Looking to upgrade behind the plate in both 2020 and beyond, the Rays have shown interest in Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez, according to The Athletic’s Brittany Ghiroli and Eno Sarris (subscription required). “Early discussions” between the two clubs have seen the Sox look at adding young pitching in return.
With the Rays holding World Series aspirations, the Red Sox in seller mode, and former Rays VP of baseball operations Chaim Bloom now running Boston’s front office, the two AL East rivals make a lot of sense on paper as natural trade partners. Vazquez in particular would fill a major need for Tampa Bay, given that catcher has been a longstanding problem position for the team.
The catching combo of Mike Zunino and Michael Perez have produced sub-replacement level numbers in 2020, as the duo (and Kevan Smith, who made two plate appearances) have combined for a collective .160/.241/.340 slash line in 112 PA. While Vazquez himself hasn’t had an exceptional year at the plate, his .260/.294/.423 line over 109 still represents a marked improvement over the Rays’ current catching mix. Plus, Vazquez’s highly-regarded defensive and game-calling abilities would also provide a boost.
After hitting .276/.320/.477 with 23 homers last season, Vazquez’s production has taken a step backwards. The catcher’s 27.5% strikeout rate and 4.6% walk rate are both career lows, his hard-hit ball rate is down considerably from 2019, and his .253 xwOBA is in the bottom fifth percentile of any player in baseball. Now in his sixth MLB season, Vazquez’s offensive numbers have been somewhat all over the board, as he preceded his career-best 2019 with a dreadful 2018 campaign. Evaluating Vazquez’s bat through only 112 PA, of course, is a difficult task — in a normal season, Vazquez could just be off to a slow start.
As with any Rays trade target, money is a factor, though Vazquez’s contract is reasonable for even a low-spending team like Tampa Bay. He is owed approximately $780K for the remainder of this season, $6.25MM in 2021, and there is a $7MM club option his services for 2022 that can be bought out for $250K. Since the Rays were willing to commit $4.5MM to Zunino this season, it stands to reason that they would be open to spending a bit more in 2021 for what they hope would be considerably better production both offensively and defensively.
Vazquez’s modest contract and extra year (or years) of control make him a particularly interesting trade chip for a Red Sox team that seems to be more or less open to moving almost anyone prior to Monday’s trade deadline. While the Rays can technically only trade players currently on their 60-man player pool, they could work around that restriction simply by making a handshake deal to trade any prospect now and then reveal that prospect as a “player to be named later” within a few months’ time. Bloom’s familiarity with Tampa Bay’s highly-rated farm system could put any number of minor league arms in play for a potential deal.