Christian Vazquez: The Pitcher Whisperer

Hey Dave, are your pitchers struggling early on this season? Let me introduce you to Christian Vazquez, also known as The Pitcher Whisperer.

It’s no secret that the current Red Sox rotation struggled right out of the gate posting an American League worst 7.32 ERA thru the first 9 games of the season. Pitcher WhispererIt’s also no secret that last May the Sox had to rush Blake Swihart to the major leagues after losing both Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan to injury. And now, with a healthy Vazquez returning to form after recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox had no choice but to bring him back to help stabilize this disaster of a rotation.

Pitcher Whisperer Gets Results

In his first major league start since returning from Tommy John surgery, Vazquez showed Red Sox Nation why he’s highly regarded as one of the top catchers in the game today. Not only did he help guide Porcello to his 2nd win of the year (6.1 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 1 B and 8 K’s), but he also showed us his cannon of an arm by gunning down Tulowitski in the 1st inning with a nasty pick-off at 1st.

Up next, David Price who is known to get off to a slow start in the month of April (4.70 ERA in April since 2013) looked to have some good chemistry with Vazquez behind the plate. Price only allowed 2 ER in 7.0 IP, while striking out 9 Jays en-route to his 2nd win of the season.

Now I’m not saying Vazquez was 100% responsible for the back-to-back wins against the Jays, but it’s hard not to notice how the pitchers respond to his game calling ability. In my opinion, Porcello looked like a completely different pitcher confidence wise; he was throwing more of his sinker and attacking the strike zone. Nothing against Swihart by any means, but clearly pitchers seem to perform better with Vazquez as their battery-mate.

Back in the winter of 2015, during the Red Sox Winter Weekend, Joe Kelly had nothing but praise for the young defensive catcher, and even went as far to  compare him to his former teammate and catcher in St. Louis, Yadier Molina. “Mini Yadi. That’s his nickname. I call him that”, said Kelly.

Now obviously that’s a pretty big comparison for someone who has only been in the major leagues for less than 2 full seasons, but it’s not far-fetched. Christian is a special talent no doubt about that and as time goes on he will only become that much better. But in the mean time the Sox don’t need him to be “Yadier 2.0” they just need him to be Christian Vazquez, the Pitcher Whisperer for the Boston Red Sox.

 

Red Sox Offseason Preview: Who Stays, Who Goes

The Red Sox are poised to have an interesting offseason, to say the least. Most of Red Sox Nation wouldn’t argue that the Red Sox need to look for pitching help during the offseason, but the question is how do they get said pitching help? There are a couple notable free agents available, namely David Price and Johnny Cueto. There are also a few players that could be available via trade, notably Matt Harvey, who has been mentioned a few times in connection with the Red Sox.Red Sox offseason

If they do look for a trade, which is entirely possible, the question becomes who would the team be willing to trade to get an ace or a strong reliever? It’s a question that the Red Sox will have to answer because I’m sure there will be interest in making a deal for one or more of the Red Sox promising young players. Here’s who will stay and who might go when this Red Sox offseason

Who Stays:

David Ortiz: David is one of the few that won’t be leaving. He’s 39, and at this point, it’s hard to see Ortiz finishing his career anywhere besides Fenway Park.

Dustin Pedroia: He’s the co-face of the Red Sox with David Ortiz at the moment, and he’ll be the sole face of the team when Ortiz retires. Plus, he has 6 years left on the 8-year deal he signed back in 2013 and there will be be few teams willing to take on that deal.

Mookie Betts: One of the Red Sox best young talent’s, it’s very difficult to imagine the team letting him go unless they get a very, very good return.

Xander Bogaerts: Like Betts, a very good young player, and unlikely to be traded.

Who Goes:

Blake Swihart: With Christian Vazquez coming back, Blake Swihart could be on a lot of team’s radars. I’m sure he could get a lot in return if the Red Sox do decide to trade him.

Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval: After a disappointing first year for both guys, the team could be looking to dump their massive contracts, similar to the deal they pulled of with the LA Dodgers that sent Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to LA.

Allen Craig: After under-performing for a season and a half, the team could be looking to deal him before next season.

Clay Buchholz: Clay has an option for next season, and even if the team picks it up, he could still be dealt. He has had injury problems through the years, and the team has to decide whether or not he is worth the injury troubles he has.

This is how I see the Red Sox offseason playing out. Of course, this is all speculation, and I could be wrong. We’ll have to wait and see, but one thing is for certain—this will be an interesting Red Sox offseason!

