Boston Red Sox: What should they do with their trio of catchers?

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 Boston Red Sox shut down trade offers from the Arizona Diamondbacks for Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart.

Late last night, reports emerged that the Diamondbacks are interested in trading for either of the Red Sox’ young catchers. Boston was quick to rebuff the negotiations, as they appear intent on maintaining their depth at the position for the time being.

This is the right move out of Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox front office. It’s easy to argue that they have a surplus of players behind the plate and should, therefore, deal one of their catchers to build at a position of need. The most pressing area is at third base, with Pablo Sandoval possessing the starting job in 2017. Sandoval’s time in Boston has obviously not inspired trust among the fanbase and with the Red Sox linked to free agent third baseman Trevor Plouffe, the front office evidently shares their concerns.

So what would the Red Sox look for in a trade with the Diamondbacks? Jake Lamb immediately comes to mind if you want to look at third baseman in Arizona. In his first season as their starter, Lamb broke out for 29 home runs and 91 runs batted in across 151 games. There are questions regarding his strikeout rate (25.9% k-rate) and ability to get on base (.332 OBP), but that’s likely a product of inexperience. Lamb succumbed to adjustments down the stretch as well, as he managed to hit just .185/.283/.348 with 6 home runs in his final 50 games.

There’s still a ton of upside in his bat as he projects to be a consist 30-35 home run hitter over the course of his career. You can live with the strikeouts if he’s consistently producing runs, but that upside is exactly what makes a trade involving either of the Red Sox’ young catchers so unlikely. Vazquez and Swihart own career wRC+ of 61 and 92 respectively, compared to Lamb’s mark of 101. Swihart is close in that regard, but he’s never flashed the 30-home run 100-RBI type potential that Lamb has. The Diamondbacks are certainly looking for a long-term solution behind the plate, but they would be foolish to deal their emerging star in this situation.

Beyond Lamb, prospect Dawel Lugo is appealing. He currently plays a combination of third and shortstop for the Mobile Baybears, the Diamondbacks’ AA affiliate. Since being acquired from the Blue Jays in 2015, Lugo hasn’t posted a batting average lower than .306 at any level of the D’backs’ system. While he hasn’t been able to maintain the consistent power you look for out of a corner infielder through his career, he’s shown flashes of his potential by carrying a .831 OPS and 17 home runs between High-A and AA in 2016.

Here’s an excerpt from Lugo’s MLB Pipeline scouting profile to further elaborate on his potential:

"While he’s still a free swinger who has yet to overly refine his approach, Lugo’s swing jumps out. He’s direct to the ball and while he lacks plate discipline, he makes solid contact consistently. He hasn’t shown much in-game power yet, but there is some raw pop to tap into."

But having played just 48 games at AA, Lugo will not be rushed into a major league role anytime soon. Ignoring the fact that Jake Lamb blocks his path to a starting position at third for the Diamondbacks, Lugo probably won’t see steady action in the bigs until 2018. This could be appealing to the Red Sox, as Pablo Sandoval’s contract expires the following season. But it fails to address any immediate needs they have at third base.

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Furthermore, it would be counter-intuitive for the Red Sox to deal either of Vazquez or Swihart at this point in time. The situation regarding the Red Sox trio of catchers, Sandy Leon included, will likely work itself out. Leon, a career .187 hitter prior to the 2016 season, hit .310 with a .845 OPS in 78 games to earn the starting job part way through the season. It might have been a breakout year, but there are enough reasons to warrant concern with his performance in the future.

Leon’s overall numbers look great, but his above average strikeout rate (23%) and numbers down the stretch aren’t very inspiring. After hitting .391/.434/.620 in his first 30 games, he managed just .263/.333/.394 in his remaining 48. His issues were further compounded by a .218/.287/.256 slash line (0 home runs, 7 RBI) in his final 24 games.

As for Vazquez, the quality of his arm has earned praise across the league (44% of runners thrown out in his career) but he has yet to prove that his bat is capable enough to lock down a starting job at catcher. After missing all of the 2015 season and struggling through 2016 (51 wRC+) his stock is at an all-time low. He’ll likely never eclipse league average offense at his position (MLB catchers averaged 87 wRC+ in 2016) but his defensive abilities alone make him a valuable player if he ever finds a way to approach that mark. He posted a 0.6 fWAR in just 54 games despite a 70 wRC+ in 2014 as evidence.

As I elaborated on in my original article,  the opposite is true for Blake Swihart. He’s had a rough go since being called up too early in 2015, struggling defensively at catcher in 2016 and missing the remainder of the season with an ankle injury he suffered playing left field. Despite this, at 24-years-old he still shows the most promise of any of the Red Sox’ catchers. Over his final 168 plate appearance in 2015, Swihart hit .303/.353/.452 managing to perform far better than league average at his position. Moving forward, he just needs to show the organization that he can be trusted as an adequate – not great – defender.

From Boston’s perspective, there’s no reason to trade either of Vazquez or Swihart while their value is so low. The buy-low-sell-high mantra is cliche at times, but it aptly describes their present situation at catcher.

It’s also worth noting that Mike Hazen, Arizona’s current GM worked in the same capacity under Ben Charington and Dave Dombrowski during his time in Boston. His interest and Dombrowski’s deferral indicates that there is still something to be hopeful for in both of the young catchers’ cases. (Article continued below).

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As it stands right now, the Red Sox are hoping that one of their three emerge as a viable starter – with two options remaining to play a bench role. Until something materializes, there’s no point in depleting a position of depth when they don’t have to. Unless they’re presented with a deal that they can’t refuse, Boston doesn’t have much incentive to push either of their young catchers out the door.