In the World Series run of 2018, the Red Sox got away with using three catchers on their active roster. With only 25 spots, carrying a third catcher is a rarity in today’s game. Despite the team’s success, this roster style is unlikely to carry over into 2019. Alex Cora already said it’s likely that Boston trades one of the three before the season starts. This is a team that could really use that extra roster spot for an extra arm in the bullpen, so one of the catchers has to go. But who?
All three catchers have both pros and cons, it’s just about finding the right balance between the two that stay. Between Blake Swihart, Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez, there is a mixture of power, contact and defense. Keeping two that can work cohesively is crucial for Dombrowski and the Red Sox, and it’s going to be very interesting to see what path they choose to go down.
The most promising of the three options is Blake Swihart. Blake is a former first rounder who has been thrown at various positions throughout the field, but has yet to stick. Now, he finds himself with a chance to become an everyday catcher again. Being the youngest of the three certainly works in the favor of Swihart, however, his time is running out. If he can’t carry his hot spring into the regular season or stay healthy, and improve on his .678 career OPS, he could see himself traded.
If the team really wants the most value from a trade of a catcher, this may be their best bet. Teams like the Royals and Athletics are still in need of a starting catcher, and could be tempted by the upside of the former top prospect.
Verdict: To me, I’m keeping Swihart and riding with him as my starter. He showed flashes of a solid bat down the stretch in 2018, and I’d at least want to take the chance on him as one of the two catchers on my team.
Certainly the most perplexing of the three options. Vazquez seemed to take strides by hitting .290 in 2017, which is excellent for a major league catcher. He’s always been a good defensive catcher, with a fantastic knack for throwing out runners. However, in 2018 he regressed heavily. He signed a contract heading into the year with an average annual value of around 4.5 million, so expectations were raised after his successful 2017. The expectations weren’t met, as his average fell to .207 and his OPS fell almost 200 points.
At times his focus appeared to be elsewhere, and staying in shape was brought into question. As someone who loved Vazquez as a prospect, I think he can get past these things. I do believe he has a solid .270-.280 perennial average in him, and he could be a solid starter or a reliable backup.
Verdict: He has been ice cold in the spring, but Vazquez still offers plenty of upside for a Boston team yet to settle on a starting catcher. Being locked in with him through 2022 gives the Red Sox some incentive to be persistent with Vazquez. I think that earns him the second catcher spot on this team, at least to start the season.
One time a folk hero for Red Sox fans, Sandy Leon’s fall from grace has been quick and hard. In 2016 he hit .310 with an OPS over .840. These numbers came out of absolutely nowhere, as he hit .184 and .156 the two seasons prior. Everyone knew he wouldn’t replicate his 2016 again, as those numbers are just absurd for a catcher. Especially one who was always known as a defence-first backstop. The average fell to .225 in 2017, then under .180 last season.
I was very much an advocate to cut Sandy at many points throughout the season. However, the Sox’ front office felt differently. They felt him being the strongest defensive catcher of the three was worth holding onto, despite a miserable OPS slightly over .500. Leon is sneaky young, as he turns 30 later this week. He still holds upside strictly because of his defense. There is a glimmer of hope that stretch in the second half of 2016 wasn’t an anomaly.
Verdict: He doesn’t hold a ton of trade value due to his historically poor offense. He will appeal to many teams who are in search of a backup catcher. Or any team who may need to fill a hole that is left by injury. To me, you find a trade somewhere for Leon, likely K.C., and you take whatever you can get back for him.