What Red Sox Do at Catcher This Offseason Should Be Fascinating

Using FanGraphs’ WAR metric, the Red Sox had one of the best catching groups in the American League in 2020 (1.7 fWAR), trailing only the White Sox (3.0 fWAR) and Royals (2.7 fWAR) for the league lead in that category.

The two backstops who saw just about all the playing time behind the plate for Boston this past season — Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki — both put together solid campaigns in their own right.

Vazquez, 30, clubbed seven home runs in 47 games in addition to posting a wRC+ of 115 and leading all major-league catchers in FanGraphs’ Defense metric (8.3).

Plawecki, meanwhile, emerged as quite the serviceable backup with his new club as the 29-year-old slashed .341/.393/.463 with one homer and 17 RBI over 24 games and 89 plate appearances.

Excluding Jonathan Lucroy, who was released in September, the only other true catcher to see playing time for the Sox in 2020 was Deivy Grullon.

The 24-year-old out of the Dominican Republic was claimed off waivers by Boston from the Phillies on September 3 and only managed to appear in one game as the Red Sox’ 29th man in a doubleheader against Philadelphia on September 8.

Grullon went 1-for-3 with a walk and run driven in during the nightcap of that twin bill against his former team before he was optioned back down to the alternate training site in Pawtucket. SoxProspects currently lists Grullon as the Red Sox’ 30th-ranked prospect.

All three of Vazquez, Plawecki, and Grullon are already on Boston’s 40-man roster, but another backstop is expected to be added to said roster in the coming weeks. His name? Connor Wong.

One of the three players acquired from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts/David Price trade from this past February, the 24-year-old Wong is eligible for this winter’s Rule 5 Draft, which means he would have to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster before November 20 in order to be protected from that.

Wong being added to the 40-man seems just about imminent at this point. Not only does the former third-round pick offer some versatility at different infield positions, according to The Athletic’s Peter Gammons, he also is “considered by [Jason] Varitek and their organization as a rising elite pitcher-first catcher.” On top of that, as noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, “the Sox didn’t acquire [Wong] just to risk losing him.”

So here we have four appealing catchers, all of whom are already within the organization, which means we have not even touched upon catchers from outside the organization who could join the Red Sox in 2021.

One name in particular that comes to mind here would be none other than J.T. Realmuto, who is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career this winter.

Often regarded as the best catcher in baseball (BCIB), Realmuto would be quite the get for Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. The 29-year-old is coming off a 2020 campaign with the Phillies in which he posted a .266/.349/.491 slash line to go along with 11 home runs and 32 RBI over 47 games played.

In addition to his superb offensive efforts, Realmuto is quite the defensive backstop as well, especially when it comes to pitch framing and throwing out runners. Just last year, the Oklahoma native threw out 47% of the runners who tried to steal against him, which was the best caught-stealing rate in baseball.

Even if the Phillies prioritize getting Realmuto to sign a new contract to keep him in Philadelphia, there may only be a handful of clubs who would be able to spend big on someone of Realmuto’s caliber coming off this pandemic-induced, 60-game season. The Red Sox would obviously be one of those clubs.

Of course, the Sox adding Realmuto only makes sense if Vazquez is not in Bloom’s future plans. The Puerto Rico native, who is signed through 2021 and has a team option attached for 2022, was linked to the Rays in the days leading up to the 2020 trade deadline back in August, but nothing ever came out of those rumored talks. Still, as again noted by Cotillo, Boston dealing Vazquez this winter “could definitely happen.”

As currently constructed, Vazquez and Plawecki stand as the Red Sox’ top two catchers at the major-league level, while the likes of Grullon and Wong could both begin the 2021 season at Triple-A Worcester.

Realmuto landing with Boston seems more of a long shot than anything right now, but things could obviously change as the offseason progresses.

Matt Barnes Plays Pivotal Role for Red Sox in 6-3, Skid-Snapping Victory Over Phillies

Matt Barnes recorded five crucial outs in the seventh and eighth innings of the Red Sox’ 6-3 victory over the Phillies on Wednesday to snap a nine-game losing streak. That being said, getting those five outs was no easy task.

Coming into the afternoon on three days rest, the right-hander was dispatched in the top of the seventh with his side up 4-3 and the tying run in scoring position for Philadelphia as the heart of Philadelphia’s order was due to hit.

Barnes got his first opponent, the vaunted Bryce Harper, to fan on four pitches, with the fourth pitch being a 1-2, 84 mph curveball down and in. He then got his next opponent, the ever-dangerous J.T. Realmuto, to whiff on another 2-2, 85 mph curveball below the strike zone.

“I was able to make some quality pitches that fortunately went my and the team’s way,” Barnes said during his postgame media availability. “It was definitely awesome.”

Impressive work there for sure, but Barnes’ job was not yet done, as he came on for a clean inning in the top of the eighth as well.

There, with his side now up 5-3, the 30-year-old again struck out another man in Phillies leadoff hitter Phil Gosselin, but he needed seven pitches to do so.

The next man up for Philadelphia, though, was by far Barnes’ toughest opponent and someone he had faced plenty of times before in ex-Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius.

In their first head-to-head matchup this season, Barnes got ahead in the count at 0-2, but proceeded to sprinkle in a ball every once in a while as Gregorius continued to foul off a plethora of pitches.

Fastball after fastball. Curveball after curveball. It did not matter for Gregorius, as he fouled off a total of nine pitches from Barnes, with the ninth and final one being followed by a ball four that was up and in.

When all was said and done, Gregorious had won this battle against Barnes and was awarded first base after an exhausting 14-pitch at-bat.

“It was 14 [pitches], huh?” Barnes said with a chuckle. “I mean, it’s a battle, man. It’s a battle. You got to just continually try to execute good pitches. I executed a decent 3-2 pitch, a fastball about a ball off [and] in. Credit to him for putting together an at-bat like that. It’s exhausting for not only me but him as well.”

Once again, Philly looked like they could be threatening as the tying run was now at the plate in Alec Bohm. Fortunately for Boston, Barnes, with the help of shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin, was able to extinguish that threat by getting the rookie third baseman to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

“In a two-run game, one wrong pitch could be a two-run homer and we’re in a totally different spot in the game,” the UCONN product added. “I was able to make a quality pitch. I got to the 3-2 count to Bohm and wanted to throw a quality breaking ball in the zone to him. He put a decent swing on it, fortunately Lin made a great play with the backhand and him and [Jose] Peraza were able to turn the double play for us.”

The Red Sox went on to top the Phillies by a final score of 6-3 following a scoreless ninth inning from Brandon Workman, and Barnes, despite needing 38 pitches to do so, took home his fourth hold of the season as a result.

Revisiting Christian Vazquez’s Contract Extension and Looking Ahead to J.T. Realmuto’s Upcoming Free Agency

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?