The Red Sox have designated catcher Blake Swihart for assignment and are set to purchase the contract of catcher Sandy Leon from Triple-A Pawtucket, per reports from WEEI’s Evan Drellich and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman:
Sources: The Red Sox have DFA'd catcher Blake Swihart. He’s effectively gone, presuming he won’t pass waivers. Stunning move early in the season for a struggling team.— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) April 16, 2019
Sources: Sandy Leon is bring called up by Red Sox. As @EvanDrellich reported, swihart is a dfa— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) April 16, 2019
Swihart, who was once ranked among the top catching prospects in baseball, has spent time with the Red Sox for each of the past five seasons, but hadn’t seen significant playing time since the 2015 season — particularly because of ankle and finger injuries that wiped out significant chunks of his ‘16 and ‘17 seasons. He ran out of options prior to last season, so he toiled on Boston’s roster as a utility man and third-string catcher, seeing action at every position except pitcher, shortstop, and center field but starting only 16 games behind the plate.
This spring, the Red Sox gave Swihart his most legitimate opportunity behind the plate since ‘15, designating Leon — their primary catcher on last year’s World-Series-winning club — in the process to do so. But after just 12 games and six starts from Swihart, during which he posted a .231/.310/.385 slash line over 29 plate appearances, they’ve decided to go back to Leon, who seemingly meshes better with their pitching staff. The 6-11 Red Sox have a collective 5.93 ERA this season, and perhaps more significantly, Chris Sale — who has a 9.00 ERA over his first three starts — has a career 2.42 ERA while throwing to Leon, compared to a 4.50 throwing to Christian Vazquez, who had been catching Sale in Leon’s absence and who is essentially locked into a 25-man roster spot after signing a three year, $13.35 million deal that went into effect before this season.
While there’s been a rather significant media outcry regarding the Red Sox’s decision to give up on Swihart — especially for a guy like Leon who has a career .226/.288/.338 slash line and doesn’t provide offensive upside — it’s really worth wondering how real the chances are of Swihart ever being a difference-making player. He has a .679 career OPS (82 OPS+, or 18 points below league average), and the questions about his defense are legitimate enough that the Red Sox have gone with guys like Leon, Vazquez, and Ryan Hanigan over him time after time and have pondered the possibility of moving him to the outfield. His -19 career defensive runs saved behind the plate certainly don’t do anything to brush off those concerns. He’ll likely be claimed off waivers by a team that thinks it can unlock that prospect potential — and his versatility will likely be valued somewhere — but if he hasn’t forced the issue after five years, especially on a team like the Red Sox that hasn’t had a lot of catching depth recently, it’s very questionable whether he ever will.