Swihart Designated for Assignment: A Confusing Move

When you begin a season 6-12, especially in a large market, fans react impulsively. If certain players get off to bad starts, people call for their heads. It is not necessarily fair, but it is the nature of a place like big-market Boston. With catcher Blake Swihart being let go after just 17 games, it indeed felt impulsive. Considering turmoil across the rotation, lack of bullpen depth, and an anemic offense, it indeed seemed time for a change. With Swihart designated for assignment, the Red Sox tried to solve a litany of issues by moving one role player, and it’ is hard to understand why.

With Swihart designated for assignment, the roster subtracted a versatile, cost-Swihart Designated for Assignmentcontrolled player yet to blossom. As Alex Cora tussled with how to use the former first round pick throughout 2018, the consensus was that he was a valuable trade chip that provided depth off the bench. The Red Sox never moved him, and it seemed to pay off in the second half after Swihart flashed his ability with increased playing time. 2019 was when Swihart was going to get a real shot at becoming the catcher of the future. Christian Vazquez would get his innings, but Swihart was going to get ample time on the diamond. But after just a handful of contests, a sputtering team decided to make a move. It just does not feel like the right one.

Swihart was never really given a clear path to a major role

With Swihart designated for assignment, it might easy to forget his origins. A first round pick, 26th overall out of New Mexico in 2011, he brought with him a Gatorade National Player of the Year award. The Red Sox drooled over his athleticism, seeing him as a steal at 26 in the first round. He surfaced in the bigs in 2015, which at the time felt a tad premature. He was solid across 84 games as a rookie, particularly showing defensive improvement as the season progressed. It was 2016 where the wheels came off. Trying to incorporate Vazquez back into the mix meant moving Swihart around the field to find playing time. After a nasty ankle injury in left field, it took him nearly two entire seasons to return to full health. From there, Swihart played spottily all over the place, and never settled in. Since the beginning of 2018, there has never been a clear spot for him, and that has now shown through with this DFA.

Removing Swihart hurts the team’s versatility

It is tough to make sense of why removing a cheap, young, versatile player was the best move. On a roster that has underwhelmed, Swihart at least provided intrigue. Despite management shifting his focus to catching in 2019, he still managed to appear at other positions. How could the Red Sox justify keeping him all last season, just to DFA him now? In comparison to other players such as Eduardo Nunez, who is relegated to the infield, why remove the guy that can move around the diamond? Sure, Swihart’s .213/.310/.385 slash line through 12 games played is unimpressive. But looking at what other role players have offered so far, it really is odd to make him the (first?) fall guy.

Perhaps there are issues off the field that the fan base does not know about. Maybe Blake Swihart was not a long term solution. Whatever the case, his days in Boston are numbered, and it remains to be seen what baseball holds for his future.

Red Sox Update: Two Days Until Opening Day

With two days until Opening Day in Seattle and with ample activity occurring in the past week, here is a quick Red Sox update. Chris Sale signed a 5-yr/$145 million contract on Saturday to remain with the team through 2024. Also on Saturday, the Red Sox made the final cuts to their bullpen. Darwinzon Hernandez was sent to Double-A Portland, while Bobby Poyner and Marcus Walden were optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket. Manager Alex Cora stated that Jenrry Mejia would not make the Opening Day roster as well.

Bullpen is set…for now

The Sox bullpen will consist of Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Colten Brewer, Heath Hembree,Red Sox Update Brian Johnson, Tyler Thornburg, Hector Velazquez and Brandon Workman to begin 2019.

On Monday, Sandy Leon, who had been with the Red Sox since 2015, was placed on waivers. Later that day, Rick Porcello was hit in the head with a ‘comebacker’ by Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. He “laughed” it off and stayed in the game. What?!?

Arguably the most substantial news happened last Wednesday. In an interview with reporters, reigning AL MVP Mookie Betts was asked about Angels outfielder Mike Trout’s new record breaking contract. “I love it here in Boston. It’s a great spot. I’ve definitely grown to love going up north in the cold. That doesn’t mean I want to sell myself short of my value.”

Also in this Red Sox Update

It was announced very early this morning that reigning World Series MVP Steve Pearce will begin 2019 on the Injured List (IL) due to a left calf injury. Sam Travis will serve as Boston’s backup first baseman in Seattle.

