The Rays are interested in Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez.
One potential suitor is a franchise that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is quite familiar with. According to The Athletic’s Eno Sarris and Brittany Ghiroli, the Tampa Bay Rays have interest in acquiring Vazquez.
Talks between the teams have centered around Tampa’s pitching prospects. That comes as no surprise considering that pitching is the clear weak spot of the Red Sox roster. They lack cheap, cost-controlled pitchers with high upside in their organization and the Rays have several they could offer.
Baseball America ranks the Rays as the best farm system in baseball and five of the top 10 prospects listed in their system are pitchers.
The crown jewel of Tampa’s collection of pitching prospects is Brendan McKay. The lefty is ranked as the No. 16 overall prospect in baseball by MLB.com. He has plus control with four above-average pitches that he uses to command both sides of the plate. McKay would be a steep price for the Rays to pay for Vazquez and it’s unlikely the Red Sox would get a prospect of that caliber unless they were giving up more in return.
The Rays do have another top-100 overall prospect in right-hander Shane Baz who might be more attainable. He’s more of a boom-or-bust option. Baz has electric stuff with a fastball that can light up the radar gun but he also struggles with control. He posted a 2.99 ERA in 17 starts in A-ball last year with a 9.6 K/9 but also showed his lack of command with a 4.1 BB/9. The 20-year-old has a long road ahead before he will reach the majors and might be too far away to entice a Red Sox team that wants to contend again in the near future.
Right-handers Nick Bitsko, Joe Ryan and lefty Shane McClanahan didn’t make the cut for MLB’s top-100 but they each reside among the top-10 in Tampa’s deep farm system. None of them are particularly close to the majors but a package including at least two of them could be enticing. Bitsko was the first-round pick of the Rays in this year’s draft. He’s a high-upside high school arm who would have gone higher in the draft if it weren’t for signability concerns.
The Rays have enough arms to assemble an appealing package. The question is whether or not the Red Sox really want to trade Vazquez. His bat finally caught up to his strong defense behind the plate last season and he’s locked in at a bargain rate of $6.25 million next season plus a $7 million team option for 2022.
Boston doesn’t have much depth behind Vazquez to replace him. Kevin Plawecki has been great in his limited role but his track record shows he’s a backup catcher for a reason. Connor Wong isn’t ready yet after advancing no further than Double-A in his career. Unless the Red Sox plan on chasing J.T. Realmuto in free agency this winter, trading Vazquez would leave them with a significant hole at a vital position entering next season.
Trading Vazquez could be a sign that the Red Sox expect their rebuilding process to last beyond this season. If that’s the case, checking to see what they can get for Vazquez now makes sense. The ideal outcome would be for the Red Sox to hang on to Vazquez with the intention to contend next season with a healthier pitching staff but building their rotation of the future with some assets acquired in exchange for their catcher could be too tempting to pass up.