Baseball continually reminds us that nothing is forever and that life comes at you fast. Roughly 10 months ago, Christian Vázquez crafted a signature moment for both his career and the Red Sox, blasting a walkoff two-run home run over the Green Monster to capture a 6-4 victory in 13 innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in game three of the 2021 ALDS.
Vázquez reached out over the plate and flicked the bat at the offering from the Rays’ Luis Patiño and barely needed a second after contact to lift an arm to signal the game was over. As he rounded first, he spread both arms out and beamed as if to better soak up the thunderous cheers from the Fenway faithful. While the Red Sox ended up losing in the ALCSa week later, that home run was still a special moment.
The explosive joy from that moment had been long forgotten by last Monday, less than a year after the home run. Vázquez was unceremoniously traded to the Houston Astros, just as he’d been preparing to face them in Houston.
I mean, the reporter in that video seems to have been the first to tell Vázquez, who accurately called it like it is: “It’s a business.” Such a business-like mentality won’t win over many fans during a season of utter disaster, especially as part of a trade deadline strategy that was downright puzzling from the Red Sox’s perspective. But we’re not here to discuss what nonsense is going on in the front office. There’s been enough ink spilled on that subject. Instead, I’d like to take a few moments (or paragraphs if we’re being technical) to look back at Vázquez’s career with the Red Sox.
Vázquez was a homegrown player developed entirely in the Red Sox’s system. The Puerto Rican native was taken in the ninth round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the Red Sox, and would spend the next six or so seasons working on his game and rising through the ranks in the Red Sox system. While never a standout offensive contributor in that time, he did enough with the bat that, when combined with his real superpower (his defensive ability as a catcher), the Red Sox felt comfortable enough to promote him to the majors in July of 2014 just a few days before cutting catcher A.J. Pierzynski, whom they signed in the offseason to be the starter.
Just 23 at the time, Vázquez posted a lowly 70 wRC+ with a single home run across 201 plate appearances over the remainder of the season, but he flashed the leather as well as any backstop in the league, finishing sixth in MLB among catchers who played at least 50 innings in defensive runs saved (14). A solid receiver, Vázquez also ranked in the top 10 in Fangraphs’ framing metric that season. Due to his defensive work, Vázquez accumulated 2.0 fWAR in just 55 games. With such a defensive skill set, his stock was certainly rising.
Unfortunately, an injury robbed him of the 2015 campaign, but he was back a year later, and with a new number on his uniform: the same No. 7 he’d wear for the rest of his time with the Red Sox. After a short rehab stint, he returned to Boston on April 15, and went 2-for-4 with a double and two runs scored against the Toronto Blue Jays. That type of hitting didn’t continue for the rest of the season, though, and by early July, Vázquez was sitting on a 51 wRC+ in 176 plate appearances, while primary starter Sandy León was hitting like an All-Star. Even with his defensive skills, Vázquez wasn’t doing enough for the Red Sox, who sent him back to Triple-A for the summer before calling him up for a few games to close out the regular season.
Vázquez didn’t get a chance to play in the 2016 postseason with the Red Sox, but he finally spent the entire year with the team in 2017, albeit while splitting catching duties with León. Vázquez was now taking the lion’s share of the starts behind the dish, however, thanks to the fact that, while he was once again an excellent defender (10 defensive runs saved), he also began to hit, producing a .290/.330/.404 slash line. Sure, his lack of power and walks meant he only had a 92 wRC+, but any team will take a strong defender who hits near average at catcher.
2017 was also a milestone year during Vázquez’s time with the Red Sox, as it marked his first time playing in the postseason. Unfortunately, it was a quick stay for the Red Sox, who were swept in three games in the ALDS by the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros, giving Vázquez all of eight plate playoff plate appearances. But he did get two hits and a pair of walks.
After showing so much progress on offense in 2017, Vázquez looked like he would have the starting gig at catcher all to himself in 2018. For the most part, that was true, even if he regressed heavily at the plate, finishing the year with just a 42 wRC+. However, he also broke a finger in early July and missed a hefty portion of the season, not returning until the beginning of September.
That didn’t stop the Red Sox from dominating the league, of course, so Vázquez was right there to help power them through the 2018 playoffs, where he played in all but two games, including 10 starts and the entirety of the 18-inning marathon against the Dodgers in Game Three of the World Series. Nathan Eovaldi gets a lot of (deserved) credit for gutting through so many innings in relief in that game, but Vázquez deserves just as much (if not more) for playing 11 innings behind the plate before moving to first base for the 12th inning onward.
Vázquez was back behind the plate two games later when the Red Sox clinched the series and the title of World Series champions, catching the 1-2 slider from Chris Sale that struck out Manny Machado before sprinting toward the spindly lefty and leaping into his arms to celebrate.
That 2018 season was obviously a momentous one for the franchise, but it was also a turning point in Vázquez’s career in some ways. While it felt like he had been the primary catcher for forever when he was traded last week, it wasn’t until 2018 that he really took the role over entirely (save for the injury). So when the 2019 season rolled around, there was no more platooning or time-sharing, Vázquez was the starter and everyone felt good about it. Everyone would continue to feel that way throughout the campaign, even if it wasn’t exactly a banner year for the team overall. While the Red Sox fell back to third place in the American League East, Vázquez put together his best 162-game season at the plate, posting a 102 wRC+ with 23 home runs while slashing .276/.320/.477. The power surge was the really striking aspect of his offensive profile that season, of course, as he had hit only 10 combined home runs in his career to that point.
Vázquez kept right on hitting during the pandemic shortened 2020 season. In fact, on a rate basis, it was even better than 2019. He didn’t hit as many home runs, of course, but he had a 115 wRC+, buoyed by improved bat-to-ball success as well as better patience at the plate, as he turned in an 8.5 percent walk rate. While that number is modest compared with the rest of the league, it was a huge leap for someone who usually fell in the four to six percent range.
During 2019 and 2020, as Vázquez found more offensive success, some of his defensive metrics began to lag a bit, but he remained a solid defender if nothing else. In many ways, it seemed like he was transforming from a defensive specialist who could hold his own at the plate into an above average defender who could actually hit.
The progress he made on offense didn’t continue in 2021, unfortunately, as Vázquez managed just a 77 wRC+ and six home runs in 498 plate appearances. (He had seven in 189 plate appearances in 2020). Vázquez also rated worse as a framer than in years past, but he was still solid enough on defense, and his work with the rotation can’t be undersold even if it can’t be entirely quantified. All that is to say that Vázquez was an important part of the Red Sox’s surprising run to the postseason in 2021, helping erase the memory of an atrocious last place finish in 2020. Plus, it’s a bit easier to swallow poor offensive performance from a player in the regular season when they have a heroic moment like Vázquez had last fall.
Vázquez, who will turn 32 on Aug. 21, rediscovered his offensive stroke during his time with the Red Sox this season, producing a 111 wRC+ and hitting eight home runs before being traded to the Astros. If only that would have led to more wins, then the Red Sox might still be employing him at catcher.
What-ifs and other hypotheticals won’t change the fact that Vázquez is no longer with the Red Sox. While trading him is nowhere near as egregious as the Mookie Betts deal, it still stings from a fan perspective. Vázquez was one of our guys, a pillar for this team for years, an important part of a title-winning squad, a very good defender, an underrated avoider of strikeouts (career 18.1 percent strikeout rate) and, I should mention, a great vibes guy. Maybe trading him made “business sense,” but it still seems like nonsense from where I’m sitting.