It didn’t have to be this way.
Usually, with catchers, you want to put your two best out there on the 25-man roster. That’s neither new nor groundbreaking advice. Unfortunately, the Red Sox seem to not want to heed that counsel. Unsurprisingly, they looked like they were on their way to having near-zero production from that position, especially early on in the season.
It seems blasphemous right now, with all the offense and whatnot, but it’s worth mentioning that the Red Sox have had some issues with managing their group of catchers. Sure, at first, that’s not that big of a deal. Some teams win in spite of problems like this, and so far, the Red Sox have done so impressively despite a position that looked doomed to fail in May.
At the beginning of the season, the two catchers the Red Sox put on the 25-man roster were Blake Swihart and Ryan Hanigan. Not a bad pairing, considering Swihart’s youth and Hanigan’s veteran-ness and decent defense. Neither of them survived the season without being substantially injured. Hanigan got hit with ankle tendinitis in August and didn’t come back until roster expansion, and Swihart, well, it hasn’t been pretty for him.
You already know the story. He starts off scuffling a bit, then the Red Sox move him to the outfield, and he hurts this ankle so bad that he’s out for the rest of the season. I’ve talked about this before earlier this year, but the question still remains: why? What was the point of making him an outfielder? There was no need to risk a blue-chip catching prospect like that, especially one you foresee as being behind the plate for you for a long, long time. That’s aggravating, to say the least.
It’s gotten to the point where you suspect the Red Sox don’t know what they have in catchers. Take Christian Vazquez, for example. He came on strong early in the season, but when his bat cooled and his defense turned out to be more disappointing than any of us expected, he was sent down on July 4th. Not the result anyone wanted, but an expected move considering the (hopefully temporary) degradation of the skillset.
Then, on August 5th, the Red Sox claim Bryan Holaday off waivers and put him on the 25-man as a reaction to Hanigan going on the disabled list. This is where things get kind of…strange. Holaday has a big arm, but that’s really it, and he’s basically been the personal catcher of Drew Pomeranz for reasons unknown. What’s the point with him, then? If he’s nothing more than a guy who goes out there every fifth day for one specific starter, wouldn’t Vazquez be a more sensible solution? He’s 1. already on your roster, 2. proven to at least be a competent defender, and 3. not a waste of resources, even if it is a seemingly small amount of them. He could also be Pomeranz’s personal catcher, for all intents and purposes. Holaday and Pomeranz had never even played together, so this isn’t like a Jon Lester and David Ross thing, where they liked being their own battery so much that they practically became a package deal. It’s really odd.
Vazquez does everything you got Holaday to do, and didn’t require a waiver claim. If the Red Sox really wanted a non-impactful bat with acceptable defense, even a early-season Vazquez would’ve done better than what we’ve seen from Holaday. It’s simply baffling that he’s still on the roster now, of all times. I get that you want catcher depth, but running three deep is good enough for most teams. You don’t need a fourth.
At this point, we can at least be happy for Sandy Leon’s miraculous step forward, because if he hadn’t, the Red Sox might’ve been stuck with the worst position in the major leagues, productively speaking. The sudden offensive explosion has masked a ton of bad decisions that led to Leon needing to be a key cog. Don’t get me wrong, I love Sandy, but you can’t deny that him being hotter than a supernova for two months made the catcher position seem a lot better than we expected it to be.
All this really makes you wonder if the Red Sox know what they’re doing with their catchers. They’ve completely mishandled their prized prospect, who is now an outfielder due to an overreaction to left field injuries, and claimed a guy who is a slightly worse version of a catcher they already have so they can play him over that very same catcher. It’s not all that understandable, even with the added benefit of hindsight. A lot of these decisions look like kneejerk reactions to temporary problems. Just because Ryan Hanigan’s going to the DL for a bit doesn’t mean you need to go get Holaday and roll him out there, though admittedly it cost little to acquire Holaday. Vazquez already does what he does, and he could use the reps.
The Red Sox’s front office has put together a great team, that much is true. But man, they cannot handle catchers at all, and that might just be the most damning thing you can say about the FO so far this year. Relative to their success, that’s acceptable. But when you lose a prospect for a year because of it, something has to change before heading into 2017.
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