[Update 4:16 pm] Blake Swihart was optioned to Pawtucket to make room for Christian Vazquez on the Red Sox roster, with Marco Hernandez taking up Rusney Castillo's vacated spot. This could be a temporary move, so much of what was written in this article remains possible, but it bears mentioning before diving in.
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The Red Sox sent outfielder Rusney Castillo to Triple-A Pawtucket on Wednesday, and late on Thursday, they used the open roster spot to call up catcher Christian Vazquez. At first glance, it's a bit confusing, as the Sox already have two catchers on the roster and probably could have used some infield help that isn't Josh Rutledge after placing Pablo Sandoval on the disabled list. Bringing Vazquez up does make one thing clear, though: the Red Sox and Ryan Hanigan might not be together for much longer.
Hanigan is a productive backup catcher who can hit lefties, run a pitching staff, and play quality defense behind the plate. The thing is, Vazquez is an excellent defender with an even better arm -- especially now that it's healed from his 2015 Tommy John surgery -- who has been praised throughout his ascension through the minors for his ability to run a pitching staff and guide his pitchers. Vazquez is talented enough that there has been talk of him pushing Blake Swihart off of the starting catcher role: that shouldn't happen, and it probably won't, but the fact a discussion exists gives you an idea of the kind of production Vazquez could provide.
Swihart has the higher ceiling, and while he doesn't have Vazquez's defensive chops and needs more seasoning behind the plate, he's also the better bat in the future and possibly now. Vazquez hit .240/.308/.309 in the majors in 2014, and then missed an entire year of development that his bat needed while recovering from Tommy John. He was never a dangerous hitter in the minors, as he tended to take some time adjusting to a new level, explode offensively, then earn a promotion and begin the cycle anew.
In the majors, something like .260/.325/.375 wouldn't be a shock, with some seasons a little better and some a little worse. With his defense, that's more valuable than it looks, but it's also not the kind of thing you move Swihart for considering Swihart already did better than that as a rookie who was thrust into the majors before he was even ready.
There is no true discussion of Swihart or Vazquez. Vazquez's defensive is fantastic. Swihart's offensive ceiling is great. Both are making pre-arbitration salaries, and the Sox will be able to afford having both around even when they are in their arbitration years. Having both of them around is a luxury in terms of what they can provide, but it's the kind of luxury winnings teams need to have.
So, forget about changing Swihart's position -- the only "open" spot is left field, and Brock Holt is absolutely a better defender and might be the better hitter right now, too. That's also just an "open" spot right now: if Jackie Bradley Jr. keeps playing well, then there is only going to be one outfield spot available when Andrew Benintendi is ready for the bigs, and that could be as soon as 2017. You deal with that situation when it comes, yes, and it's an optimistic scenario to envision, but why create a logjam when you don't have to, especially with one of your promising young talents?
Putting Swihart back in Triple-A would also be reactionary and short-sighted -- yes, he needs reps, but he can still get them by remaining Boston's starting catcher, where he will also learn the most to help make him into the clear-cut favorite to start going forward. All this points to an inevitable trade of Hanigan, because the Sox aren't going to carry three catchers forever.
Hanigan is under contract through 2017 thanks to a $3.75 million club option with an $800,000 buyout. His best attribute is his defense, but having Vazquez around either replaces him outright or improves upon what the Sox had, and he doesn't have the bat to push either out of one of the two primary catcher roles. The Sox can keep him around as a mentor for Swihart and Vazquez, or they can deal him, use the open roster spot for something else they need, and let the combination of experience and coaching do the mentoring for them.
While Hanigan might not be a high-quality backstop in terms of his overall game, teams will come calling if he's available. There were already clubs keeping an eye on Boston's catching situation at the end of spring training in case the Sox decided to use Vazquez out of the gate, so you know those same teams will, for the most part, be watching once more now that all three are on the big-league roster.
The Sox might not move Hanigan right away, as catching depth is important and the next-in-line backstop should Boston go down to just two catchers is Sandy Leon. As said, though, there won't be three of them on the major-league roster forever. With Swihart and Vazquez both an important part of Boston's future behind the plate, everything points to an imminent trade of Hanigan.
Let's put it this way: if it isn't Ryan Hanigan being traded, then it's Blake Swihart who will be on the way out, and if it's Swihart, then there is a huge deal on the way in 2016. In the absence of any whispers surrounding that, let's just Occam's razor this situation and stick with those Hanigan feelings for now.