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.

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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.

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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.

Ryan Hanigan Begins Rehab Assignment with PawSox

On Monday night the PawSox had a familiar name in the lineup batting third. None other than Red Sox catcher Ryan Hanigan, who began a rehab assignement after being out since May 1st after taking a foul ball off the hand. Hanigan caught 7 innings and was lifted for pinch hitter Humberto Quintero.

With Hanigan on the 60 day disabled list will likely spend much of a 20 day rehab assignment with the PawSox befire getting called up. Obviously strength in the hand is Ryan Haniganvery important for catchers, so my guess is the Red Sox will have him play a few games back to back and assess when he will be ready to come back. With Blake Swihart and Sandy Leon handling catching duties the last six weeks the pitching staff has looked better, but Hanigan has still had an impact from the dugout serving as a mentor for his catching teammates.

Hanigan was the catcher in Monday nights game against Rochester and was the DH in Tuesday’s tilt batting third both games. Hanigan did not catch Matt Barnes who came on to pitch the 9th inning in a 3-2 PawSox loss.

With a minor foot injury leaving Blake Swihart day-to-day the Red Sox claimed catcher Erik Kratz off waivers from the Royals as he will serve as insurance likely until Hanigan is ready to return. The decision to demote Blake Swihart may be a difficult one as he has made strides on the fly, but getting regular at bats is what Swihart needs as a young player for his confidence. Sandy Leon has served as Clay Buchholz’s undeclared personal catcher the first few months of the season, could also be a roster casualty once Hanigan returns.

Should the Red Sox continue to fall out of the race Hanigan himself could be appealing to teams looking to add a veteran catcher to their roster. Hanigan is signed through 2016 for $3.7 million with a club option for 2017 worth the same number, a contract he originally signed with Tampa Bay. For now Ryan Hanigan is working is way back from injury and the Red Sox will be glab to have him back on their roster.

Blake Swihart’s Showing Potential

After hitting his first Major League career home run last Thursday night in a loss to the Minnesota Twins, the future is looking bright for Blake Swihart.  Swihart was selected by the Sox in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft, and now he is beginning to show what he could bring to the franchise.  He is a 23-year-old switch-hitting catcher who is more known for his good defense behind the plate, but if he can add some solid offense to his game, there should be nothing stopping him from becoming the future every day catcher for the Sox.

The Red Sox have been looking for someone to fill the catcher spot since the retirement ofblake swihart Boston great Jason Varitek.  Since Varitek retired in 2011, the Sox have experimented with a couple of catchers.  They even won a World Series in 2013 with two catchers, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross. But something tells me that John Farrell and the Red Sox front office would love to find a young catcher that they can lock up for years to come.

Swihart was called up from the Minors on May 2.  During his short time in the Majors, he is hitting .218 with three doubles, eight RBI, and the one home run.  Not all-star numbers or even Rookie Of The Year numbers, but they are solid stats for a catcher who is here more for his defense.  Also, with his one home run, Swihart is the youngest Red Sox catcher since Rich Gedman in 1982 to hit a home run, proving that he has a long career ahead of him.

His defensive numbers are very impressive though.  While on the Red Sox, Swihart is error-less and has caught five runners trying to steal.  In the minors, he has a .989 fielding percentage, and only recorded 26 errors in 279 games.  These are numbers that show the true potential that he brings to the table.

In a league that does not have many superstar catchers, every team is always looking for one who can be reliable defensively behind the plate, and also not be a liability as a hitter. The Red Sox and their fans know that Swihart is already reliable behind the plate, and after finally seeing the type of hitter he could become, the Sox are hoping they don’t have to look any further to find their franchise catcher.