Blake Swihart is still here.
This is not a line I thought I’d be typing when Dustin Pedroia was activated from an injury that had kept him out of the lineup through the first one third of the season. By all accounts, I wasn’t alone. Blake Swihart was under-utilized, performing poorly when he was utilized, and seemingly positionless (or at least extremely blocked at the positions he could play at all). Meanwhile, Hanley Ramirez, the actual roster cut, was over-played to a dramatic degree, playing over the seemingly superior Mitch Moreland for odd reasons day after day.
And yet, despite what our brains may have told us, the mothership deviated from the expected, and blew our minds.
Who is Blake Swihart?
I’m glad you asked. Or didn’t ask and are entertaining my article. Swihart was part of that famous 2011 draft class that brought Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr., Henry Owens, Noe Ramirez, and Travis Shaw to Boston. Also, there was some schmoe named Mookie Betts, wonder if he turned into anything good.
Unlike his contemporaries, Swihart’s road to Boston hasn’t been as clear. He was added to the 40 man roster in November of 2014, along with three other players: Shaw, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Sean Coyle. While Swihart was seen favorably in the system (at the time of the addition to the 40 man roster, he was the top prospect in the system, according to SoxProspects), Christian Vazquez was the more major league ready of the two given to his excellent defense.
Vazquez ended up needing Tommy John surgery, and would thus miss the entire 2015 season. Swihart got his chance, and for a time, it appeared the future was now. He became the youngest Red Sox catcher to hit a home run since Rich Gedman. He had a multi-HR game later in the season. Against the Yankees. Blake Swihart had a following in Boston, and there was legitimate debate as to which catcher was the better of the two. When all was said and done, Swihart finished his rookie campaign hitting .274/.319/.392, and fans were excited about his ability to hit the ball. For comparison’s sake, this season Vazquez is hitting .190/.233/.230, and Sandy Leon is hitting .233/.292/.300.
When 2016 came around, Swihart was phased back out. Vazquez was healthy, and the Sox needed to make a decision. Mind, Vazquez wouldn’t end up the primary catcher, instead splitting duties that season with Leon. It didn’t help that Vazquez wasn’t hitting much better than the Mendoza Line, but Leon went on a tear that season, and it ended discussion of Swihart being in Boston, for at least the short term.
With two catchers in Boston for the near future, Swihart was blocked. So, for the 2016 season he switched to left field, a position the Sox didn’t have covered well at the time. Brock Holt played the most games in left field, after all, and Andrew Benintendi was still just a prospect. But then bad things happened. Swihart got hurt playing left field, because putting catchers in left field is a very bad idea™.
2017 wasn’t really notable for any reason other than Swihart burning his last remaining option, meaning the Red Sox needed to make a decision.
With 2018 approaching, all three “catchers” on the Red Sox roster were out of options. Blake Swihart, Christian Vazquez, and Sandy Leon all had to be rostered, because failing to roster one of them would result in another team claiming them: Swihart for his potential as a former top prospect, Vazquez and León for their defensive aptitude.
They kept all three, and made one of them into a utility player. Or at least claimed he was a utility player. They then played that utility player in a grand total of 17 games (out of the 51 played at the time of this article), and gave him all of 33 plate appearances to make his case. Even better, 8 of those 17 games were as a DH, where there’s no defense to be played by the so-called utility player.
This was ridiculous, so his agent asked the Red Sox to trade his client. This was another unsurprising turn, because frankly, the Red Sox were not giving Swihart a chance to play, and offering no chance of any advancement. This was 100% a reasonable request, and many a Sox fan hoped the team would honor the request. With Pedroia’s return impending, it seemed Swihart’s days in Boston were indeed numbered.
Then a miracle happened. Or a disaster. Depends on your viewpoint. I guess miracles are really just rose-tinted disasters to some people. Point is, the Red Sox DFA’d Hanley Ramirez on the recommendation of Alex Cora, and it... made sense.
Now, Blake Swihart is not a utility player. If he plays any position besides first base or the occasional DH/LF, I’d be surprised. The Sox supposedly will be playing him more at catcher because he caught Steven Wright and Heath Hembree well. I’m not sure I buy that, but we’ll see, there’s been enough swerves in the case of Blake Swihart that I’d believe he’s the new manager or going to be the first Red Sox player on Mars.
Swihart will be playing more often and the gamble the Red Sox are making is sound in logic. After all, Blake Swihart is making significantly less than the 22.75 million dollars Hanley Ramirez was making in 2018, and doesn’t have a vesting option for 22 million more. Blake Swihart will presumably be happy playing baseball, whereas Hanley Ramirez may or may not have taken well to a diminished role (I won’t claim anything one way or another, but typically players with vesting options like having their options vest).
Ultimately, the Hanley move was as much about getting Mitch Moreland playing time, as it was about seeing what they have in Blake Swihart. This move isn’t the Red Sox claiming undying love and affection for Swihart, but rather, them putting all their Swihart chips on this one bet.
If Swihart doesn’t perform, he won’t be here next year. If he does, he will. There’s little harm in seeing if he can be more productive than Hanley Ramirez, and if the bet fails, they aren’t 22 million in the hole because of it.
Regardless of what happens, one thing is clear.
Blake Swihart is here.