Late Monday morning, hours before he was almost certainly going to be non-tendered by the Red Sox, Sandy León was traded to the Indians in exchange for right-handed minor-league pitcher Adenys Bautista. The return provides very little upside, but the deal makes sense given that Boston clearly wasn’t ready to roll into another season with León as their backup. If you are just going to non-tender a player anyway, you might as well get what you can in a deal, even if that is next to nothing. Even next to nothing is better than actually nothing, ya know? There is not an in-house option to back up Christian Vázquez, but the Red Sox can find that on the open market.
While this move makes sense, it is still a bit sad. León obviously was far from a superstar in his tenure with the Red Sox, but he was with the team for five years. That’s a long time! Of course, most of that time was centered around a debate about how much defense was needed behind the plate to negate non-existent offense. León had a 64 OPS+ with the Red Sox and over the last three years it was even worse at 51.
If and when we do look back at León’s tenure with the Red Sox, those debates are going to be one of the first things that come to mind. We’ll think about his relationship with Chris Sale. We’ll remember how the pitching staff as a whole thought about him. We’ll go back to the heated Swihart Wars. We’ll consider the almost impressively poor performances at the plate, too. We’ll also, of course, remember he was part of the best team in franchise history.
When I think about León, though, my first thought isn’t going to be any of those things. My first thought is going to be that bizarre, absurd, totally unpredictable two-month(ish) run back in 2016. It was among the weirdest, most unexpected and thoroughly enjoyable individual stretches I have ever witnessed as a Red Sox fan.
For those who don’t remember, León started the 2016 season in Pawtucket and didn’t make his way up to the majors until about a week into June. It was at this point where he completely lost his mind and turned into one of the best hitters in baseball for a couple months. That is not an exaggeration, either. If anything, it’s an understatement. From June 7, his first game in the majors that year, through August 18, León hit .382/.437/.654 for a 189 wRC+. Over that stretch, among the 289 players who had at least 100 plate appearances, León’s wRC+ was the best in all of baseball. It was totally unsustainable and relied on a high BABIP and all of those other qualifiers you want to throw in there. That doesn’t matter, though. It happened. León was literally the best hitter in baseball during that stretch. The sustainability mattered at the time, but as we look back all that matters is what happened on the field.
I don’t really know why I wrote this, but I felt like I had to. Sandy León was a very likable player to watch and the Red Sox probably made the right move here letting him go. Both of those can be true. The real takeaway here is probably the aforementioned debate about the true value of catcher defense. For me, though, the end of the León era in baseball just made me go back to 2016, perhaps the most oddly enjoyable summer of baseball I’ve ever experienced.