Just over a week ago on March 18, Cora announced that second baseman Dustin Pedroia will also begin the season on the Injured List. Pedroia could make his debut on April 9th on Boston’s first home game of the season versus Toronto.

Blake Swihart Staying in Boston: What Will His Role Be?

In what might be considered by some as a surprising move, the Boston Red Sox placed Sandy Leon on waivers this week, paving the way to a more defined role for Blake Swihart on the roster. With Swihart staying, the Red Sox give the keys to a player still yet to reach his full potential. Subtracting the third catcher means Swihart can focus his attention on being a backstop, and not bouncing around the diamond. What is the reason why the club insists on keeping New Mexico native in tow? Let’s dive in.

Swihart’s impressive athleticism makes him a rare find behind the dish

Christian Vazquez, barring injury, will see the majority of the starts behind the plate in Swihart staying2018. That might be the exact fit Swihart needs to carve out a role on the club. As a backup, Swihart brings a sweet-swinging, switch-hitting bat off the bench. His versatility by being able to move around the infield and outfield presents him opportunities everywhere. Throughout the 2018 season, Alex Cora found Swihart useful as a pinch runner, which only adds to the intrigue. A backup catcher that can pinch run? Certainly a rare commodity. Swihart has always possessed a strong throwing arm, but his improving defense at the plate has encouraged the Boston brass enough to give him the job over Leon, who was adored by the pitching staff for his game calling and pitch framing ability. But Swihart’s value extends beyond his flexibility around the field.

Noticeable offensive improvements offer a glimmer of hope for Swihart

In the first half of the 2018 season, predating Vazquez’ broken finger, Swihart staying seemed like an afterthought. Trade rumors swirled, but as teams came calling, the Red Sox stuck with him, and it paid dividends. After posting a meager .167 average through mid-summer, the former top catching prospect started to discover himself at the dish. Once he earned more regular playing time, Swihart hit .277 with a .734 OPS in the second half. These numbers would have placed him among the top offensive catchers in the league should he have qualified.

After a season where Sox catchers profiled among the league’s worst offensively across the board, Swihart brought some welcome optimism for production out of the bottom third of the lineup. He also just put together a torrid spring in Grapefruit League action, slashing .414/.433/.517 with three doubles, five RBI, and a pair of stolen bases.That is a .951 OPS through 29 at bats! Spring training or not, that is impressive, a certainly a part of the reason why Swihart staying makes sense.

More regular playing time for Swihart was a gamble the team was willing to make. They know what he has in the tank, and it was enough to waive a popular clubhouse guy and a quality backstop in Leon. Swihart staying means Vazquez will have to be at his best, because one of the game’s (former) top catching prospects is ready to reemerge.

It’s Time to Start Playing Sandy Leon More Often

After defeating the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday, the Boston Red Sox improved to 38-17. That is the best record in Major League Baseball, and good for a 2.5 game lead in the AL East. The offense continues to flourish, and this team is giving fans every reason to be excited. Lost in all this excitement is an issue at the catcher position. Specifically, the lopsided playing time between Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon.

In 2015, Vazquez underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire season. This isSandy Leon when the Sox brought in Sandy Leon from the Washington Nationals. It was not until 2016 when Vazquez and Leon began their timeshare behind the plate. Leon appeared in 78 games to Vazquez’ 57. And for good reason. Leon batted .310 with 78 hits that year and provided solid production from the catcher position. His average regressed to .225 in 85 games the next year. Vazquez capitalized, notching 99 starts and batting .290, both career-highs. The timeshare worked with success, as neither emerged as the true alpha catcher.

And now, 55 games deep into the 2018 season, Christian Vazquez has logged 39 starts to Sandy Leon’s 22. But the results are not at all a reflection of 2017. Vazquez is only batting .188 with 6 RBIs and no home runs. That average comes out to a meager 26 hits in 138 plate appearances. Meanwhile, Leon is batting .254 with more RBIs (8) and home runs (2) than his counterpart.

Granted, Vazquez has proven to be more valuable behind the plate than next to it. However, aside from steals, the numbers are nearly negligible. Vazquez is 5-12 on steal attempts with a .992 fielding percentage and three errors. In comparison, Leon is 0-8 with a .995 fielding percentage and only one error.

