Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez is playing ball this winter
Major League Baseball might remain inactive throughout the winter months but Christian Vazquez intends to stay active. The Boston Red Sox catcher will reportedly be playing winter ball in Puerto Rico for Cangrejeros of Santurce, according to Edwin Hernandez Jr.
This will be the first appearance by Vazquez in the Puerto Rican league since 2016-17, which followed his first season since returning from Tommy John surgery that wiped out what would have been his second season in the majors. It’s unusual for an established veteran to play winter ball, leading us to wonder why Vazquez is taking a route typically reserved for prospects looking to polish their skills or make a name for themselves.
The report states that Vazquez is on the active roster and expected to be in the lineup but doesn’t specify if he’ll be behind the plate. Vazquez caught more innings than any other catcher in the majors last season. The heavy workload for the 31-year-old might have been a factor in his declining production at the plate and behind it. The Red Sox would probably prefer if Vazquez wasn’t adding more wear and tear during the offseason.
Vazquez could serve as the designated hitter, allowing him to get some reps at the plate following a disappointing season. He hit .258 with a .659 OPS, both of which were steep drops from his production over the previous two years. Vazquez shattered his career-high with 23 home runs in 2019 and blasted seven during the shortened 2020 season but managed only six in 138 games this year.
With the lockout creating uncertainty about whether or not spring training will begin on time, Vazquez could be using winter ball as a way to stay sharp. The pandemic and a labor dispute leading into the 2020 season resulted in a rushed training camp that failed to properly prepare the players. Many struggled with the altered routine. While Vazquez wasn’t one of them, as he responded with one of the best offensive seasons of his career, that doesn’t mean he didn’t learn anything from the experience. Winter ball might be his way of keeping his routine on track as much as possible with the potential for a delayed training camp looming.
None of the other regulars from the Red Sox roster are expected to play winter ball this year but a pair of pitchers from their 40-man roster, Kutter Crawford and Phillips Valdez, appeared for Estrellas in the Dominican League. Franchy Cordero, who was outrighted off of the 40-man roster, is playing in the Dominican Republic for Escogido.
Vazquez is projected to be the Opening Day catcher for the Red Sox with Kevin Plawecki sharing duties with him behind the plate. Boston picked up the $7 million club option on Vazquez’s contract but he’ll be a free-agent at the end of the season. That makes next season an important one. With a few promising catching prospects emerging in the farm system, Vazquez will need a strong season to either convince the Red Sox to keep him in their long-term plans or cash in with a free-agent deal elsewhere.
A solid performance in winter ball would be a first step toward re-establishing his value in the wake of a down season.