Boston Red Sox: The Swihart Dilemma

Apr 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart (23) is struck in the face by a pop foul he failed to field against Toronto Blue Jay at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart (23) is struck in the face by a pop foul he failed to field against Toronto Blue Jay at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports /

The Boston Red Sox have valuable depth at the Catcher position, perhaps a little too much value in fact. Swihart and Vazquez are both worthy of a starting job and one of them has to go.

While watching the Boston Red Sox defeat the previously undefeated Baltimore Orioles last night, my roommate Connor (a lifelong Sox fan) and I began to ponder the thought of the Red Sox current situation at Catcher. After about an hour of going back and forth with statistics, opinions, and what-if-scenarios, we came to the realization that the Red Sox just have too much young talent at the position and that either Blake Swihart or Christian Vazquez has to get traded, and soon.

The 24 year old Swihart has taken some heated criticism throughout the first few weeks of the 2016 season for his defensive struggles. He has 3 passed balls in 6 games and while that may seem like a pretty high number for only 6 games, we have to remember that two of those three came on knuckleballs from Steven Wright. In all fairness to Swihart, Josh Thole the Catcher for the Blue Jays did the exact same thing the night before while catching for knuckleballer R.A Dickey.

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Swihart is also feeling the wrath of what has been a horrendous start to the season from the Red Sox starting rotation and just last night the team decided to call up defensive standout Christian Vazquez in hopes that he will be able to get the struggling pitching staff on the right track.

Now here’s the problem.

Swihart is 24 years old, Vazquez is 25 years old and both of them are talented enough to be starting Catchers in this league. While Swihart is only an average defender behind the plate, he brings an offensive game that is hard to find at the position. Vazquez on the other hand, is the complete opposite. He is an elite defensive Catcher, probably top 5 in the game already, but he struggles at the plate and doesn’t bring much – if anything – offensively.

The Boston Red Sox need to choose what they value more from their starting Catcher, offense or defense, and they need to make a move. Because holding on to both of them and pitting them up against each other is only going to hurt their confidence, diminish their value, and in turn have a negative effect on the team.

Boston Red Sox
Mar 9, 2015; Jupiter, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez (7) runs back into the dugout during a spring training baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

During the offseason and throughout the spring the feeling surrounding the Red Sox was that Betts, Boegarts, and Swihart were untouchable, and to be honest many fans including myself were okay with that. They’re all under 25 years old, have an enormous amount of potential, and could be the core for this Red Sox team for years to come. Although my feelings on that matter haven’t changed when it comes to Mookie or Xander, I have been forced to change my opinions on Swihart. While it pains me to say, because I am a huge Blake Swihart fan, I think the Sox need to trade the Catcher sooner rather than later.

Now, before you break out your torches and pitchforks and tell me I’m crazy just hear me out for a minute.

What do the Red Sox need most right now?

If your answer isn’t “another solid starting pitcher” then you must not be watching the same team as the rest of us. It’s obvious that this rotation consisting of an ace, and four number 4 starters is going to be a problem for the Boston Red Sox this season. The starting rotation currently has a combined ERA of 6.68, thus making them the worst starting rotation in Baseball. If it weren’t for the stellar bullpen and solid offensive production chances are this team would be 0-8 instead of 4-4.

The only way the Red Sox are going to have a chance to acquire a number 2 pitcher, or someone who could be the 1A to Price, is by assembling a trade package with Blake Swihart as the centerpiece.

I have no doubts about Blake Swihart. I think he is going to be an All Star and a standout at the position for years to come. Years from now, we’ll probably look back and say “man, why did we ever trade that guy?” but then we’ll remember that after trading him we solidified the starting rotation and once again became title contenders.

The Red Sox have the offense to compete with anyone in the league. Aside from Jackie Bradley Jr. who still may come around to being a solid Major League hitter, every player in the lineup is a threat to get on base. They have a solid mix of contact hitters such as Pedroia, Boegarts, and Holt to go along with guys who can drive the ball out of the ballpark like Ortiz, Hanley, and Shaw when he comes around. Then you have a guy in Mookie Betts who seems like he can just flat out do it all.

Notice who I didn’t mention? Blake Swihart.

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The reason I didn’t mention Swihart is not because he’s not a good offensive player, but because they don’t need him offensively. The team can score runs without him. They have and they will. Swihart is not going to hit any higher than 7th in the current lineup and at this point another solid starting pitcher is more valuable than a productive hitter in the 7 slot.

The Sox should move Swihart while he still has top value, and by splitting the Catching duties between Swihart and Vazquez the team is putting that value in jeopardy.

Sure, Vazquez isn’t going to be a game changer offensively and most likely he’ll be hitting in the 9 spot but as I mentioned before, he is an elite defensive Catcher and is more than capable of being a starting Catcher on a contending MLB team.

Take a guy like Yadier Molina for example. He has hit double digit homeruns in only 3 of his 13 seasons in the MLB. His season high for RBI’s is only 80 and he’s a career .280 hitter, yet he’s a 7x All Star and is considered one of the top Catchers in the MLB because of his abilities behind the plate and his 8 Gold Glove awards.

Vazquez is still a step down from Molina as a hitter, but defensively they are comparable and I’m willing to bet any amount of money that Molina would still be the starting Catcher for the Cardinals and still be an All Star if his career average was down near .250 or .260.

Salvador Perez is another example. A 3x Gold Glove winner, a 3x All Star and in 2 of those 3 seasons he only hit .260

Swihart is a better offensive Catcher than both of those guys in my opinion, but I don’t see Blake winning many Gold Gloves in the near future. Vazquez is a Gold Glove type Catcher, and with the offense that the Red Sox currently have a Gold Glover behind the plate is more valuable than an above average offensive Catcher.

In no way am I trying to throw shade on Blake Swihart. As I have said before, I’m a huge Swihart fan and before the season started I was one of those people who was saying hell no to any trade that involved the 24 year old Catcher. But for the sake of the team and to ensure that this team is successful sooner rather than later, I believe their best option is to keep Vazquez and package Swihart with some other talented prospects to acquire another Starting Pitcher.

Who that Pitcher might be is another debate. It’s going to take more than just Blake Swihart to acquire the likes of someone like Sonny Gray, Chris Sale, or Tyson Ross. The Sox could try to swing a deal for one of the Indians starters like Carrasco or Danny Salazar but they too will demand a return of more than just Swihart. Nonetheless, Blake is a conversation starter for any of those deals and the Sox have a deep farm system with many talented prospects giving them a lot of assets at their disposal when it comes to the trade market.

Like many other scenarios in Baseball and seemingly many other scenarios within the Red Sox organization, only time will tell. But the longer the team waits and the more they split catching duties between their two young talented Catchers, the more the value diminishes and in turn makes a deal that much harder to make.

The Red Sox need to improve their starting rotation and they need to do it soon. No one in Boston wants to see another last place finish from the beloved Sox.