Red Sox acquire an asset for expendable backup catcher Sandy Leon

The Boston Red Sox have traded catcher Sandy Leon to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for a minor league pitching prospect.

Sandy Leon was expected to be a payroll casualty but the Boston Red Sox managed to get something for him rather than letting him go for nothing.

The veteran catcher was a non-tender candidate. His anemic bat and limited backup role weren’t valuable enough to be worth the $2.8 million he’s projected to earn in arbitration. With the Red Sox aiming to slash payroll this winter, letting Leon go was an easy way to trim salary from the budget.

With the deadline to tender arbitration-eligible players approaching Monday night, the Red Sox traded Leon to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for minor league pitcher Adenys Bautista.

Bautista isn’t a top prospect by any means. He isn’t even in consideration for spot in a bullpen that Boston needs to upgrade this winter. The right-hander has struggled during his time in the Dominican Summer League and Arizona Fall League, producing a 5.98 ERA in 43 2/3 innings. His bloated walk rate of 6.4 BB/9 nearly matches his underwhelming strikeout rate of 6.6 K/9.

He’s a long way from making his way to the majors, if he ever gets there at all, yet Bautista can still be an asset. He’s only 21 years old so there’s plenty of time to develop him. Bautista is a lottery ticket who might never make it but if he doesn’t pan out, so what? The Red Sox weren’t going to get much in return for Leon, a player we assumed would be non-tendered. Getting anything in return for him is a minor victory.

The Red Sox may need to look externally for a new backup catcher. Juan Centeno would have been the logical choice but he elected free agency after the Red Sox outrighted him to Triple-A. It’s possible he could return now that Boston has an opening at the position. Otherwise, the other options used in Pawtucket last year are underwhelming.

Austin Rei is an option to keep an eye on if we look deeper into the Red Sox farm system. The 26-year old has some potential at the plate and behind it. However, he has yet to advance beyond Double-A and injuries limited him to only 33 games this year.

The Red Sox will probably target a veteran catcher who they can sign for cheaper than Leon would have cost to take his spot backing up Christian Vazquez.

Saving salary isn’t the only benefit to moving Leon. It also opens a spot on the 40-man roster, which now stands at 37 players. The Red Sox will presumably fill one of those spots with a backup catcher at some point but holding spots open in the meantime creates flexibility ahead of the Rule 5 Draft.

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Chaim Bloom hasn’t exactly shaken up the roster during his brief tenure at the helm of the Red Sox front office but this trade provides an example of how he can creatively navigate a pivotal offseason. While most expected Leon would be sent packing, getting a potential asset in return is a pleasant surprise.