Before we begin, a quick note, the Flyby was delayed because it was Patriot’s Day, and that day is honestly awesome enough without this choice weekly feature.
That aside, we received a total of three responses on this week’s Flyby. And among them is one core theme, that we are all divided on who exactly we believe we’d rather move. One piece tackles the idea of moving Swihart, another represents the idea of trading either Swihart or Leon (with a preference to let Swihart/Vazquez battle it out), and still another thinks Vazquez should be the one shipping out. In the end, we’ve come to realize that there’s a reason this problem exists, there’s no clear cut answer.
This past weekend’s question asked how you would solve Boston’s Very Good Problem, having too many catchers.
Our first response was from SoxFanInDC, who has been participating in a lot of our FanPost Fridays, so they get a gold star for effort. Thank you for your continued sharing of opinions!
SFID, as they shall now be known, suggests the most logical course of action is to wait until the trade deadline of 2017, to see if the issue sorts itself out. After all, if you trade a Blake Swihart, and then Christian Vazquez gets injured, you run into a situation where you have Sandy Leon and such visionaries as Dan Butler. Not that there’s anything wrong with Butler, but that’s a steep drop off in talent.
Should the situation remain the same hypothetically, however, they recommend the trade of Blake Swihart. Citing a lack of major need at the major league level (I certainly wouldn’t say “no” to an upgrade for the 5th spot in our rotation from whichever of Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez is struggling, to something more solid and dependable), they turn to prospects.
Their ideal target is Reynaldo Lopez, who was part of the Adam Eaton trade a few months back. Lopez, who started last season at AA, and jumped all the way to the majors by season’s end, showed promise in his ability to strike batters out, and miss enough bats to keep the hits allowed at a sustainable rate. The biggest qualm many have with Lopez is his walk rate at the major league level. In a 44 inning sample (which is admittedly quite small, roughly a quarter of a bottom of the rotation starter’s innings), he allowed 22 walks.
Some of these walks are a little more concerning than others. On the list of players to draw a walk from Lopez in 2016, were the following names: Pedro Alvarez (who walked twice), Jose Reyes, Clayton Kershaw, Jake Peavy, Matt Wisler, and Adeiny Hechavarria.
Walking Alvarez in itself isn’t terrible, nor the same with Reyes, but neither are guys you expect to be taking pitches unless they are poor pitches. Walking one of the worst hitters in the league (Hechavarria) is awful. Walking pitchers (three of them no less!) is flat out inexcusable.
It is this lack of command and control that makes people speculate if he’s destined for the bullpen. Add in his repertoire (which includes a fastball graded at 65 - now - by Fangraphs), and it seems he has at least a chance of panning out in that respect.
Lopez’s ceiling is for real, though. In this review of the White Sox farm system, by John Sickels, he expresses some optimism, “[Lopez’s] fastball [is] up there at 93-98 and has been known to hit 100; also has above-average breaking ball; changeup and command remain erratic; many observers project him in bullpen due to the inconsistent off-speed stuff and concerns about mechanics/durability; personally I’d use him as a starter as I think there’s enough potential with his changeup.”
While it’s debatable whether Lopez would be enough (it certainly is a far cry from the discussions over whether giving him up for Cole Hamels was too much - mind, the discussions involved more than just Swihart), I think it’s worth noting that while his stock has fallen, it hasn’t disappeared entirely. Lopez is still a top 50 prospect according to mlb.com, a top 30ish prospect via Baseball America, and generally seen as a worthwhile prospect. In Boston’s system, this would rank him as the number two or three prospect in the system (Benintendi no longer being a prospect at the time of this trade) right near Jason Groome.
For what it is worth, Lopez has pitched three games for the AAA Charlotte Knights, and is the owner of a 5.02 ERA, and not so outstanding peripherals. This should be taken with a grain of salt, as it is early, and Lopez struggled early last year as well, in AA, before turning it around and pitching well enough to warrant a major league cup of coffee.
He may not be Jose Quintana (seriously how great would that be), but Reynaldo Lopez at least makes for an interesting, young pitcher, with options, and flexibility. And if he ends up just being a flamethrower out of the pen for five to six years, that’s hardly the worst fate in the world, considering the state of the Red Sox bullpen in recent years.
Our second, and final FanPost for the weekend comes courtesy of Scarecrow13, another frequent FanPoster since the inception of this weekly feature. Within, there is detail about the three catchers of note, Swihart, Vazquez, and Leon, with the writer’s honest assessment setting the tone for what they intend to suggest. They would prefer to keep Swihart, it seems, but understand that Swihart likely commands a far larger return than that of Sandy Leon.
Following this, they run down a list of possible trade partners, which, while not exhaustive, covers all the major players we could expect, from the Braves, to the White Sox, to the Mariners, and the Dodgers as well.
Without stealing too much of their thunder, their preference would be to deal with the Braves, which presently boast an impressive young core of pitching. This is something the Red Sox use, especially as depth in the high minors until they are developed as full on prospects. With a particular fondness for Mike Soroka (who I personally believe would be as off limits as Kolby Allard), there’s a sense of love for the overall Braves farm system (with regards to the pitching).
Of the names listed, the one I believe to be the most realistic on the Atlanta farmstead is probably going to be Max Fried or Sean Newcomb, if anything. I’m not sure I’d give up Swihart for either, but I’m also not sure Atlanta would take back Sandy Leon instead, which begs the question of what else you’d have to include on either end for a deal to work.
