Red Sox Trade Target: Chris Sale For Blake Swihart?
It’s no secret that the Boston Red Sox have a plethora of catchers to choose from, next season. Not so much in terms of dominant pitching. At least, not yet. While some of their young pitching studs will likely get a chance to prove themselves, the Red Sox may try to improve their starting rotation by moving one of their young bucks from behind the plate.
Peter Gammons recently published an article, stating that Chicago White Sox starter Chris Sale may be on the move if the Red Sox, or another team, offers up a position player package: “Even with 2015 draft choice Carson Fullmer coming out of Vanderbilt, the White Sox rotation is lefty-heavy, Sale is 26, cost effective, and they might be able to get a big position player package from Boston, Houston, the Cubs or Texas, teams with deep farm systems.” Gammons continues by quoting an anonymous National League general manager saying, “If Jerry Reinsdorf would be willing to listen […] Boston could play. The White Sox need catching and they love Blake Swihart. They want a young shortstop, and (20-year old) Javier Guerra is as good as there is around. There are a lot of prospects there.”
However, Gammons also allows for the fact that the Red Sox also love Swihart: “Right now, the plan is for [Christian] Vazquez to catch around 110 games and for Swihart to use his athleticism at several other positions.” Nobody knows where Vazquez’s arm is at the moment, considering he missed the entire 2015 season after having Tommy John surgery. Swihart could help rope in a top pitcher, but the questions on Vazquez make it hard to imagine Boston parting with the prospect-turned-starter who may be needed to be their catcher, after all.
Between Swihart’s offensive numbers, which were higher than Vazquez’s in 2014, and the recent re-signing of catcher Sandy Leon to a short-term deal for either the majors or a minor-league role, it seems that the Red Sox are not sure about a deal either way at the moment.
With the lack of lefties on the current pitching staff, the Red Sox would benefit from Sale’s services, if such a deal were to be done. The 6’6″, 180-pound veteran is on the back end of a five-year deal, having two more years and $21.5 million guaranteed to him through 2017. He has two team options for 2018 and 2019, both including a $1 million buyout clause. Sale has only been in the majors for six years, but he already has been an All-Star four times, including last season. He went 13-11 with a 3.41 ERA, an American-League leading 274 strikeouts, and only 42 walks in 208.2 innings. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio (6.52) was also the best in the league. With those numbers, it’s fair to say that his win total would have been higher if he had played on a better team.
In terms of AL East opponents, Sale would be a major factor for the Red Sox improving their status in the division. Sale had the following career numbers:
- Toronto Blue Jays – .196 batting average, 24 strikeouts, allowed 9 runs in 6 games
- New York Yankees – .161, 55 Ks, 12 runs, 9 games
- Baltimore Orioles – .304, 33 Ks, 12 runs, 10 games
- Tampa Bay Rays – .208, 61 Ks, 21 runs, 8 games
While the Rays have had Sale’s number in a few games, the numbers suggest that Sale does very well to keep his team in the game, regardless of which AL East opponent that he’s facing.
According to FanGraphs.com, Sale throws a four-seamed fastball (89.9 mph), a two-seamer (94.5 mph), a cutter (92.6 mph), a splitter (81.5 mph), a slider (78.9 mph), and a changeup (85.5 mph). The variety is a heavy mix for any batter to face, especially when he switches from using his dominant two-seamer to his changeup and slider. The arsenal’s strategy was in full effect in 2015, as Sale was more successful against righty bats than even lefties, allowing a .228 opposing batting average to right-handed hitters versus the .248 against lefty bats.
Sep 29, 2015; Bronx, NY, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart (23) at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Is that enough to trade Swihart, and likely a group of prospects, to Chicago?
Seems tempting, but not a case of drooling. With Swihart’s usefulness to the organization, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski will need to be salivating like a bulldog at dinnertime in order to let go of Swihart, let alone whomever else would be asked for. Sale is a really good pitcher, but is he worth letting go of possibly the future starting catcher for the Red Sox? It’s possible, yet it’s also a gamble that Red Sox Nation may not want to see taken.
One thing is for sure: the Red Sox cannot afford to look at their youth, like Swihart, as budding All-Stars whom they could never part with, even if the right deal came along. It’s one thing to be cautious, but it’s another to be left in the cold during the GM winter meetings this December. Between the top free agent pitchers and the trade possibilities out there, the Red Sox may need to let some top young players go to be able to compete next season.
Does that mean Swihart for Sale? Maybe; however, the way that the Red Sox are evaluating Swihart’s skill set against their team needs, it sounds pretty unlikely.