When the Boston Red Sox moved on from Sandy Leon, finding his replacement became among the offseason priorities.
So, they effectively swapped backup catchers with the Indians.
After trading Leon to Cleveland last month, the Red Sox on Thursday signed Kevin Plawecki, who was The Tribe’s backup last season and was non-tendered earlier this offseason.
The Red Sox will be the third big league team for Plawecki, who at $900,000 will come cheaper than Leon — something not to be overlooked for a team trying to cut payroll. Changing backup catchers isn’t exactly a needle-mover, but it seems like the type of small changes that new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom will be making to tinker the roster.
Here are a few things to know about Plawecki.
He’s great at framing pitches
A small thing, but an important one. According to Statcast, Plawecki last season was the second-best pitch framer in the majors, trailing only the San Diego Padres’ Austin Hedges. Of pitches in the “shadow zone,” (basically the edge of the strike zone where the call could go either way), 53.6 percent of the time Plawecki got his pitcher a strike.
For comparison, last season Leon was the best Red Sox backstop in pitch framing, with a 51.9 rate that ranked ninth in MLB. Christian Vazquez was 17th at 50.7.
With a backup catcher, it’s rare that offense is the first priority, so the fact that he rates well in this regard boosts his value.
He hit .260 in his best offensive season
Here’s the downside of this number: it was in the season he played his fewest number of games. In 37 contest in 2017, Plawecki posted a .260 average with three homers, 13 RBIs and 17 strikeouts. He had 100 at-bats that season and otherwise has mostly been a .200-.220 hitter.
This won’t be his first time playing for a Mass. baseball team
Similarly to, well, many big leaguers, Plawecki played in the Cape Cod Baseball League. After his junior season at Purdue, he played for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in 2011, getting named to the CCBL All-Star Game.
He can play more than just catcher
The last three seasons, Plawecki has played at least some first base. Going out on a limb here, but this seems like it might be at least part of the appeal for Bloom, who comes from a Tampa Bay Rays organization that values versatility.
He has started at first base in four games over his career, appearing in a pair more as a substitute. All told, he has 36 innings of action at first, where he has a 1.000 fielding percentage.
Sam Travis was designated for assignment to make room on the roster for Plawecki, and the Red Sox enter spring training (at this point) with Michael Chavis as the frontrunner to play first, with no clear backup except maybe prospect Bobby Dalbec. Having a pair of catchers in Plawecki and Vazquez that have a little bit of experience at first is worth something.
He’s used to backing up
Just once in his career has Plawecki been the top guy, so this is not unfamiliar territory for him.
In 2018, his last season with the Mets, Plawecki’s 69 games behind the plate led New York. With the Indians last season, Plawecki played catcher in 57 games, with Roberto Perez handling pretty much the rest.