The Boston Red Sox are going to be facing plenty of tough decisions in the next month or so, with the non-waiver trade deadline quickly approaching and the club still relatively out of the playoff picture. The season isn’t over yet, but if the club doesn’t make changes on several fronts, Boston will continue to fall out of contention — and sooner rather than later.
It doesn’t appear that Boston wants to make a blockbuster trade to acquire a power-hitting corner outfielder. If it did, it would’ve made the move instead of promoting Mookie Betts to the majors on Saturday. The Red Sox don’t need to make an eye-opening deal to improve, though. Instead, they could improve by promoting another young star.
It may not be that apparent, but Boston’s catching has not been superb in 2014. The organization let Jarrod Saltalamacchia walk during free agency and then picked up A.J. Pierzynski on a one-year deal, with David Ross still serving as the primary backup — or, in other words, Jon Lester’s personal catcher.
Boston has the sixth-worst WAR among catchers in Major League Baseball this season, according to FanGraphs, and Pierzysnki has easily been the primary problem. In 65 games, he’s hitting .250/.279/.353 with four home runs, 17 runs and 31 RBI. He’s walked just 2.8 percent of the time in 248 plate appearances, the sixth-lowest rate among players with at least 200 plate appearances, per FanGraphs.
Pierzysnki hasn’t done his starting rotation many favors this season, either, as the “regulars” haven’t pitched well with him behind the plate, with the exception of John Lackey:
- Jon Lester: 6.00 ERA (18 IP)
- John Lackey: 3.45 ERA (107 IP)
- Clay Buchholz: 6.24 ERA (49 IP)
- Felix Doubront: 4.28 ERA (33.2 IP)
- Jake Peavy: 5.52 ERA (58.2 IP)
Sure, Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa have pitched well with Pierzynski catching them, but De La Rosa was just optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket and Workman could easily be the next to leave the rotation. They aren’t truly regulars just yet. And if the regulars don’t pitch well with him behind the plate, why put him behind the plate at all?
There’s no question that the Red Sox could survive offensively and defensively with Pierzynski off of the team. One would presume the front office could find a suitor who’d like to have a veteran catcher who could potentially break out in the second half on their roster. Boston could survive by promoting one of its top prospects, Christian Vazquez, and keeping Ross.
Vazquez had a poor May, hitting .237/.284/.263 with just two extra-base hits — both of them doubles — and eight runs in 20 games. He drove in just a pair of runs and struck out 17 times, walking on five occasions. But the backstop has clearly turned things around, and his progress with Pawtucket deserves attention at the major league level.
Through 21 games in June, Vazquez is hitting .293/.349/.480 with eight extra-base hits — five doubles and three home runs — and 12 runs. He’s driven in nine runs in the month, and his plate discipline has been about the same, striking out 17 times and walking six times thus far. His OPS has gone from .547 in May to .829 in June. That’s quite the improvement.
But it really isn’t about the offense, because Vazquez isn’t the type of prospect that projects to be an above-average hitter. He’ll hold his own, but spectacular defense is what he really brings to the table. He’s widely known as one of the top defensive catchers in the minors, and that’s usually something that sticks after a major league promotion.
Vazquez is a game changer that is already quite valuable. Scouts have told Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe that if the Red Sox were to become buyers in a few weeks, the catcher would be atop any team’s wish list. But Boston shouldn’t deal Vazquez, but Pierzynski instead. He has value as well but he just hasn’t worked out for Boston — and that’s fine.
Vazquez, as well as Blake Swihart, are the future behind the plate for the Red Sox. Promoting Vazquez now isn’t going to make or break Boston’s campaign, so why not start the future a little bit early? Pierzynski isn’t doing what he needs to do to stay with the club and with Vazquez starting to get hot, now is the time to make the move — deal Pierzynski and promote Vazquez.