Last week, it was revealed that Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez would be playing for Cangrejeros de Santurce of the Puerto Rican Winter League this off-season.
Since making his season debut for Santurce on Wednesday, Vazquez has gone 2-for-17 (.118) at the plate with a single, a double, a walk, and one strikeout over five games played. He has yet to see any time behind the plate for the Crabbers and has instead served as the team’s first baseman or designated hitter thus far.
For established veterans such as Vazquez, it is unusual to see them dedicate part of their off-season to playing winter ball. The Bayamon native participated in the Puerto Rican Winter League on a consistent basis while coming up through the minors and early on in his major-league career, but had not done so in nearly five years.
Under normal circumstances, the Red Sox may not have allowed Vazquez to suit up for Santurce this winter since they only recently picked up his $7 million club option for the 2022 season. As a result of the ongoing Major League Baseball lockout, however, teams are not allowed to contact their players.
Perhaps taking advantage of this loophole, Vazquez made the decision on his own volition to return to his home island with the hopes of setting in motion a plan to rebound from an underwhelming 2021 campaign.
After putting up a 105 wRC+ from 2019-2020, the 31-year-old backstop slashed an uninspiring .258/.308/.352 (77 wRC+) to go along with 23 doubles, one triple, six home runs, 49 RBIs, 51 runs scored, eight stolen bases, 33 walks, and 84 strikeouts over 138 games (458 plate appearances) this past season.
In order to bounce back in 2022, The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier reports that Vazquez “felt that his best way to hit the ground running this coming spring was to play winter ball.” As noted by Speier, the right-handed hitter “last played winter ball before 2017 — a year in which he solidified his everyday big-league role by hitting .290/.330/.404.”
While it’s unknown if the Red Sox would have approved of his decision to play in Puerto Rico this winter, Vazquez is suiting up for Santurce with some motivational factors in mind.
Not only is Vazquez coming off a down season, but he is slated to become a free agent next winter. And even though Boston prolonged Vazquez’s free agency by picking up his $7 million club option in October, the decision to do so “was not a no-brainer” as “there was internal debate over whether he was worth that salary after a down year in 2021,” according to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo.
Even in the wake of exercising Vazquez’s option earlier this fall, the Sox reportedly made an attempt to acquire Gold Glove catcher Jacob Stallings from the Pirates, who ultimately dealt him to the Marlins in late November.
With that being said, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. could be on the lookout for a controllable backstop via trade since both Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki can become free agents after next season.
At the moment, Vazquez is in line to remain as Boston’s top catcher heading into the spring. But, as Speier writes, he “is preparing for 2022 with eyes wide open about the possibility that the Sox may move on from him after the season — or perhaps even during or before it.”
(Picture of Christian Vazquez: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)