It’s been a year and a half since Blake Swihart made the jump to the majors for the first time. It’s easy to forget now, but his last ranking on SoxProspects.com, in a system featuring Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Eduardo Rodriguez, Manuel Margot, and Michael Kopech was first. Number one, with none above.
If you were to include Swihart as a prospect still, despite his experience, and run those rankings again, I think most would have him somewhere around sixth now, behind Moncada, Benintendi (assuming you still count him as a prospect), Devers, and probably both Groome and Kopech. It’s been a rough transition to Boston for Swihart, called up too early due to catastrophic injury issues in 2015, given a very short leash indeed in 2016, and ultimately moved into the outfield for a brief stretch before the decision to stick another inexperienced fielder in the cramped confines of left field cost the Red Sox another player. One hopes having seen these two incidents happen just 13 months apart has taught the Sox not to mess with that.
But what’s done is done, and there’s nothing for it but to deal with the aftermath. For Swihart, that aftermath is a lost season, a whole lot of rehab, and worst of all for the year to come, largely tanked value.
One year ago, the Red Sox might have gotten quite a bit out of including Swihart in a deal. His final batting line in 2015—.274/.319/.392—would actually be perfectly respectable for a catcher even if you didn’t give him credit for being called up very early and making significant improvements as time passed. In his second stint with the team, starting in late July, Swihart hit .303/.353/.452 in 168 plate appearances. To put that in context, Andrew Benintendi’s dynamite debut wasn’t that much better at .295/.359/.476. For all the world, Swihart seemed ready to cash in on his considerable promise in 2016.
Then 2016 actually started, the pitching staff was a total mess, and Blake Swihart missed a couple pop-ups and was more or less made the scapegoat for the rotation’s problems. The Sox shifted him to the outfield, and we’ve already covered what happened from there.
The picture has shifted dramatically. Swihart was an up-and-coming catcher with some improving defensive issues and a formidable bat. Now he’s a player they shifted from one of the most valuable positions to one of the least for a near-rookie with a .602 OPS and the husk of Ryan Hanigan. That Sandy Leon came on ridiculously strong later doesn’t really imrpove the optics all that much. Oh, and he’s coming off a season-ending injury.
This is the player that everyone seems to want to trade. He’s effectively become the Manuel Margot of last offseason, thrown into every theoretical trade as an extra bit of value that the Red Sox can afford to lose, but can’t make into an actual centerpiece.
I don’t get it. It’s not as simple as buy-low, sell-high, but it’s not that far off. Sure, Swihart could end up in Lars Anderson territory by 2018. But that seems pretty damn unlikely. The fact is that MLB teams put up with a lot of mediocre defense behind the plate (see: Saltamacchia and Martinez in recent Red Sox history), and there’s so much uncertainty involved in how we currently measure that area that it would be easy for concerns with that part of his game to be overshadowed by his offensive capabilities. So long as the Sox allow him to play behind the plate—and Dave Dombrowski has made it clear that’s the plan—his value should recover significantly so long as he shows he can hit.
And of course, there’s every possibility that said value won’t be used in a trade, but kept as Swihart assumes the role he was always expected to. Let us not forget, Sandy Leon is hardly guaranteed to repeat his miracle 2016, and Christian Vazquez has still yet to show he can hit the ball with any consistency. The Red Sox have been chasing the white whale of a quality cost-controlled catcher for nearly a decade now, and Swihart might well still be their best shot at one in that entire period.
So maybe let’s just not trade Blake Swihart. Or at least let’s not trade him now. He’s the easy guy to try to shove into deals since the Red Sox might end up not needing him if Leon or Vazquez is good, and likely in no small part because some fans were turned off by that rough week behind the plate. Small samples can look awfully big when they aren’t allowed to grow any larger. Given time, though, Swihart’s value is probably at a point where there’s more room and a better chance to rise than to fall. That makes this the right time to hold on to him, not to send him away.