Red Sox: Unpopular decision to DFA Blake Swihart could potentially pay off
By Evan Lewis
All of Boston was shocked today when the Red Sox decided to DFA Blake Swihart. Still, the surprising move could pay off if the team starts winning.
Barring the unlikely event that he passes through waivers, Blake Swihart is gone. The Boston Red Sox have officially given up on the once-promising first round-pick in favor of a catcher who struggles to bat above the Mendoza Line.
To reiterate: Swihart, the quick 27-year-old who can play multiple positions, is being passed over for a lumbering 30-year-old who was already designated for assignment earlier this year and has a career OBP of .288. Yikes.
It’s going to be difficult for anyone to try to defend Dave Dombrowski’s latest head-scratcher. Still, there still has to be some semblance of logic in bringing Sandy Leon back to the major leagues, even if it is at the expense of Swihart.
One thing was certain heading into the season: the Red Sox did not want to carry three catchers on the roster again. Swihart was barely used last year as the 25th man on the roster, prompting his agent to request a trade early in the season. Still, the Sox stuck with him and offered him the opportunity to prove himself this year.
They even designated Leon for assignment so the youngster could finally get his opportunity. Many expected this to be the year of Swihart, in which he would finally emerge as the superstar people had always imagined he would be.
And while Swihart has not been bad at the plate by any stretch, his numbers certainly aren’t mind-blowing. The relatively small sample size currently has him batting .231 with 4 RBI and one home run. Those aren’t exactly Iván Rodriguez numbers. In fact, they are much closer to Leon’s career batting average.
The main reason why the Red Sox elected to keep Swihart on the roster this year over Leon is his ability to hit. Leon is a better defender, calls a better game and has more of a rapport with the pitching staff. If Swihart is just going to hit like Leon, it makes sense for the Red Sox to elect to go with Leon. As well as just being the overall better catcher, the latter is also owed $2.5 million this year. That’s pretty pricey for a player toiling away in the minor league system, even if that system belongs to the wealthy Red Sox.
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Another reason Swihart was supposed to be valuable to this time was his ability to play multiple positions. Catcher, outfield, and infield are all positions in his repertoire that were supposed to provide some depth to this team. By trying out Christian Vazquez at second base and letting Steve Pearce get some time in the outfield, Alex Cora was already proving on Patriots’ Day that this is a team that is not short on versatile players. Keep in mind that this is all without still-injured super utility man Brock Holt, who is basically a jack-of-all-trades.
All of these issues could easily be brushed aside if the Red Sox were 11-6. Instead, their record is 6-11 and someone’s head has to roll. There are plenty of reasons why the defending world champions are off to a slow start, but one of the big ones is the rotation.
Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, and Rick Porcello have not been good. One’s velocity has dropped significantly, another seems to walk every other batter he faces and the other made Chris Davis look like Mike Trout.
There are plenty of reasons why this could be happening. The workload last postseason was too much for them, they didn’t get enough work in spring training, or something else entirely. Yet, Boston needs a scapegoat. Leon is notorious in these parts as the starting pitcher whisperer so his absence coinciding with the pitchers’ lack of effectiveness caused a lot of people to clamor for his return.
Now he’s back and Swihart is gone. It’s unlikely Leon will cause Sale’s velocity to return, but maybe his presence behind the plate will have a calming effect on the towering southpaw. Maybe, just maybe, his return to the clubhouse will have a mental effect on the pitchers that cannot be quantified on paper. If this team returns to form now, Leon will certainly be given a lot of the credit- regardless of whether or not it’s deserved.
Swihart wasn’t the problem with this team. Lest we forget reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts’ batting average is even lower than his. Still, he’s the patsy as of right now. It’s possible that that’s just what this team needs – someone to blame. Now that he’s out and Leon is back in, the mental block could be lifted from the starters’ and subsequently from the team as a whole. At the very least, Dombrowski clearly feels it’s worth a shot.