The Red Sox appreciate the value of catcher Christian Vazquez
The veteran catcher has reached the end of the three-year, $13.35 million contract extension he signed prior to the 2018 season. The deal includes a $7 million club option for 2022, putting Bloom on the clock to make a choice about the catcher position.
While he hasn’t committed to a decision yet, Bloom’s comments during Monday’s press conference might hint at which way he’s leaning.
"“You don’t take it for granted when you have someone who’s shown he can do it,” Bloom said when asked about Vazquez’s future, according to Alex Speier of The Boston Globe."
Vazquez has spent his entire major league career in Boston so the Red Sox know better than anyone what he brings to the table. He calls a good game from behind the plate, has the respect of his pitching staff and he’s excellent at framing pitches. While not necessarily the most consistent offensive threat, Vazquez has shown he can handle the bat and has some upside to provide this lineup. He’s battle tested in the postseason. Vazquez is also one of the leaders in the clubhouse. His experience brings value to this team and that knowledge isn’t lost on Bloom.
Vazquez didn’t have his best year on either side of the game, which might make the Red Sox hesitant to pick up his option.
He hit .258 with a .659 OPS, his lowest marks since an injury-plagued 2018 season. The 23 home runs he blasted in 2019 is clearly an outlier but we expected more than the six he provided this year considering he tallied one more than that in only 47 games during the shortened 2020 season.
Vazquez has generally been viewed as a good defensive catcher but he rated slightly below-average with -1 defensive runs saved this season. He looked a bit lackadaisical at times behind the plate and led the league with 10 passed balls.
Even if it wasn’t his best year, the Red Sox could still count on Vazquez to carry a heavy workload at a demanding position. Vazquez led all major league catchers with 1051 1/3 innings behind the plate. Perhaps he would have been more effective if he wasn’t worn down by that lofty innings total. If he does return, the Red Sox should consider giving the 31-year-old more days off to keep him fresh.
The Red Sox would be thin on replacement options if they let Vazquez go. Kevin Plawecki remains under team control as an arbitration-eligible player they will almost certainly tender a contract to. He had a solid season but he’s been a backup catcher for his entire career for a reason. Plawecki is best served being Nathan Eovaldi‘s personal catcher while occasionally getting some opportunities to feast on lefties. He deserves some more playing time to lighten the load on Vazquez but not enough to serve as his replacement.
The farm system includes a few intriguing catchers. The highest rated Red Sox catching prospect is Nathan Hickey but he’s years away from contributing after being selected in the 2021 draft. Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernandez are much closer to major league ready but can the Red Sox feel confident in either stepping into a starting role if Vazquez leaves? These prospects might have bright futures but they all need more polishing in the minors.
The Red Sox need a veteran catcher to hold down the position until their prospects are ready. If they let Vazquez go, free agency doesn’t provide any appealing alternatives. Assuming that Buster Posey and Mike Zunino both have their team options picked up, the remaining free-agent catchers are very underwhelming. Almost all of them are older than Vazquez and none of them produced more than the 1.6 WAR provided by the 34-year-old Yan Gomes, per FanGraphs.
Without a viable long-term solution available on the free-agent market, the Red Sox would be better off picking up the reasonable option on Vazquez’s contract. They will want to see if he bounces back from a relatively down season before committing beyond 2022. Picking up the option allows them to kick the can down the road for a year to see how their prospects develop.
The decline we saw from Vazquez this season could be the beginning of the end but we shouldn’t assume he’ll fall off a cliff next year. He’s still a starting-caliber big league catcher who has experience working with Boston’s pitching staff. We know he’s capable of handling the job and that has value that Bloom clearly recognizes.