The 4-year deal that free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal signed with the White Sox highlights how much of a bargain the Red Sox have with Christian Vazquez.
How much would Christian Vazquez be worth on the open market? Certainly a lot more than the Boston Red Sox are paying him.
Vazquez had a breakout year in 2017 when he slashed .290/.330/.404 while emerging as the primary catcher for the Red Sox. Boston moved swiftly to lock up their young backstop with a three-year extension worth just north of $13 million, plus a $7 million team option for the 2022 season.
An injury-plagued 2018 season saw his production fall off a cliff, although at least his dismal performance only cost the Red Sox $1.425 million. That’s hardly outrageous for a defensive-minded backup catcher, which is about the best you could describe Vazquez’s role that season.
Any concerns about his career going off the rails were put to rest with a career-year in 2019. Vazquez hit .276/.320/.477 behind a power surge that led to 26 doubles and 23 home runs.
Vazquez provided this production for the low cost of $2.85 million and he remains a tremendous bargain as his salary rises to $4.2 million next year and $6.25 million in 2021. The Red Sox will happily pay his $7 million option if he continues performing at this level for the next two years.
Boston wisely extended Vazquez after his first year of arbitration eligibility and the contract has proven to be a very team-friendly deal compared to what he could have made if they waited for him to hit free agency next year.
For an idea of what a catcher of this caliber is worth on the open market, look no further than the four-year, $73 million deal that Yasmani Grandal inked with the Chicago White Sox.
Grandal is an excellent catcher coming off an All-Star season with the Milwaukee Brewers in which he hit .246/.380/.468 with 26 doubles, 28 home runs, and 77 RBI.
He’s clearly one of the best hitters at his position but is Grandal really that much of an upgrade over Vazquez?
His career .256 batting average gives Vazquez an edge over Grandal (.241) and he was significantly better in that department this year. Vazquez also had a slight advantage in slugging percentage this year and Grandal’s five additional homers can partially be chalked up to playing in 15 more games.
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The one decisive advantage that Grandal has at the plate is his ability to draw walks. He led all major league catchers with a 17.2 BB% (minimum 250 plate appearances) while Vazquez was near the bottom of the league at 6.3%. That explains Grandal’s significant lead in on-base percentage and OPS, metrics in which he finished first and fourth respectively in the majors at his position.
Both catchers are very good behind the plate. Grandal was second in the majors at the position with a 23.4 Def rating while Vazquez was third with 22.2, per FanGraphs. Vazquez had 5 defensive runs saved, Grandal had only 1 DRS. Neither warranted a Gold Glove but Vazquez was among the three AL finalists while Grandal wasn’t in the mix for NL catchers.
Grandal’s superior OBP makes him a moderately better offensive player but the overall value of the two catchers is relatively similar. The price tag isn’t.
Grandal was worth 2.5 WAR last season and will make an average of $18.25 million per year over the course of his new deal.
Vazquez was worth 2.2 WAR last season and will make less than $17.5 million in total over the next three years, assuming his option is picked up in 2022.
Which catcher would you rather pay for?
Vazquez is also two years younger with a lot less mileage on his tires – that’s hardly insignificant considering the physical toll it takes to handle the catcher position.
If Vazquez were a free agent right now, he would probably make more than what Grandal received. Perhaps a bit less on the average annual value but with at least one additional year considering the age disparity. A five-year, $85 million deal wouldn’t seem unreasonable for Vazquez in this free agent climate.
A Red Sox organization dealing with payroll concerns probably couldn’t afford to keep Vazquez at that price so it’s a good thing they locked him up when they did. Early extensions for young players can backfire but Vazquez is a prime example of one that looks extraordinarily team-friendly.