As we know, one of the big storylines of the spring for the Red Sox is how the catcher position is going to shake out for 2019. Last year the team managed to hold on to their depth and carry all three of Sandy León, Christian Vázquez and Blake Swihart through the entire season. Vázquez missing a big chunk of the year made that roster crunch a bit easier, of course. With Dustin Pedroia healthy now, the roster just doesn’t have room for three backstops and Dave Dombrowski has made it clear that it is very unlikely they enter Opening Day with each of these guys on the roster. It’s anyone’s guess which duo they end up keeping, though my theoretical money is still on Vázquez and León. It can still go in any direction, though, and while whoever is the best fit for this roster should be the primary concern, what any of them could bring back in a trade will surely factor into the decision making. With all of that in mind, given how much time and thought we’ve devoted to this position battle all winter, it probably makes sense to figure out which teams out there are looking for a catcher to begin with.
We start with the team who has gotten the most buzz for this lower-tier catching market of late because of a big injury to their star. Salvador Pérez hurt his elbow last week, resulting in a torn UCL that will likely need Tommy John surgery. Assuming he’s out for the year, Kansas City could likely use some catching help. Now, the Royals are in a rebuild right now, but you still need bodies. Given their place on the win curve, Blake Swihart would be the first thought as a fit here, but I would disagree with that. The Royals have Pérez locked up long-term and as the face of the franchise I don’t think he’s going anywhere. Furthermore, they have some young catchers they could get some experience already. Instead, I’d think they’d want someone like Sandy León who could serve as a one-year stop gap in split duties, help a young pitching staff move forward and mentor some of the younger catchers on the roster.
Here we have another rebuilding team as the Tigers are moving on without James McCann, who had been their starter for the last few years. Detroit’s catching situation does not look great right now, with Greyson Greiner projected to get the bulk of the time behind the plate. They also have John Hicks, who should probably play more first base than catcher, and Bobby Wilson. Greiner has some solid potential, but so I could see them wanting to pair him with a veteran like León. That said, I think they’d take on any of the Red Sox catchers at the right price.
The A’s were surprise contenders in 2018 and are looking to do the same thing in 2019. They have a solid base with a lineup headed by Khris Davis, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, but their catching situation lags behind. Josh Phegley is projected to start with Chris Herrmann as their top backup right now. Phegley is more of a backup while Herrmann is more of an outfielder, so that’s not ideal. They do have top prospect Sean Murphy coming up, potentially as soon as midseason. Still, they need something in the meantime and perhaps Vázquez would be a fit here if they want a long-term pairing with Murphy. I’m not convinced the Red Sox want to move Vázquez, but for the right price they’d at least consider it. More likely is one of the other two, though, and I think León would be the better fit here. Oakland needs to maximize all of the talent in a shaky rotation just like they did last year, and we know León can get the most out of pitchers.
To be honest I’m a little shaky on this one, partially because I have no idea where the Mariners are right now as a team. They offloaded a ton of talent this winter, including a catcher in Mike Zunino, but they still have a roster that could fake contention this year. They grabbed Omar Navarez from the White Sox, and he will start at catcher this year, but they may want to upgrade the backup spot. David Freitas is solid and I wouldn’t be surprised if they roll with what they have, but if they are among those who are still high on Blake Swihart’s potential maybe they see this as a chance to buy-low and stock up for what is ostensibly a re-tool on the fly.
I feel like I’m always higher on the Rangers than I should be, mostly because I’m enthralled by the potential of their lineup and overlook how bad their pitching is. The offense should be solid again, but the catching situation is seriously lacking. Jeff Mathis is their starter in the year 2019, and he’s backed up by Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who isn’t even really a catcher. Texas really needs someone here, and Swihart is probably the best fit. Mathis is already the master defensive specialist and guru with connecting with a pitching staff. Maybe the Rangers would want to double down on that with León, but a younger guy with a little bit of upside would make more sense on their roster.
The Rays are looking to contend in the American League this year, and of course the Red Sox are as well. With that in mind, a trade between these two division rivals is unlikely. Still, it’s worth mentioning that Tampa could feasibly upgrade their backup situation, though it’s not a pressing need for them right now.
The National League East is going to be fascinating this year, but the Marlins aren’t going to be part of that. They are rebuilding right now, and part of that rebuild involved sending All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to Philadelphia. They did get Jorge Alfaro back to replace him in that deal. Chad Wallach is their backup right now, and while he’s fine this is another situation where Swihart would make sense if they’re high on him. I don’t really have a sense on how the league feels about the Red Sox catcher, but I imagine there are at least a handful of organizations who would take a chance if the price is low enough. Miami could be one of them as they are trying to find as much upside as possible to build for a couple of years from now.
Speaking of the Phillies! Obviously they have a starter with Realmuto, as I just mentioned, but they should probably be upgrading their backup spot. Andrew Knapp is...not very good. He may run into a little offense here and there, but the Phillies don’t really need that. They need defense behind the plate, and León would be a nice backup for them.
The Pirates are sort of in that Mariners zone where I’m not really sure what they are. I think they aren’t that great, but the rest of the baseball world seems to be higher on them than me and when that happens it’s probably a sign you should re-evaluate some things. Anyway, Pittsburgh’s catching situation isn’t dire, but it could be upgraded. Francisco Cervelli is the starter, but he doesn’t have a ton of years catching remaining. Elias Diaz is a fine backup, but not someone who is beyond upgrade, and he’s also not exactly young. I could see the Pirates being the kind of team who would take a chance on Swihart, again assuming they’d be able to get him at minimal cost.