Should Boston Prepare To Move Past Christian Vázquez?

As the Red Sox move on to the American League Championship Series, the team may not have the talent to contend with teams like the Astros. Some could say the same thing about the Rays, but the Red Sox were fortunate Tampa Bay’s staff was shot after injuries plagued them throughout the season. The Red Sox have All-Stars talents like Rafael Devers, Xander Bogarts, and J.D. Martinez, but they need better role players who provide depth in October if they are truly going to contend each year. Successful teams don’t often undergo a complete rebuild, instead choosing to go through mini-rebuilds and focus on positions of need. This avoids 70-win seasons, ​​something Boston sports fans have not been accustomed to in the last two decades. It is no mystery that they need pitching help, but a more overlooked position of need is at catcher, which could help improve the staff as well.

Boston’s primary catcher and recent hero, Christian Vázquez, has had many memorable moments, none more important than his walk-off home run on Sunday. Despite this, it may be time for the Red Sox to part ways with their veteran. At age 31, Vázquez has shown signs of aging this season, and the Red Sox know this too. In the Wild Card game against the Yankees, the biggest game of the year, the Red Sox turned to backup Kevin Plawecki to get the job done behind the dish. Similarly on Sunday, Plawecki got the start while Vazquez came in to pinch-hit. The Red Sox need to start planning for their long-term future, which means seriously considering their better and younger options at catcher.

Vázquez did not show good recognition of the strike zone in 2021. He hit .258/.308/.352, good for just a 77 wRC+. In terms of percentile rankings, Vázquez was in the bottom eighth of average exit velocity, the third percentile in xwOBA, and the 19th percentile in BB%. This is likely because his excellent contact approach (89th percentile in whiff%) greatly sacrifices power. Alex Cora, the Red Sox skipper, has previously mentioned that Vázquez is not a power hitter and has stated that if he chases power, he could end up decreasing what little production he has (don’t let one swing of the bat fool you). Despite lackluster hitting numbers this season, he caught more games than any catcher in the majors for an elite offensive team that currently finds itself in the ALCS.

One might think with all the playing time and the abysmal hitting stats, Vázquez would be a great defender. This is not the case. Baseball Savant ranks Vázquez 30th in their “Runs Extra Strikes” statistic with a value of 1. This means he does not steal any strikes and virtually does nothing (that appears in the stat sheet) to help his pitcher, evidenced by his strike rate percentage of 48.9% (23rd in the league). The Red Sox pitching staff relies heavily on strikeouts, and it would be highly beneficial for them to throw to a catcher who can steal extra strikes on the fringes of the zone where they frequently live.

Here’s some of Vázquez’s defensive metrics, per Baseball Savant, with a “Runs Extra Strikes” stat of 1 in 2021.

It is evident that Vázquez is not playing up to par, and he’s not likely to get better with age, but what options do the Red Sox have? The answer is quite a few. One option that has seen more playing time out of the DH role is Plawecki. As mentioned before, Cora turned to him in the pivotal Wild Card Game in which he produced an opposite-field double off Gerrit Cole. Plawecki is almost as long in the tooth as Vázquez but is still producing at the plate and can serve as a veteran presence if a rookie were to be brought from the minor leagues. Plawecki was better than Vázquez in nearly every hitting metric this year, although in fewer attempts. Unfortunately, Plawecki’s defense has also resulted in a measly 1 “Runs Extra Strikes” value, as seen below.

The Red Sox likely have to look in-house at their three highly rated catching prospects — Nathan Hickey, Ronaldo Hernández, and Connor Wong — to get the long-term solution to their catching situation. Wong’s name may seem familiar because he was involved in the blockbuster trade that sent Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.

Hickey was a fifth-round pick by Boston just this summer. MLB.com says, “Hickey’s best tool is his raw power, which grades as at least plus thanks to his bat speed and the loft in his left-handed stroke, but he’s more than just a masher. He has a mature approach at the plate and could develop into a solid hitter, though his swing can get long and too uphill at times.” They also mention that he struggles behind the plate, including blocking the ball and throwing baserunners out. He is a bit further from the league than the other guys and is probably the least likely to be called up even with his prospect pedigree.

Next is the 23-year-old Hernández, who was signed by Tampa Bay in 2014 after being a highly rated prospect out of Columbia. His stock eventually plummeted, and he was dealt to the Red Sox. Hernández ranks 10th on FanGraphs’ Red Sox prospect list thanks to his power, which he showed by hitting 16 home runs with an .831 OPS in the upper minors this year. Eric Longenhagen notes Hernández “has big raw power and run-stopping, plus-plus arm strength, but his approach his bad…”

Lastly there is Wong, who Longenhagen ranks 21st in the organization. He is the only one of the trio to be called up to the majors; he was even on the crucial Wild Card roster when the Red Sox beat the Yankees. During his cup of coffee, he had 13 ABs with four hits and a .357 OBP. This year at Triple-A, he hit .256 in 199 ABs with a .288 OBP and .442 SLG. Although these stats may seem pedestrian, we can’t forget that he is only a year removed from his breakout 2019 campaign after there was no 2020 season. His defensive play is average, but he is a converted catcher who is learning the position quickly.

Additionally, Wong is quicker than most catchers and has experience at other infield positions. Under Plawecki’s wing, Wong will get more experience and will hopefully get better behind the dish. To make things easier, Wong and Hernández are already on the 40-man roster and don’t need to be added in the offseason. Overall, I’d support a Wong/Plawecki battery next year, given he’s the most likely to get called to the bigs.

The Red Sox have various options for replacing Vázquez, so if the club decides to part ways with their long-standing catcher, how should they do it?

Vázquez has one more year on his deal worth $7 million, or the Red Sox could buy him out for a measly $250,000. If the Red Sox are going to get rid of Vázquez, their options are buying him out or trying to sign and trade him. The $250,000 buyout seems to make the most sense at first glance, as $250,000 is not a lot of money for this team.

Some would argue he could be used as a trade piece this offseason given his veteran presence, relatively cheap contract, and the aging catching free-agent market this year. Free-agent backstops include the 34-year-old Yan Gomes, the 38-year-old Robinson Chirinos, and the 39-year-old Jeff Mathis. This means the Red Sox may be able to trade Vázquez for middling players due to his age, though they may have to pick up part of his contract.

Boston fans should appreciate whatever production they get from Vázquez during the playoffs knowing that this could be his last year with the team. This offseason is a big one for the Red Sox, who are currently within striking distance of becoming AL Champions. The front office will still need to make a few upgrades for the 2022 season and the team’s long-term future, and they aren’t afraid to shake things up by getting rid of a fan favorite.





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Glenn Williams
Member
Glenn Williams

“This avoids 70-win seasons, ​​something Boston sports fans have not been accustomed to in the last two decades.”

The Sox have finished last four times in the last ten years, with 69 wins a low point in 2012.

weekendatbidens
Member
weekendatbidens

The front office holding Vazquez last year was a missed opportunity. They will look anew or at a team-friendly contract. Moving away from Vazquez is risking in that time is required for building rapport among the pitchers. Plawecki could bridge some of that gap. The Sox best outcome is to follow how the Rays dealt with Zunino. Then, the Sox should look for the next guy.