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Scattered thoughts on the Blake Swihart and Sandy León roster move from Tuesday

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There’s too much going on here to just pick one or two.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, big news struck from the struggling Red Sox roster as the team designated catcher Blake Swihart for assignment. That cleared room for Sandy León, who had been designated for assignment just a few weeks earlier, to make his return to the active roster. It unsurprisingly led to a variety of reactions from all around the Red Sox fanbase, and there are a lot of different angles from which we can look at this one. As such, I’m going back to the ol’ “scattered thoughts” crutch to go over all of the points that are jumblin’ around this noggin of mine.

  • The thing I can’t really shake from this whole move is how surprising it was. I mean, this came out of nowhere and is not really how the Red Sox tend to do business. That’s not to say they don’t ever favor veterans over youth. That happens plenty. What rarely happens is that they change course on a decision like this after just three weeks of the season. It feels really panicky and really hasty to make a decision in late March only to reverse course on April 16. Generally speaking, panicky and hasty are not good qualities for baseball decision-makers.
  • On the other hand, there are two points to counter that. First, maybe panicky isn’t the worst thing in the world right now. Perhaps their panicking led them to look in the wrong places for change — that’s a totally fair argument! — but the team is now 6-12 after Tuesday’s loss and they just keep falling further down the AL East standings. You know how sometimes a manager or coach in another sport will get himself ejected to fire up his players? Maybe this is the GM version of this. Of course, there’s not a ton of solid evidence that move works out for coaches.
MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
  • The other counterpoint is that, if the team really thinks it made a mistake picking Swihart over León to start the year, there’s little value in sticking with their original guns just to save face. It can be hard to admit a mistake, so Dave Dombrowski and company reversing course so quickly could actually be looked at as a positive. Again, this is not me arguing that it was a mistake (or that it wasn’t, for that matter) but rather the potential thinking behind the deal.
  • Overall, I don’t think I like this move a lot though I did find myself in a strange position for much of Tuesday as the one defending it. Ultimately, I guess I dislike it less than a lot of other people. That said, perhaps the biggest issue to me is that the team loses depth at an important position where injuries are common. One could argue the best case for choosing Swihart before the season was that León was most likely to clear waivers and be stashed in Pawtucket. He was always only one injury away from coming up. Now, Swihart is much more likely to be claimed and Juan Centeno steps in as the team’s third catcher. Granted, no fan is really enamored with their third catcher, but the Red Sox are downgrading here without really moving the needle much at the major-league level.
  • That last point I think is important here. People have strong opinions on the varying strengths and weaknesses of Swihart and León, which lead to strong opinions over who should be playing. That’s good, of course, because these conversations are part of why sports are fun as long as one or both parties aren’t being dicks. Anyway, I think it’s also a bit overblown here. At the end of the day, we’re talking about two replacement level-ish players. One has perceived upside and the other has perceived safety and the merits of each quality are worth debating, but it can be easy to forget we’re talking about two extremely “meh” players.
  • Unsurprisingly and for good reason, a lot of the discussion since this move was announced has gone back to Swihart’s development in the organization. As we all know, the team has not gone about developing their former top prospect in the best way. A few years ago, as we all remember, he was moved to the outfield and ended up severely injuring himself. Just generally, he also never really got a chance to get the necessary work as a catcher. The team absolutely deserves some blame for him not developing. The key word there is “some.” It’s been striking to me that the player himself has seemingly been totally absolved of responsibility here. Two things can be true at once. The Red Sox handled Swihart’s development extremely poorly and hindered his progress. Also, Swihart didn’t take the steps necessary to become anything close to the player so many of us thought he’d be. It happens all the time, and it’s okay to admit that.
  • The biggest argument for those who want to keep Swihart over León come down to the offense. I don’t think anyone could argue in good faith that Swihart isn’t the best hitting catcher available to the major-league roster right now. The Red Sox seem okay more or less punting offense at the position in favor of better defense, an area where Swihart lags behind the others even with some improvements over the past year or so. That idea makes sense in theory, but with the way the offense is playing right now it’s tough to sell that line of thinking to fans.
  • Of course, the defense of León and his handling of the pitching staff is the other side of this. Everyone’s going to get their jokes in about León apparently being a magician, but at the end of the day whether it’s real or not doesn’t his affect on the pitchers have to be accounted for? Even if it’s just a placebo effect, having more comfortable and confident starting pitchers matter, right? I don’t have a good answer for how much it should, but I do know there is a lot of pressure on the pitchers — particularly Chris Sale and Rick Porcello — to step up their performance now that León is back.
  • It’s already clear how it’s going to go if/when they do bounce back, too. Once again, nuance is going to be thrown out the window and people are going to dig in on their preconceived positions. That is to say, there will be people saying this is all about León and others who will say it’s just the natural regression that was going to happen regardless. I’ll get it out of the way now: If this does happen, it’s for both reasons.
MLB: Boston Red Sox at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
  • We’ve gotten this far without talking about Christian Vázquez, who I think you could argue is really the guy who should have been out the door here. After the team inked him to his extension before last season, though, that was never realistic. That’s not to say that decision can’t be criticized, of course, but I’m not sure it’s worth it to even get into the merits of keeping him right now.
  • I’m fascinated to see Swihart’s market on the waiver wire. I think it’s been clear that Red Sox fans have always overrated his value to the rest of the league, as is pretty clear by the fact that they’ve never been able to trade him. Dave Dombrowski said on Tuesday they’ve been more or less trying to trade him for over a year now with no takers. Someone will take a chance on him for free, though.
  • Speaking of Dombrowski’s comments on yesterday, this comment isn’t going to play well among Red Sox fans.
  • My final point: Dombrowski deserves credit for his track record on these kinds of moves. This isn’t to say we should be appealing to authority all the time here. Like I said above, all in all I’m not crazy about this decision. That said, Dombrowski has been great at identifying talent and moving on from the right players while keeping the impact ones. He’s never really been a fan of Swihart, and now it’s time to see how fair that was.