The Boston Red Sox have a trio of catchers who warrant playing time but Christian Vazquez isn’t worried about his role as long as the team wins.
Christian Vazquez will be ready any time the Boston Red Sox call on him but he’s not concerned about how often that happens. He only cares about winning.
The Red Sox could carry three catchers on their postseason roster, with Vazquez, Sandy Leon, and Blake Swihart all vying for playing time behind the dish. Vazquez was expected to handle the majority of the workload after signing a three-year, $13.55 million extension before the season, only to lose his grip on the starting gig when a fractured pinky finger put him on the shelf for nearly two months.
Vazquez hasn’t been able to replicate last year’s surprising breakout season with the bat. After hitting .290 with a .734 OPS last year to earn that contract extension, Vazquez has fallen to a mere .213 average with a .547 OPS this season.
The steep decline in production and time spent on the disabled list has allowed Leon to take the reigns as the starting catcher. His bat has been even more anemic than Vazquez’ but Leon’s rapport with the pitching staff has made him indispensable. Vazquez has always been considered a great defensive catcher with masterful pitch framing ability yet the way Red Sox pitchers have been raving about Leon makes it difficult to decrease his role no matter how poorly he hits.
Then there is Swihart, the once-promising prospect who the Red Sox gave up on as a catcher by trying him at virtually any other position. It turns out that Swihart isn’t quite as bad as they thought behind the plate. He’s developed into a serviceable backup catcher with the versatility to play a few other positions when needed. He also carries the most offensive upside of the catching trio. Swihart has recovered from a slow start to hit .253 with a .697 OPS since the break. Those numbers are hardly eye-popping yet his production is light years ahead of what the other two catchers on the roster have done.
Between Leon’s game-calling ability and Swihart’s bat, there won’t be a ton of playing time left over for Vazquez.
"“I don’t care,” said Vazquez, according to Masslive.com’s Christopher Smith. “When they put me there, I’ll be there for the team and help. If they need me, I’ll be there. I don’t care if I’m not starting. I want to win. That’s all. I need that ring on my finger.”"
The Red Sox have given Vazquez 10 starts at catcher since he returned from the DL, more than Leon (8) or Swihart (3) have received this month. That doesn’t necessarily mean this is how the playing time will be divided in the postseason. Vazquez needs the extra playing time down the stretch to get back into a groove following his lengthy absence. Once the playoffs begin, Boston will go with whichever catcher is performing best at the plate and behind it.
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Based on what we’ve seen this season, Vazquez shouldn’t be the top option.
Vazquez doesn’t necessarily need to start in order to make an impact in the postseason. The advantage of carrying three catchers is that we’ve seen manager Alex Cora show a willingness to pinch-hit for Leon earlier in games. A playoff game could be decided based on what happens in a bases loaded, two out opportunity in the fifth inning. Can you really afford to send Leon and his .180 batting average to the plate in that scenario? Yet teams are cautious of going the rest of the game without a backup catcher.
Now Cora can easily pinch-hit for Leon, put in Vazquez as a defensive replacement the following inning and still have Swihart waiting on the bench as an emergency replacement if anything happens to Vazquez – or if they need to pinch-hit for him too.
He may no longer be getting the playing time we expected when the season began but Vazquez will still have a role to play on this team. He’ll make the postseason roster and be ready to step in when his name gets called. Anything he can do to help this team win.