Two years ago last month, the Red Sox and catcher Christian Vazquez reached agreement on a three-year, $13.35 million contract extension that included a club option for 2022.
Since that time, Vazquez, now 29 years old, has had the worst and best seasons of his major-league career in several categories, including OPS, wRC+, and fWAR.
In an injury-riddled 2018 campaign, Vazquez slashed a measly .207/.257/.283 with three home runs and 24 runs driven in in just 80 games played. He missed most of July and all of August due to a right pinky fracture.
That led many skeptics to believe that giving the Puerto Rican backstop an extension may have been a mistake, but he rebounded in a tremendous way in 2019.
Emerging as the everyday catcher, Vazquez posted a .276/.320/.477 slash line to go along with a career-high 23 home runs and career-high 72 RBI over 138 games played.
Among the 14 major-league catchers who accrued at least 400 plate appearances last year, Vazquez ranked third in fWAR (3.5). Defensively, he also ranked third among qualified catchers in FanGraphs’ Defense metric (22.2) while throwing out 38% of the 58 base runners who tried to steal against him. That effort behind the plate was good enough for Vazquez to be named a Gold Glove Award finalist, although Indians backstop Roberto Perez was the won that received the honor in the end.
Still, a three-win season in the official first year of that aforementioned three-year extension is nothing to hang your head on.
Vazquez is set to earn approximately $4.2 million this year headed into his age-29 season. Although he’ll likely make less than that in the event of a shortened or cancelled season, that amount currently ranks 16th among salaried catchers, per Spotrac. In other words, if Vazquez continues to make strides offensively and stays consistent as a defender, that could be a bargain.
However, in the event that Vazquez takes a step back if baseball is played in 2020, would it be out of the realm of possibilities for the Red Sox to look to upgrade at catcher this winter?
The 2020-2021 free agency class includes names such as Mookie Betts, George Springer, Marcus Semien, Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer, and maybe most importantly in this scenario, All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.
Realmuto is set to become a free agent for the first time this winter after spending the 2019 and 2020 seasons with the Phillies.
Coming off a year in which he finished 14th in National League MVP voting while picking up his first Gold Glove and second Silver Slugger Awards, Realmuto is without a doubt one of, if not the best backstop in baseball at the moment.
A client of CAA Sports, Realmuto, who is a little more than five months younger than Vazquez, is likely to demand a lucrative contract if he does indeed hit the open market later this year.
The Phillies, led by general manager and Medfield native Matt Klentak, are probably going to be intent on retaining his services. But, if the Red Sox, led by another Ivy League graduate in the form of Chaim Bloom, want to make a splash this winter, which they should have the ability to do now that they got under the luxury tax threshold, Realmuto could be an appealing option.
As noted great Twitter follow @RedSoxStats points out, Realmuto “forms a great long-term catcher situation with [prospect] Connor Wong. You get the best catcher in the game [who] won’t be a contract monstrosity, [and you] can auction off two years of Vazquez.”
If another club views the remaining two years on Vazquez’s deal after 2020 as a relative bargain for a quality starting catcher, the plan for the Sox could then pertain to “bringing in an elite player and limiting the spread of mediocrity across the team” in a potential trade for Vazquez.
As unlikely as it looks now, the idea of Bloom and Co. pursuing Realmuto and shopping Vazquez this winter is certainly something to think about. If he performs in 2020 as he did in 2019, Vazquez may just be the safe way to go thanks to his relatively cheap salary, but if you have the chance to acquire the services of one of the best players at their respective positions, you at least have to do your due diligence, right?