The Indians have acquired veteran catcher Sandy León from the Red Sox in exchange for Dominican Summer League relief prospect Adenys Bautista. With Monday the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players, León appeared to be a likely non-tender candidate had Boston not found a fit via the trade market:
We made a trade with the @RedSox this morning, acquiring C Sandy León in exchange for RHP Adenys Bautista. RHP James Hoyt was designated for assignment to clear room for León on the 40-man roster.— Tribeinsider (@tribeinsider) December 2, 2019
The 30-year-old León, who served as the Red Sox’s primary catcher on the 2018 World Series team, lost the starting job to Christian Vázquez and was designated for assignment at the end of spring training before being brought back when Blake Swihart was designated for assignment. He played in just 65 games, though, settling into more of a true backup role than he’d had before while Vázquez played in 138 games and posted an impressive .276/.320/.477 slash line with 23 homers.
León was solid defensively in 2019, posting an even 0 defensive runs saved with 2.9 framing runs, as rated by FanGraphs. He also appeared to be a comforting presence behind the plate for Chris Sale during a down season, as the veteran starter posted a 3.79 ERA with León catching, compared to a 6.68 ERA with Christian Vázquez. But particularly with a more cost-conscious chief baseball officer, Chaim Bloom, now running the Red Sox, those positive qualities evidently weren’t going to be enough to justify paying a salary around $2.8 million (his projected arbitration earning by MLB Trade Rumors) to a backup catcher who hit .192/.251/.297 this season and is a .221/.283/.332 career hitter.
León appears primed to back up Roberto Pérez, the best defensive catcher in baseball today, in Cleveland next season. Considering León’s production and the fact that Pérez has a career .216/.305/.376 slash line (though he did post a career-best .239/.321/.452 line with 24 homers in 2019), it’s pretty clear that Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff value good defense behind the plate more than they do offense. The acquisition of León puts the status of incumbent backup Kevin Plawecki — who posted a .629 OPS in 2019 and is projected by MLBTR to earn $1.5 million in arbitration — in doubt.
With Vázquez now being the only catcher on the Red Sox’s 40-man roster, Boston will be in the market for a new backup. Jason Castro, Welington Castillo, Robinson Chirinos, Alex Avila, Martín Maldonado, and Matt Wieters are among the backstops who could be logical fits.