The Swihart Wars were just two years ago but feel like they happened in a different century. Forget all the off-field nonsense to which we have been subjected during that time; in a strict baseball sense, it’s inconceivable, right now, that we’d have ever really preferred the idea of Blake Swihart to the reality of Christian Vàzquez.
And yet we, and even I, eventually did, against everything our eyes told us. Now that Vázquez has put up a one (1) solid hitting season, it all seems so silly, especially because entering the weird season starting tomorrow Vázquez is arguably Boston’s most important player, though others have argued differently.
He’s not the best player, obviously, as that distinction belongs to Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers or J.D. Martinez. But on a team with a blob of a rotation and a rotating cast of backup catchers, Vázquez, who is a star on defense no matter how the bat plays, is probably the most important Red Sox player simply from a logistical perspective. Much love to Kevin Plawecki, but Vázquez is probably going to play a lead role for the team this year in a way that was unthinkable to us in 2018.
A lot has changed since then, as I noted. The Red Sox’s previous most important player signed a nearly $400 million contract with the Dodgers yesterday, having been traded in a prolonged fit of crying poor; also there’s a pandemic and stuff. Maybe stranger than either of those bits is that Vázquez hit 23 homers last year, nine more than Swihart has hit in his career. Juiced ball and all, but the fact remains that the Red Sox chose wisely.
Now that choice is going to pay dividends, even if they’re not likely to entirely show up this year, which is still most definitely a bridge year. The bridge may be shorter than expected, but it’s just as valuable as a long one because the crocs below will eat you just the same. Vázquez’s institutional value is probably greater than that of Ron Roenicke when it comes down to it — at least you know the plan is for Vázquez to keep doing what he’s doing beyond this year.
(On top of all this, Vázquez’s Twitter account, newly started over the last year, is incredibly charming. Roenicke doesn’t even have Twitter, though there is a Fire Ron Roenicke account left over from his Brewers days. Checkmate, Ron.)
The best way to determine importance, in this context, is to imagine what this year would look like without Vázquez vis-a-vis other players. I mentioned Bogaerts, Devers and Martinez as players who are clearly better than Vazquez, but they’re also effectively backstopped by organizational depth at the major league and “minor league” level. At the very worst an injury to one of those guys potentially puts Jeter Downs or Bobby Dalbec on the field and things are at least fun to watch. It’s no fun when the catcher is no good. Trust us.
Add in the leaky pitching staff and Vázquez is my clear choice for team leader this year, whether he or the team look at it like that or not. I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know. I may not know entirely how he’s so important to the team, but I’m certain they’d fall apart without him and I need — we all need — the bridge to hold up.