Ultimately, while I’d like to believe it’s a fit, I don’t believe the Red Sox and Braves match up all that well here, without something creative, unless the Red Sox are willing to take a net loss on Blake Swihart.
I’m going to be completely up front: What you’re about to read is a total copout. This question is just too hard for me to answer right now to have any definitive opinion. I always skew towards avoiding hard conclusions, and this question is particularly difficult on this front. If you’re asking me right now what I would do about Boston’s three catchers the answer is nothing. At least not right now. There are still so many unknowns with all three of these guys, and if there’s no obvious answer then the right decision is always to hold on to the depth.
Coming into the year, the guy I was lowest on among this trio was Christian Vazquez. I truly believed he would never hit. He hasn’t played enough to totally change my opinion, but it’s hard not to be swayed by what he’s done this year. I’m not going to trade him right now without seeing if he can keep this up all year.
I was also higher than most on Sandy Leon before the year, and he’s gotten off to a red-hot start in 2017. I’ve said it before, but I really think he is an above-average hitting catcher who is also pretty good with the glove behind the dish. I’m not trading a guy like that when the aspirations for this team are a World Series.
I was pretty much in line with the majority opinion on Swihart, and he’s been playing well in Triple-A to start this season. It’s legitimately unfair to him that he has to ride the bus, because he is clearly good enough to play in the majors right now. Unfortunately for him, he has minor-league options and the team needs to hold on to the depth right now.
As Jake pointed out on Friday, Swihart will be out of options in 2018. By the time next season rolls around, a decision will have to be made. At this point, I’d say the right call will be to trade Vazquez. That was my opinion before the season started, and 12 games aren’t enough to change my mind. With that being said, I reserve the right to change my mind.
As for me, I have to echo a common strain of thought. You hold onto all three, at least for the time being. There’s no reason to get rid of depth for the sake of getting rid of depth. Injuries happens, freaky stuff happens, unexpected needs arise, and I really don’t feel like leaning on Dan Butler at all in 2017, a year I believe the Red Sox can win it all.
That doesn’t mean the problem has gone away however, one thing is certainly true, the issue, if you can call it that, has to be solved before the beginning of the 2018 season, and possibly sooner than that if you want the best possible value for whoever you decide is no longer to be a Red Sox baseball player. With the clock ticking on all three players, none of which have any options beginning in 2018, negotiations are no doubt already under way, and with every passing minute, opposing teams gain just slightly more leverage, with the understanding that without a move, the Red Sox will be exposing one of these talented catchers to waivers.
Blake Swihart will not be exposed to waivers. Neither will Vazquez. Both have potentially elite skill sets that would be scooped up in a nano-second. Leon is a tad more questionable, only because he’s been who he is for the past year and change. While I’d like to believe this is indeed Sandy Leon, there’s a nagging fear that he will stop being the destroyer of worlds that we have come to love. And I think there are more than a few teams that expect regression. I still expect he’d get claimed, but a bad 2017 could change that, who knows. I stand by the statement that all three are a danger to be claimed, and as thus, a move needs to happen, and probably relatively soon (I would say no later than the deadline, if it gets to the winter, I’m not sure I’ll like what comes).
As much as it pains me to say this, with an ultimatum forced upon me by my own rules, I would have to move Blake Swihart, or Christian Vazquez. At the end of the day, Sandy Leon, although I would prefer to move him over either of the other two, is just more valuable to the Red Sox than he could ever hope to be in a trade. Sandy Leon, as a result, is staying in Boston.
Left with the impossible choice between one of Swihart and Vazquez, I simply go with whatever player gets you more value on the trade market, with the best chance to improve on the fifth spot in the rotation. While there is unquestionably youth on the way, ever still, this is very much a team that is built to win and win now. As of this moment, I believe Vazquez actually gets you more, even if the bat isn’t for real, just because of how valuable a high level defensive catcher is, especially if that catcher has potential with the bat.
But wait, if Christian Vazquez has this much potential, why are we trading him? He has a high floor of value, due to his strong defensive acumen, and he also has a decently sized ceiling. The answer is simple, we’re shooting for the stars here. Blake Swihart might not be anything, he might be Buster Posey (unlikely at this stage), or he might be Jose Lobaton (please, no!). In the end, whether he’s something or nothing, it doesn’t really have much impact on the 2017 Red Sox, since I believe Sandy Leon is going to produce enough to keep the Red Sox in the race all year long, regardless of who our other catcher is. His high ceiling is something you have the luxury of dreaming on, given how high the floors of so many of the current Sox players are.
You trade Vazquez, and while he could go on to have a fantastic career, you end up with a great piece to pair with a rotation of Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, David Price, and one of Drew Pomeranz/Eduardo Rodriguez. A rotation where a 2016 All-Star, and a pitcher who struck out thirteen batters at the end of the season are fighting for the last spot in your rotation is a very good rotation to have.
If for whatever reason, pitching is out of reach, I choose to hold all three until the off-season, and take the gamble there. Worst case, you sell a little low on one of the three catchers, and get some depth that could be useful in 2018, or a player with options that will allow your roster more flexibility.
In the end, my choice is clear. It’s one of Swihart/Vazquez, and there will be no two headed monster catcher that we dreamed of so many years ago.