” for staff ace, Chris Sale, who had just signed a 5 year / $130M extension.
Blake Swihart was given an opportunity to state his claim as a role player on the Boston Red Sox; however it wasn’t meant to be. Aside from an average offensive output, the former top prospect had a 6+ Catcher ERA and wasn’t able to provide the same comfort level, or presence, that Sandy Leon once had. Inconsistency led to a quick dismissal, and trade, to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
All of this brings us to the third catcher of the group, Christian Vazquez. While known as a defense-first catcher, Vazquez was surprisingly given a three year contract extension during the 2018 season, signing a 3yr / 13.55M deal starting in 2019, and running through 2021, with a club option worth $7M for the 2022 season. Despite being penciled in as the Opening Day catcher, there was plenty of”we let the wrong catcher go” and “we should’ve explored a trade with Vazquez” banter.
The source of all of this was Vazquez’s underwhelming 2018 season, combined with how highly regarded Leon was among the pitching staff, and Swihart’s still untapped offensive potential. Despite being the lower ranked prospect, Christian Vazquez, took a longer path, and ultimately took the job from Swihart throughout the minor league ranks.
Here’s a excerpt from the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, with a look at what Vazquez might be in the major leagues:
“He can be a difference-maker,” one evaluator said. “He’s going to be so good defensively that he won’t have to hit a ton.”
#MLB— Bitácora Deportiva (@BitacoraPma) April 21, 2019
Boston Red Sox 6-5 Tampa Bay Rays: Con esta gran jugada defensiva, en tiro del receptor, Christian Vázquez, #DirtyWater gana por 2do día consecutivo al líder de su división.
Andrew Benintendi empujó 5, incluso un Grand Slam.
( vía @RedSox)pic.twitter.com/bBIuurRabI
Through all of this, the consistency behind the plate has belonged to Christian Vazquez. Going into this weekend’s series with the Seattle Mariners, Vazquez is hitting .278 with an already career-high 5 home runs and an .822 OPS. He’s come up with key hits and timely home runs throughout the season and made arguably the defensive play of the year for the team (Jackie Bradley’s game winning HR catch not withstanding), ending a game in Tampa with a snap throw to first base to pick off a runner. If he continues to play at this level, it’s not a stretch to think that that he could make his first All-Star team. Even if he doesn’t, the Red Sox will look wise for the 3yr / $13.5M extension, and without a doubt will pick up the 2022 option at $7M.
Not bad for the player that was labeled the “wrong guy” when the catching shake-up went down prior to the start of the season.