The Boston Red Sox carried three catchers on their roster for the duration of the 2018 season, but aren’t looking to do so again.
Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart split time behind the plate last year, and all three remain on the roster with spring training fast-approaching. However, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski envisions parting with one of the backstops before the start of the regular season.
“I don’t anticipate having all three on our club Opening Day,” Dombrowski said prior to Thursday’s 80th annual Boston Baseball Writers Dinner, via Boston Sports Journal’s Sean McAdam. “There’s interest, but we still haven’t made a deal we feel comfortable making.”
Added Dombrowski: “(The Red Sox) have had discussions with clubs about catchers. Some catchers have been slow-moving to sign and even trades (have been slow), which affects other clubs. We’ve had discussions and it’s a matter of making a trade we feel good about. We’ll just wait and see.”
Each Boston backstop brings something unique to the table. Vazquez, despite some defensive struggles last season, remains a wizard behind the dish, and showed the ability to hit in the clutch during the playoffs. Leon, another Gold Glove-caliber catcher, might be the best game-caller of the three, but is extremely limited at the plate.
And then there’s Swihart.
A former top prospect, Swihart endured a bizarre season after a scorching spring earned him a roster spot. Amid doubts over his defensive and game-calling abilities, Swihart played every position on the diamond except shortstop, center field and pitcher last year. He batted just .229 with three homers and 18 RBIs in 82 games.
But if you watched Swihart throughout 2018, you know he made significant progress behind the plate, and Alex Cora admitted as much shortly after his team won the World Series. Furthermore, Swihart remains the best athlete and pure hitter that Boston has at the catching position, and it wasn’t so long ago he was labeled “the next Buster Posey.”
(He also is the most valuable trade asset in the group.)
So, what do the Red Sox plan to do with Swihart going forward?
“He’s going to come to camp trying to compete to be our starting catcher,” Dombrowski said. “That’s first and foremost. Now, he’s also in a position where he has the ability to do other things. But he’s going to be an important part of our club and competing to get that starting spot.”
Given the leaps he’s made with his defense and game-calling, Swihart should be considered a real candidate to earn the starting job, should he have another productive spring with the bat. That said, Vazquez remains one of the Red Sox’s leaders as well as a highly talented catcher, enough to where the organization felt comfortable signing him to a three-year extension before the 2018 campaign.
The Red Sox won’t have many position battles in the spring, but catcher absolutely is a position worth monitoring. For now, the biggest question is whether Boston brings two or three backstops to Fort Myers.
Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images