With very similar defensive skills, the Red Sox must look at who can contribute more to the team as a whole. With Hanley Ramirez designated for assignment last week, the team must do something to sustain the offensive production that has got them to this point. That point being the best team in Major League Baseball. Sandy Leon’s ability to hit for power, past success at the plate, and relatively superior numbers this year make him every bit worthy of more playing time.

Then there’s always Blake Swihart, but that’s a different, and much more complicated, situation.

 

The Red Sox Dead Weight Needs To Go

The Red Sox are within a game or two of capturing first place. It’s miracle in its own right if you consider the Red Sox dead weight. Pablo Sandoval isn’t panning out. Sandy Leon’s flash in the pan hitting last year isn’t carrying into this season. Rick Porcello leads the league in losses at 9. If the Red Sox are going to capture first place they need to cut some of their dead weight and they need to do it yesterday.

Red Sox Dead Weight

The Red Sox are playing great baseball. Josh Rutledge is holding his own at third. Andrew Benintendi is a contender for the Rookie of the Year Award. Mookie Betts is leading the Red Sox with 12 homers. Chris Sale is as masterful as ever. But with the Red Sox dead weight that consists of Sandoval, Porcello, and Leon, it’s hard for the team to play better, and they certainly can.

The Red Sox Are Winning the Late-Inning Games

The Red Sox were among the league leaders last year with runners left on base and runners left in scoring position. It seemed like the Red Sox gave up once they fell behind. We’re not seeing that attitude this season. Back-to-back walk-off wins against Philadelphia last week proved that the Red Sox can play under pressure. What’s even better is that players like Benintendi are the ones coming through in the clutch.

Red Sox Dead Weight Is Dragging The Team Down

It’s not always easy to cut dead weight. Players like Pablo Sandoval and Rick Porcello have such big contracts that it’s hard to find another team that’ll pick them up. In other instances no one wants them. But the Red Sox should just rip off the band-aid and shed these players before the All-Star break. Keeping them around is like putting raisins in oatmeal cookies. They just get in the way.

There’s a great scene in the film Moneyball where Billy Bean, played by Brad Pitt, goes against expert advice and cuts a number of players, including Jeremy Giambi. These players weren’t panning out. They were dead weight on the field and a distraction in the clubhouse. While the plot of Moneyball and the reality of the Red Sox are completely different, it’s a lesson that the Red Sox could learn something from. The front office needs to stop coming up with excuses and make some difficult decisions.

Christian Vazquez Should Start Full-time

The Red Sox catching situation has been interesting fr years, to say the least. This has led some to question whether or not Christian Vazquez should start full-time. I believe hevazquez should start full-time should.

At the beginning of the year, I wondered what we should expect from Sandy Leon in his second full season. He’s currently hitting under .200, which is why Vazquez has been getting playing time. Interestingly enough, this is what led to Leon starting in the first place a year ago. For it was Vazquez who struggled at the plate.

A Better Long-Term Option

The difference, to me at least, is pretty simple. Vazquez is a guy with superb defense and someone in which the Red Sox drafted and developed. Leon, although solid defensively and an average hitter, is not necessarily the long-term plan at catcher. Ultimately, Vazquez is the future catcher of this team. Therefore, why take time away from the future catcher for a guy that you don’t plan on committing to?

Right now, Vazquez is technically the starter, as Leon is only the personal catcher of Rick Porcello and Chris Sale. But to me, this doesn’t signify that the Red Sox have decided if Christian Vazquez should start full-time. Many outlets have been quick to call him the primary catcher, though I’m not convinced. If Sale, Porcello, and potentially Price are here to stay long-term as well, shouldn’t the younger guy be catching them?

Not that there is really a huge difference in their game, but rather that Vazquez is simply the better long-term option. After all, Vazquez is hitting .412 in the games he has started, so why not play him full time?

Vazquez Should Start Full-Time

However, if the Red Sox are committed to remaining consistent with their personnel moves and battery match-ups, then keep Leon where he is. But if it’s simply because they’re relying on Leon to be someone he was last year, then that’s a bad move. Vazquez should start full-time indefinitely and keep Leon as the personal catcher for one of the pitchers once the rotation is set.