Ryan Hanigan is set to return from the 60-day disabled list on Thursday, meaning the Red Sox will be left with what some are calling a tough roster decisions to make. Between Hanigan, Blake Swihart, and Sandy Leon, the Red Sox will have three catchers available, one more than teams are typically interested in carrying, but the three-catcher situation is not unheard of, and with Brock Holt backing up just about every position, it's not hard to imagine the Red Sox going in that direction.
Why they would is slightly harder to pin down, but the answer tends to revolve around Clay Buchholz and organizational depth. On the one hand, we've seen too many catchers hit the DL this year to be completely comfortable in the team's depth if Leon should hit the road. And while Leon brings almost nothing to the table at the plate, behind it he's formed quite the partnership with Clay Buchholz, and it's easy to see the Red Sox being reluctant to jeopardize his reemergence as the anchor of the rotation.
Personally, I'm not all that certain how much substance there is to the Buchholz - Leon pairing. Leon is a fine defensive catcher, but so are Ryan Hanigan and Blake Swihart, and for what it's worth, Buchholz has a history of pairing with the odd man out in the catching corps. Remember when he was consistently matched with Victor Martinez over Jason Varitek? Maybe Buchholz preferred the defensively inept Martinez, but it would make more sense if Buchholz was simply more malleable when it came to who he was paired with behind the plate.
Even if there is something to that duo, though, the Red Sox should push through whatever transitional pains are involved for the simple fact that Sandy Leon is not part of this team's plans. Even if they were to hold three catchers for a while right now, this team's future behind the plate is Blake Swihart and, if they don't consider him a waste at backup, Christian Vazquez. Buchholz will have to get used to pitching to someone else, and unless the Red Sox are really expecting to trade him sometime in the next month, sooner is better than later.
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That's not the most convincing argument, though. No, the real driving force behind this decision should come down to little more than playing time, and how much of it they can give to Blake Swihart. When the young catcher first came up two months back, he looked like nothing so much as a player called up two months early. Shocker, that! But if he was thrown right into the fire and predictably struggled to find his feet, Swihart has not shrunk away from the challenge. He took a significant step forward in June, even in spite of a sprained foot cutting short the hottest streak of his season.
While earlier the argument could be made that more playing time at the majors might not help Swihart, after a month that saw him make so much progress, it's hard to doubt that he's growing with each passing game. If he's nowhere near his full potential, Swihart is at least on the fast track to being a major league ready starting catcher, and the two best ways to derail that train are to keep him sitting on the bench too often, or to send him back down to Triple-A to keep Sandy Leon on the roster. The former is worse than the latter, but the best solution by far is to simply keep him making most of the team's starts, with Ryan Hanigan slipping into the backup role he was expected to fill in the beginning, maybe getting three-to-four starts in every ten games.
The Swihart era was not supposed to begin in May of 2015 with the team's first two starters hitting the 60-day disabled list. But an unfortunate and premature start has led into much more promising territory this last month. Blake Swihart is here, and he should be here both to stay, and to play. That just doesn't leave room for Sandy Leon, third catcher.