The Boston Red Sox roster will be altered significantly this offseason. The back of the roster will have openings and Blake Swihart could be worth a look.
The recent list of players axed from rosters via non-tender gives little in the way of encouragement that someone is a buried gem. Boston Red Sox fans had a painful exhibition during the latter half of 2019 watching Chris Owings, Gorkys Hernandez, and Josh Smith imitating MLB players. None will be professionally missed.
There is one player on the now free agent list that presents a possibility and that is a former prospect who was ranked among the top 100 – Blake Swihart. The switch-hitting Swihart was traded off to Arizona for Marcus Wilson.
Swihart, a former first-round pick (2011), accomplished a -0.9 fWAR in 2019, hitting just .136 with three home runs last season. At 27-years-old is it time to wander off into the sunset?
With Swihart, a key figure is salary and in 2019 that was $910,000. If you want cheap, Swihart is your guy. If you want production it may be best to look elsewhere – or is it? Is Swihart worth a risk? Could Swihart replace Sandy Leon? The answer to all three of the previous questions is a varying degree of yes with limitations. Swihart is a long shot, but a minor league deal represents little risk.
The history of Swihart is well documented and much may be related to attempting to use his foot to remove part of the left-field stands foul territory wall. A promising 84 game début (.274 average) in 2015 evaporated in 2016 and the result is Swihart in standing in the baseball breadline.
The Red Sox certainly attempted a career resuscitation my moving Swihart around like a chess piece and hence Swihart does bring a level of versatility. The part with versatility is an asterisk next to fielding as Swihart is passable – just passable – defensively and especially at catching. The type of player who wins playing time with the stick and not the glove, but the stick seems to be made of rubber.
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The circumstances with the departure of Swihart from Boston were somewhat impacted by opportunity which translates to playing time. For 2020, some of the 2019 roadblocks will be removed. Swihart has just 59 innings at first base, but Steve Pearce is contemplating retirement and Mitch Moreland is probably priced out of Boston.
Swihart also has service time in the outfield with experience in right and left field. Originally, the pre-injury Swihart was considered a possible left fielder of the future. With the specter of Mookie Betts and possibly Jackie Bradley Jr. being traded that avenue could be open and Swihart tossed into the potential mix.
Brock Holt is also a free agent and has already has said his goodbye to Boston, but that issue will not be formalized until he signs elsewhere. And the potential drama surrounding J.D. Martinez with a will he or won’t he opt-out. The roster may be in flux and with that comes opportunity especially as the Red Sox look for depth and backend roster help.
Is Swihart worth the effort? The professional trend for Swihart is being directed towards either early retirement or a minor league deal and that’s where the Red Sox can step in. Swihart knows the organization, the manager, the players, and the pitchers for those times he may dress in catching hardware. This is a risk/reward situation with a very low financial risk and a possible reward if the Swihart promised a few years back suddenly returns.