The Red Sox Catcher Dilemma

The Red Sox have some decisions to make in the off-season. For starters, they have to decide who they want to bring on board as an ace, if they want to bring on another ace at all. They have to decide where they want to look for bullpen help as well. One decision that has been flying under the radar a bit is—who will be their everyday catcher? Blake Swihart has performed well in 2015, but the Red Sox went into the 2015 season assuming Christian Vazquez would be their regular catcher with Sandy Leon as the backup.

Of course, Vazquez was lost for the season when he had Tommy John surgery back inRed Sox catcher April, which opened the door for Blake Swihart to get the majority of the reps at catcher this season. Swihart performed pretty well at the plate, but Red Sox pitchers had a 4.51 ERA when throwing to Swihart this season, while pitchers had a 3.71 ERA throwing to Vazquez last season in limited action at the end of last season. That takes into account the fact that the Red Sox had already traded away Lon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Peavy.

Blake Swihart played well offensively, hitting .274 with 5 home runs in 84 games, so I would say he has a slight edge on Vazquez in that respect. Christian Vazquez has a .240 average in 55 career games and only 1 home run so far, but Vazquez has the edge defensively over Swihart.

So, who will start in 2016? It’s hard to say, but I would give the edge to the defensive-minded catcher if it came down to one of them, which is Vazquez. However, I think the best case scenario would be to have them split time. If it were me, I would start Vazquez for the majority of the games, but put Swihart in when we need a little pop in the lineup.

Another distinct possibility is one of them, most likely Swihart, gets traded to bring in an ace or bullpen help. I think Swihart will get the short straw in a possible deal because if it comes down to it, the Red Sox will choose the better defensive catcher in Vazquez, and have Ryan Hanigan and Sandy Leon as back ups. I could be wrong, but time will tell.

 

Matt Harvey an Option for Red Sox

Since it’s never too early to start thinking off-season trades, especially with the Red Sox out of contention for the 2015 season, here’s an idea thrown out by Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe: Xander Bogaerts for Matt Harvey. It’s an interesting option, and it should be interesting to see how many Red Sox fans will be for it. Yes, Xander is one of the best young shortstops in the game, but Matt Harvey is one of the best young pitchers in the game right now.

So, what are the pros and cons of this deal? On the positive side, Matt Harvey is a Matt Harveytalented pitcher, and he is also under contract through 2019, according to the Globe, and would be a team-friendly acquisition money-wise. Matt Harvey, in my mind, is one of the big reasons why the Mets are where they are right now, 5 games ahead of the Washington Nationals atop the NL East. He’s been that good for them.

On the flip side, the Globe points out that he can be a pain and also very cocky, but they Globe is also right in pointing out that the Red Sox have had success dealing with egos like a Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez, to an extent. You take his innings limit (which is set at 180 right now), for example. Matt Harvey has come out staunchly against being shut down with the New York Mets in the midst of a playoff race, which is understandable. I would hate the idea of being shut down as well in his position. He wants to do what he can to help his team win.

But I digress. My point is, the Red Sox could handle Matt Harvey’s sometimes-cocky attitude well because they have done it well in the past

Is the proposed Xander-for-Matt deal fair? Yes, since the Mets need offense and we need pitching, but how many fans would want to give up one of our best young players? I’m guessing not many.  Along with Mookie Betts, Blake Swihart, and now Jackie Bradley Jr., many fans consider Bogaerts “untradable,” even for a talented young pitcher like Matt Harvey.

I would love to see Harvey in a Sox uniform, and they do need an ace, but there are other options that wouldn’t involve trading away one of our future stars. And the Red Sox will explore said other options as well. I don’t think Dave Dombrowksi will let the team go to Fort Myers next year without an ace.

A Young Core has Finally Arrived for the Red Sox

Entering the 2015 season, much was written about the Red Sox’ new core. The arrival of marquee players such as Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, coupled with the healthy return of Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia, theoretically gave Boston a robust nucleus around which to fashion a contender. However, as the season unfurled, and as those players merged into the background through injury or poor performance, a cadre of young starlets rose to the fore and took command of a rudderless ship. Now, the future finally looks bright for the Red Sox, with homegrown talent leading the way.

