The move comes after months of trade rumors surrounding Boston’s catching situation, as the team didn’t plan on keeping all three of Leon, Christian Vazquez, and Blake Swihart on its Opening Day roster. No deals materialized, however, as Boston’s attempts were undoubtedly complicated both by a busiest-than-expected catching market this winter, as well as the simple fact that none of the trio played well in 2018. (Plus, all three were out of minor league options.)
As of last spring, the Red Sox were known to be putting a rather large asking price on Swihart befitting his former top-prospect status, and it isn’t known if that price dropped in the wake of Swihart’s lackluster performance last season. Vazquez came with a notable financial cost (owed $13.55MM through 2021), while even Leon’s modest $2.475MM salary for 2019 could be seen as an overpay for a defense-only catcher, given what players with similar skillsets have landed this winter.
That said, it seems likely that several teams will check in on Leon now that they’ll just have to pay his salary (rather than give something up to the Sox in a trade). Leon is ranked by both Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner as a top-tier pitch-framer, and has also received above-average marks for his blocking and throwing arm. More anecdotally, teammates and coaches have raved about Leon’s ability to call a game and manage pitchers. At the plate, Leon has a surprisingly strong 2016, but has since batted only .201/.262/.317 over 589 plate appearances.
If Leon isn’t claimed, he will be removed from Boston’s 40-man roster and then have the choice to either become a free agent or remain with the Red Sox as Triple-A depth. Assuming he leaves, Boston would then have just Vazquez and Swihart behind the plate, and Juan Centeno as their top minor league depth candidate.
Vazquez is himself a strong defender, and obviously the Sox aren’t ready to give up on a player they only recently extended. Swihart is still a question mark defensively (both at catcher and elsewhere around the diamond), though the Red Sox also still think enough of his potential that they’re willing to take the defensive dropoff as Swihart continues to develop. With all this uncertainty, Boston could possibly be a midseason candidate to acquire a catcher at the deadline, though it’s worth noting that the club was content to use a defense-first approach to the catcher position last season and it still led to a championship.