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2022 In Review: How Big Of A Piece Is Reese?

Reese McGuire seems to be the Red Sox primary catcher. Is this a temporary fit, or will he be a mainstay behind home plate?

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

2022 in One Sentence

Reese McGuire withstood trade deadline comparisons to the starting catcher the Sox dealt away, and he outperformed early expectations; but he still may not be good enough to be the permanent starter at catcher.

The Positives

It’s hard to write — or even think — about McGuire, without recalling how you felt on the day the Sox acquired him from Chicago. It came in the midst of news that they were trading away Christian Vazquez, a peppy, reliable backstop who had been with us for the entirety of his career. While Vazquez was not particularly known for his power hitting, or even for his contact (as catchers seldom are), he was an exceptional defensive asset for the Red Sox. Chaim Bloom may have been given the benefit of the doubt here if not for the mixed undertones of his messaging leading up to the deadline, and also for the team’s lack of commitment in either direction. And then there was McGuire’s 2020 involvement in, to put it diplomatically, a public indecency case, which many people on social networks had a field day with. But, I’m going to do my best to stick to baseball in this review and say that, without a doubt, even on the day we traded for McGuire, that that particular trade will go down as one of few wins in Bloom’s transaction log so far. McGuire was acquired alongside PTBNL (Taylor Broadway) for Jake Diekman, a troubled veteran arm with an ERA of 4.25 that felt a lot worse.

Setting aside comparisons, there were moments that McGuire looked like an extremely viable option at catcher. He saved three runs via his framing, according to rSZ, and was never a liability. . . which is the least we can say given the defensive performance of this team last season. He had a .995 fielding percentage, for an example. He logged career highs in innings played, games played, batting average, and Wins Above Replacement, and stayed consistent in just about every other category. What’s more, he found a purpose as a starter in Boston. He had a .339 batting average after being traded, and his OPS ticked up over 300 points as he hit all three of his season’s home runs after the transaction.

The Negatives

I’m not going to beat around the bush (sorry . . . had to get a euphemism in there. . .) McGuire is not a patient batter in the least. His 4.4% walk rate could be much improved on, and his .100 isolated power metric leaves much to be desired, too. Despite coming into his own (okay, NOW I’m done), he’s simply not progressing fast enough. He’s logged a negative runs above average for each of the last three seasons, and even though he was awful in 2020, he’s just not getting better quick enough. Sure, he’s bound to be behind the curve given nearly a decade of Vazquez, but at 28, time may not be of the essence for him anymore. At $1,225,000, McGuire is cheap. But is he cheap enough for what he gives the team?

Best Moment

Another negative about McGuire was that there weren’t that many plays that one could look at and say “that’s why we have him here.” Despite the lack of anything to the contrary, the most memorable performance from McGuire was when he was standing on another part of the diamond. . . the mound. On August 23, he pitched one perfect inning against the heart of a Blue Jays lineup that had rocked everyone else all season, let alone that night. The 9-3 loss served as a reminder: McGuire would do whatever it takes to not make this team look completely foolish.

The Big Question

How likely is it Reese McGuire is our main starter at catcher this season?

I hate to say “unfortunately” at the start of the answer in this case, because of McGuire’s steady progression, but “unfortunately, probably.” And that’s not a complete slight on McGuire, it’s just that we had hopes of finding a more permanent solution. Maybe we have hopes that Connor Wong can improve on this .188 batting average of his, since he and Verdugo are now the only remaining returns on the Betts trade after Jeter Down was DFA’d. Maybe we hope that Jorge Alfaro, a proven starting catcher in this league, can tone down his strikeout rate or become more patient at the plate. Maybe we’re wondering about the prospects of a guy like Ronaldo Hernandez, who has age to his advantage and power at the plate. But for now, it looks like McGuire’s the guy.

2023 And Beyond

Who’s to say? McGuire has overcome career lows — and hey, for argument’s sake, personal lows — in 2020 to be a starter for the Red Sox in 2022. And he’s the team’s best option going into 2023, at least to start the season. He’s also just begun arbitration, so while we hope he improves steadily, at 28, it’s just not truly realistic, so at least he can be had for pretty cheap, especially for a starting catcher.

The argument, of course, is if he’s truly one of the best 30 catchers in the league, which is an argument in and of itself. His numbers look better than they did as a member of the Blue Jays or as a member of the White Sox. Furthermore, he batted notably better in a Red Sox uniform than when he played for Chicago in 2022, alluding to the fact that the upward trajectory may well be accelerating given more opportunities at the plate and behind home plate. But, for a team trying to not only dig themselves out of last place in the division but also establish themselves as a contender, can McGuire reach not only the expectations, but the reliability and allure of his predecessor? And, with any luck, can he make us stop thinking about who he’s replacing, and become Reese McGuire, everyday catcher of the present, and maybe even everyday catcher of the future?