Evaluating the 2019 season of Boston Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon and assigning a grade based on how his production lived up to expectations.
The Boston Red Sox acquired catcher Sandy Leon in 2015 from the Washington Nationals. On September 1 of that season, Leon got his first call up with the Red Sox.
In June of 2016, he got called up again, and following this he went on a total tear offensively, slashing .435/.473/.725 in his first 23 games back in the majors. It appeared the Red Sox may have found a diamond in the rough. He came back down to earth offensively and became what most expected him to be, a defense first catcher with a pretty weak bat.
Throughout Spring Training, it became increasingly obvious that Leon was not going to make the Red Sox Opening Day roster. This was confirmed when he was DFA’d following Spring Training and outrighted to Triple-A Pawtucket after clearing waivers.
However, the Red Sox struggled early in the year, specifically the pitching. Leon, being known as a catcher who helps pitchers, was called up and Blake Swihart was designated for assignment.
Leon spent the rest of the season in the majors. He struggled, to say the least, finishing with a wRC+ of 40 and a .239 wOBA.
His defense also was not what it usually is, finishing the season with 2.9 FRAA, compared to his 11.7 last year.
With Christian Vazquez breaking out and staying healthy, Leon was not needed a ton. The pitchers also did not improve suddenly with Leon catching like people hoped. There is really nothing in Leon’s underlying numbers that suggests that he got unlucky or anything either. His offense likely is what it is and all his value comes from the defensive side.
I personally believe grades should be done relative to expectations. No one expected Leon to come in and mash. Any expectations he had were defensively, where he regressed this season, leaving him at a C-. If you grade him just based purely off stats and not take expectations into account, you could obviously grade him lower but I think that is unfair.
Looking to 2020, it is unlikely that Leon is on the Red Sox. MLB Trade Rumors has Leon projected at $2.8 million in arbitration and with the Red Sox looking to cut payroll, that seems like a waste. They can either non-tender him or try and find a trade partner. His production is very easily replaceable with a cheaper player and paying him that much to back up Vazquez would make zero sense.
Possible replacements would include Juan Centeno and numerous journeyman free agents such as Drew Butera or Rene Rivera. Vazquez is one of the better catchers in baseball and the Red Sox do not need to pay someone more than $2 million to back him up.
If this is the end of his Red Sox career, he will finish with a final slash line of .223/.283/.339, but Leon provided the Red Sox will really solid defense. Leon and Vazquez provided one of the most solid defensive backstop duos in baseball. Numerous pitchers praised him as a catcher and he was a well respected member of the team.