Red Sox

Indeed, the foremost leader on this team is now Xander Bogaerts. Sure, Pedroia embodies what it means to represent the Red Sox, and David Ortiz is still a towering icon of Boston sports history, but Xander stays on the field more than Pedey and has more influence on the overall game than Papi. The 22-year old shortstop has been phenomenal this season, finally showing Red Sox Nation his full ability after so many years of uncertainty. Bogaerts is currently hitting .319/.349/.414 with 5 home runs, 26 doubles and 63 RBI. Xander also leads all American League shortstops in Fangraphs’ WAR, which is a testament to his improved defense and increased understanding of the game. In every respect, the Aruban is maturing into the fresh face of a changing Red Sox franchise.

Mookie Betts, the electric outfielder, is right there alongside him. Also just 22-years old, Mookie has become a fan favorite this year, with his potent blend of speed and hand-eye coordination enthralling the masses. Betts has a .275/.319/.454 slash line with 13 home runs, 31 doubles, 64 RBI and 17 stolen bases, making him one of the most dangerous and dynamic players in the Majors. With a fine glove and ever-developing bat, he figures to roam the Fenway lawn for many years to come, as a bright jewel in the Red Sox crown.

Red Sox

Boston’s youthful spine is completed by Blake Swihart, the 23-year old catcher who has quietly enjoyed a very strong season since being promoted in May. Swihart struggled initially, with defensive deficiencies also having a negative impact on his offensive output. Before the All-Star Game, Blake hit just .241 with a poor .279 on-base percentage, as Red Sox fans worried. However, in the second half, Swihart has totally transformed his game, hitting .348 and reaching base at a gaudy .412 clip. Among all 247 Major League players with at least 100 second half plate appearances, only 11 have a higher OBP than Blake, placing him in the top 4.8% of batters. For the Red Sox, that certainly bodes well for the future.

The surge in performance from Bogaerts, Betts and Swihart is undoubtedly the biggest positive to be salvaged from this disastrous Red Sox season. However, even below that elite tier of homegrown players, the team has been buoyed by strong showings from its younger members. Jackie Bradley Jr. has showed rare competence with the bat; Rusney Castillo has benefited from continuous playing time to look like a more polished Major League player; and Eduardo Rodriguez has, on occasion, showed glimpses of true brilliance.

Thus, despite a poor won-loss record and another finish in the American League basement, Dave Dombrowski has inherited an organization with exceptional potential. We’ve waited years for this homegrown core to matriculate, remaining optimistic as Jackie battled the Mendoza Line and Blake had trouble framing pitches. The front office always promised this spine of young talent would be worth the wait; that it would one day triumph through adversity. In 2015, we’ve witnessed its long-awaited fruition, as the kids have taken the burden from the vets, giving Dombrowski a strong platform from which to build a winner moving forward.

Padres Demote Will Middlebrooks to Triple-A

The career of Will Middlebrooks has taken another sour turn with the Padres demoting the third baseman to Triple-A on Wednesday as he continues to struggle at the plate.

When the Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval last winter, Middlebrooks spot on the roster was immediately in question. Will MiddlebrooksMiddlebrooks was traded to the Padres for Ryan Hanigan just before Christmas, in one of the smaller moves the Padres made this past winter after adding Justin Upton, Wil Myers and James Shields. Middlebrooks was the Padres Opening Day third baseman.

After making his debut with the Red Sox in 2012 the Bobby V year, Middlebrooks has not been able to make a real consistent stay in the major leagues. He claimed the third base job from Kevin Youkilis that year and was on track to be the third baseman of the Red Sox for years to come. He got hit by a pitch on his wrist late that season which cost him the rest of the season. In 2013 he was up and down with the Red Sox and even started games in the playoffs until Xander Bogaerts took over at third base, while Stephen Drew was still on the team.

In 2014 Middlebrooks was demoted to Pawtucket once the Sox signed Drew for a second time and rejoined the team after the fire sale that saw the Red Sox trade Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew. Last season with the Red Sox Middlebrooks hit a Mike Napoliesque .191 with only 2 home runs and 19 RBI. Sox brass wanted Middlebrooks to play winter ball but he declined.

With another slow start this season hitting .212 with the Padres he was demoted to El Paso after already losing his third base job to Yangervis Solarte. Middlebrooks had so much potential with the Red Sox. He had 15 home runs in his first 287 at bats in the big leagues and even hit for a decent average hitting .288. Many question the moves of Ben Cherington this past off-season but it seems the Red Sox got the better end of this deal.

Ryan Hanigan may not have been a flashy name but he is a major league catcher and the Red Sox would have forced Blake Swihart’s development even further after the injury to Christian Vasquez, something they may have done with Middlebrooks.