Boston Red Sox Rumors: Blake Swihart could be a trade chip

May 30, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Blake Swihart (23) triples during the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Red Sox won 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
May 30, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder Blake Swihart (23) triples during the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Red Sox won 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

The depth that the Boston Red Sox have at the catcher position could make Blake Swihart expendable in a trade this offseason.

The Boston Red Sox find themselves in an enviable position, dealing from a position of strength with a surplus at a position that is relatively thin around the majors.

Most teams struggle to find two major league caliber catchers, while the Red Sox have three. The team would be wise to leverage this as an opportunity to fill other holes on the roster through the trade market, making Blake Swihart one of the team’s most valuable expendable trade chips.

Sandy Leon‘s breakout season has earned him the starting role heading into next season. A September swoon brings questions of whether or not he can carry his newfound swing into next year, but Leon’s overall production at the plate since claiming the position in June shows he’s capable of at least being an above-average hitter. He’s also solid behind the plate, drawing praise for his game-calling abilities and rapport with the pitching staff.

While Leon can do it all, he’ll be backed up by one catcher that can’t hit and another that the organization has already experimented moving to another position.

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Christian Vazquez has the upside to be one of the best defensive catchers in the game, possessing the rare ability to make pitchers look good with his pitch framing skills and rocket arm to curtail the opponent’s running game. The problem is that he’s a liability in the lineup as a career .233 hitter who regressed from him pre-Tommy John surgery debut season in 2014. Perhaps a more routine spring will help him find a rhythm at the plate, but the Red Sox haven’t shown much patience with his offensive ineptitude. He could be pegged for a backup role as a defensive specialist, which limits his trade value. Vazquez is also out of options to be sent to the minors, so they need to find a spot for him on the active roster.

That could leave Swihart as the odd man out. After he started the season as the Opening Day catcher, the Red Sox quickly realized the 24-year old wasn’t prepared to handle the defensive responsibilities behind the plate. He was shipped to Pawtucket and transitioned to left field, where he showed signs of adapting before his season was cut short with an ankle injury.

Swihart is now back behind the plate in winter ball as he prepares to enter the spring competing for the backup catcher spot, despite not having a clear path to playing time at the big league level at the position. The organization seems split on his future at the position, but his trade value clearly improves if other teams view him as a catcher.

The Boston Herald’s Jason Mastrodonato mentions the Chicago White Sox as a team in need of a long-term solution at the catcher position, suggesting the Red Sox could flip Swihart for David Robertson to solve their eighth inning setup void. The 31-year old right-hander is owed $25 million over the next two seasons, making him a potentially cheaper alternative to the top relievers on the free agent market. Robertson is no longer the lights out reliever he was in his Yankee years setting up Mariano Rivera, but he’s been a reliable closer for the past few years and still piles up strikeouts at a rate of above a batter per inning.

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A young catcher with a bat that could make him an All-Star for a setup reliever may not seem like fair value, but the cost of quality bullpen arms is rising with the success teams have had in recent postseasons with multiple shutdown options in the late innings. If the Red Sox believe that Robertson could return to the form he thrived in as a setup man a few years ago then perhaps they would view him as a piece that could help put them over the top, in which case paying a premium price would be worth it.

Robertson wouldn’t be my first choice to fill that role for the Red Sox, with his declining strikeout rate and rising walk percentage being the primary reasons for concern. Yet his track record and affordable short-term contract put him on the radar as a potential backup plan.

If the Red Sox end up hanging on to Swihart it’s unclear what his role would be. He could begin the year in Triple-A to continue polishing his skills behind the dish, but allowing him to toil away in the minors while his bat is ready to contribute in the big leagues would be a waste of talent. If the team struggles to fill David Ortiz‘s designated hitter spot then they could give Swihart a shot in that role, while leveraging his versatility to play multiple positions to occasionally give other guys a rest.

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Swihart’s fate may not be determined until the spring, allowing the Red Sox to remain flexible with their options. If they can’t find a consistent role for him then putting him on the trading block would seem to be the best option for both sides.