It’s already been a strange Red Sox season for a few different reasons, but to me the weirdest part of the year by a long shot is what has gone on with Blake Swihart. He was always going to be an unknown heading into the season, but he put himself on the radar with fans by getting off to a scorching start in spring training. The hype train was already taking off, despite a pretty slow end to his camp. It seemed a little extreme, but this is obviously a former top prospect for whom people are still holding out hope, so it’s understandable. Since the regular season has started, it’s become increasingly clear that the team has no desire to use their third catcher in any role. He’s played in just 15 games so far and has accrued only 32 plate appearances, despite Alex Cora making a concerted effort to rotate everyone else in and out of the lineup. Now, about one-quarter of the way through the season, Swihart’s agent has seen enough. According to Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston, Brodie Scoffield has asked the Red Sox to trade his client.
It’s really not hard to understand this from the Swihart/Scoffield side of things. They view him as a player who still has the talent from his days as a top prospect, and in his age-26 season he’s approaching his final chance to really prove he’s still capable of being at least something close to that guy. It’s clear that it isn’t going to happen with the Red Sox, and even if they aren’t going to use him as a catcher they likely feel he’s not getting a fair shake to prove himself at the plate with such intermittent playing time. It’s a fair complaint, and there aren’t many more clear change-of-scenery candidates than Swihart right now.
On the other hand, the Red Sox have made some rough decisions with Swihart in the past, but I think the flack they’ve caught this year for not using him have been over the top. It’s just not clear where he adds an upgrade to this team. Obviously, Boston’s catchers have been atrocious at the plate, and that’s where most of the calls for Swihart have come. Of course, it’s clear as day that the team doesn’t believe he can handle himself behind the plate. Even if you disagree, it’s hard to argue that the team should use a catcher they don’ believe can handle the job. That’s not how you run a team. For all of his potential at the plate, he hasn’t really ever shown that he’s all that impressive of a hitter at any other spot than catcher, and particularly not for the corner positions at which the team seems to trust him. There may be other teams that believe in him more defensively, and it wouldn’t totally shock me if those teams are proven right, but if the Red Sox don’t believe in his defense pretty much anywhere I’m not sure how they could justify giving him significantly more time.
As for what happens next, it seems inevitable at this point that the Swihart era is coming to an end, and probably soon. Dustin Pedroia’s return is just a couple weeks away at this point (assuming everything goes well in his rehab), and that would appear to be the latest date they could hold on to Swihart. If a deal presented themselves, they could even deal him before that and get Tzu-Wei Lin back to the majors for a short time as a stopgap. The other issue is what they could get for Swihart, and I really don’t have an idea. It would be great if they could get another arm to throw into the mix with their bullpen, but I really can’t imagine a team giving up major-league help for Swihart at this point. Perhaps I’m entirely misreading his trade value — wouldn’t be the first time — but this is a guy who really hasn’t done much of anything (whether you want to blame him or the organization for this isn’t really relevant to this conversation) for a few years now. The upside is there, but this is going to be an extreme buy-low for whoever bites.
Whatever happens, it’s going to come to fruition soon. It’s been a weird cloud hanging over the roster basically since February, and all of the weirdness appears to be coming to a head now.