Amid all the talk of which pitchers the Red Sox are going to target this winter, and how hard they’ll push for Nathan Eovaldi and Joe Kelly, and whether or not Steve Pearce will be back to pair with Mitch Moreland at first base, the most interesting subplot of this Red Sox winter might be behind the plate. For what seems like forever, we’ve been waiting to figure out what the Red Sox are going to do about their three catchers. To this point, they’ve just done nothing. It’s certainly worked! At some point, though, you gotta make a choice. It seems like said choice is going to come this winter, but who knows. The Red Sox have five roads they can take to address the catching position this offseason. Let’s take a look at each and quickly look at the pros and cons.
1. The 2013 Plan
For the better part of this decade, Red Sox fans have envisioned one duo splitting time behind the plate for the Red Sox: Christian Vázquez and Blake Swihart. The road to get here has not gone how anyone expected, but the 2019 season might be the time we actually see it happen. There’s plenty like, too. The most important is that, among the potential internal pairings, this has the most upside at the plate. Vázquez is likely never going to be a Silver Slugger contender, but he showed in the postseason that he can put together good at bats and has a knack for singling on line drives to the opposite field. Is that the sexiest, most productive approach? Sure isn’t! Is it better than anything Sandy León is likely to offer? Sure is! Swihart has considerably more upside than even Vázquez, though he’s as unlikely as ever to reach said upside at this point. Still, if the Red Sox want to sniff middle-of-the-road offensive production from their catchers, this is the pairing to do it.
On the other hand, the lack of León could also end up being a big problem. For as much as we dreaded basically every plate appearance from the Red Sox catcher, he wasn’t kept around for nothing. There was a legitimate connection between him and the pitching staff, and the rest of his defense was great too. I think we’ve gone too far the other way on Vázquez’ defense, but León is the best behind the plate of this bunch. Catcher is the most important defensive position on the diamond, so going without León is certainly a risk.
2. The Defensive Plan
This plan involves keeping Christian Vázquez and Sandy León while saying good-bye to Blake Swihart. Of all the roads the Red Sox can take, this seems to be the safest play if for no other reason that we know these guys are both catchers. Now, the organization is certainly at least partially at fault for Swihart’s lack of development behind the plate, and Swihart certainly hasn’t had enough time for anyone to full dismiss his work behind the plate on a full-time basis. Still, no one would argue he’s the worst defensive backstop of this trio. Like I said above, defense at this position matters more than any other. Plus, Swihart presumably has the most trade value of anyone in this group. Granted, it’s not a high bar to clear and none of them are netting you anything wildly exciting (at least not on their own), but Swihart could get something interesting at the least.
On the other hand, for all of the hand-wringing over Swihart’s defense, the upside discussed in section one still exists. Plus, when he started getting more time behind the plate in the middle of the year, he did look better. If the Red Sox were to regret letting any of these guys go in the next three years or so, Swihart is easily the most likely. You don’t make roster decisions based on potential regret, but it’s only human nature to have that thought cross your mind. The offense of a Vázquez/León pairing also has the potential to be Not Safe For Work, and not in a good way.
3. The 2018 Plan
For a long stretch in 2018, in which the Red Sox had the best season in franchise history and one of the best in baseball history, they used Sandy León and Blake Swihart as their two catchers. This is because Christian Vazquez was on the disabled list, but unfortunately for him the pairing proved to work pretty well. León played more than you’d like because the team lacked trust in Swihart, but again the latter looked a lot better with more consistent playing time. That includes his defense and his offense. Honestly, it’s hard to argue against the Red Sox keeping much of the status quo after what they did in 2018, and this would be the closest thing to the status quo.
On the other hand, Vázquez is probably the most stable option of the internal trio. He doesn’t really excel in any area — well, that depends on your view of his defense, I guess — but he’s in the middle of León and Swihart. I definitely think he’s better than his numbers at the plate from last year would indicate, and I think his defense is better too. He also agreed to a relatively cheap contract extension before the season that could prove valuable for the team if he takes even a marginal step forward. There’s also a whole lot of downside with a León/Swihart pairing, which we saw plenty of in 2018.
4. The Lazy Man’s Plan
The Red Sox could, feasibly, just do nothing again. Like the great John Mulaney says, it is 100 percent easier not to do things than to do them. Just like in 2018, the Red Sox catchers are all out of options and can’t be stashed in Triple-A, and Dave Dombrowski has said this scenario is unlikely. However, consider that the Red Sox don’t have any upper minors catching depth after this. Dan Butler is a great organizational piece, but he’s a lot better as a fourth catcher than a third. He’s also technically a free agent. Austin Rei is the third catcher as we speak today. That...is not ideal. It’s hard to find reliable third catchers who can hang out in Pawtucket until needed, though. There is also the fact that Swihart can be more than a catcher that plays into it. The team needs to be willing to use him in that way, though.
On the other hand, the cons to this one are pretty obvious. Taking up an extra roster spot for a third catcher is not very efficient. The Red Sox were absurdly good this year, and what’s even wilder is they spend a significant portion of the year essentially playing with a 24-man roster. That’d be hard to repeat. Consider that if they carry three catchers, they have no more room on their bench, which means they can’t bring back Pearce or someone similar. Or, if they did, they’d have to trade Brock Holt (which just creates another issue) or trade Eduardo Núñez (which is unlikely). Pearce (or someone similar) is more valuable to this roster than a third catcher.
5. The Outsider Plan
Most of the conversations around the Red Sox plan of attack behind the plate involves jettisoning one catcher and sticking with two of the internal options, but there’s always a chance they could look outside the organization for help. The pros are obvious. They’d presumably get a much better player than anyone already on the team, and the lineup that is already a force would presumably become that much better. It’s tempting to add to a super lineup. They’d also be able to reap the benefits of trading two of these options. There are plenty of interesting options available too, including Yasmani Grandal, J.T. Realmuto and Wilson Ramos, among many others.
On the other hand, this may not be the best use of the Red Sox’ resources. Boston, as mentioned at the very top of this post, has to be focused on pitching. They probably need two relievers and one starter, to say nothing about that final spot on the bench. They could fill each individual position cheaply, but they also don’t have a ton to spend if they want to stay below that high-end luxury tax threshold. Granted, I’d be fine if they want to blow by that mark, but I’m guessing they don’t. I’m not sure catcher is the best place to allocate those resources as you risk not being able to address the pitching. You could also trade for catchers, but I don’t think they have the prospects to grab someone like Realmuto, and again any prospects that are traded this year are probably best served being used towards pitching, if traded at all.
So, there’s a lot to think about here. I’m truly fascinated by this situation, and I think you could reasonably talk me into any of these options except for number four. Ultimately, I think I’d choose option number one. How about you?