From the outside looking in, it would appear that the Red Sox catching situation is fairly well set. After all, they have $9.25MM committed to their incumbent backstop tandem of Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki, each having been brought back on a guaranteed contract. Boston could have easily gotten out of the commitment to either player through the declination of a team option and non-tender, respectively, but their decision to bring the duo back suggests comfort with continuity.
There may be another move yet to make, however, writes Chris Cotillo of Masslive.com. To his point, Boston isn’t committed to either Vazquez or Plawecki beyond 2021. Connor Wong and Ronaldo Hernandez could play themselves into the big league picture, but while both are prospects, neither are blue-chippers. To prove the point, Cotillo reiterated that Boston had made a bid for Jacob Stallings before the Pirates dealt their backstop the Marlins.
Any ground-shifting move would have to come via the trade market, as the free agent crop of catchers has already been picked clean of prospective starters, as MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk explored not long ago. Yan Gomes, Manny Pina, Pedro Severino, and Roberto Perez signed with the Cubs, Braves, Brewers, and Pirates, respectively. Even backups Sandy Leon (Guardians) and Andrew Knapp (Reds) found new homes. That leaves veterans Robinson Chirinos, Kurt Suzuki, and Wilson Ramos as the most decorated options remaining, and those three haven’t been above-average starters behind the plate since 2019.
On the trade market, there are a number of teams with flexible catching rooms that might be willing to shake things up in the right deal. The Cubs’ Willson Contreras sounded none too happy about the Gomes signing, and he’s on the final year of his deal. The Yankees would move Gary Sanchez, but they, like the Red Sox, would need to upgrade if they were going to move him. Anyone with a long-term need at catcher should be in contact with the Blue Jays, though Toronto isn’t likely all that eager to send one of their young backstops (Alejandro Kirk, Gabriel Moreno) to a division rival. Reese McGuire might be a realistic target, if not for Boston, then maybe somewhere else where he could shake loose another starting-level masked man.
Looking elsewhere, Carson Kelly of the Diamondbacks brings the right blend of current ability and future team control, and with the Diamondbacks facing an uphill climb in the NL West, the right deal ought to be able to pry him loose. Still, the return there might smart more than Boston is willing to endure, given the high floor of their current group. The goal for Boston would be to raise the ceiling of their production from the catching spot, and while Kelly certainly qualifies in that regard, the value of the add could send Boston to track a different scent.
Another option could be MJ Melendez of the Royals. Salvador Perez is the past, present, and future of catching in Kansas City, and the Royals might figure to use Melendez’s trade value rather than let him grow into a part-time role.
Sean Murphy is the big fish on the trade market, and the A’s powerful catcher would indeed raise the ceiling in Boston while providing long-term stability. The Gold Glove catcher is under team control through 2025. Murphy, like everyone on Oakland’s roster, is available, but the question will come down to price point and valuation of the prospects in Boston’s system.
There are other options that the Red Sox could explore (Cotillo suggests the Padres as a trade partner, for example), but at the end of the day, it seems most likely they will enter 2022 as they ended 2021, with Vazquez and Plawecki sharing catching duties while Hernandez and Wong await their turn. Combined, Vazquez and Plawecki posted 1.2 rWAR/1.0 fWAR in 2021, and with both catchers entering their age-31 season, there’s not much upside to mine (though catchers do tend to develop late). Still, if Boston likes the way they handle the pitching staff, that might be enough to keep this group in place for next season. Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom and GM Brian O’Halloran are going to continue to explore ways to raise the roof on the potential of their catching production, but an incremental rise in potential output probably doesn’t blow their hats off enough to push them from the incumbent duo.