8:08pm: The Diamondbacks and Giants are also in the mix for Vázquez, Abraham reports (on Twitter). The Boston Globe writer also suggests he’s likely to find at least three years and floats the possibility of a four-year pact materializing.
4:07pm: Christian Vázquez is the second-best catcher available in free agency this offseason, the top option for teams not willing to meet a much loftier asking price and surrender a draft choice for Willson Contreras. It’s little surprise the two-time World Series winner is generating a fair bit of attention from clubs, with Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reporting the Padres, Guardians and Twins are all in the mix. Rosenthal also lists the Cubs and Cardinals — each of whom has been previously linked to the veteran backstop — and the incumbent Astros as teams in the bidding.
None of the new suitors is all that surprising, as they could each stand to upgrade behind the dish. That’s arguably not as pressing a concern for San Diego as it may be for some other teams, as the Friars do have Austin Nola and Luis Campusano as a viable catching tandem. Neither player should necessarily be a roadblock to surveying the market for a team as aggressively motivated to win now as San Diego.
Nola, 33 this month, has spent two-plus seasons in Southern California. He looked like a late-blooming breakout player with the Mariners in 2019-20, leading San Diego to acquire him at the 2020 deadline in a now-regrettable swap that landed Ty France, Taylor Trammell and Andrés Muñoz in Seattle. Nola’s offensive production has dropped off since the trade, and he owns a .254/.327/.348 line in 665 plate appearances as a Padre. That’s fine production for a catcher but it’s not overwhelming, with Vázquez coming off a superior .274/.315/.399 showing. Campusano is a longtime top prospect with a strong Triple-A track record, but he has all of 28 MLB games under his belt.
Pursuing Vázquez could also be a way for the Friars to more indirectly upgrade their roster, as signing a catcher would free them up to market Nola or Campusano in trade talks. The 24-year-old Campusano still has six seasons of remaining club control and would have a fair bit of value on the trade market, able to appeal to win-now clubs and teams with further off contention windows alike. Nola has three seasons of arbitration-eligibility and is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz for a $2.2MM salary next season. He’s not as appealing as Campusano but could still attract some attention if the Friars made him available.
The Guardians, meanwhile, are certain to add a catcher this offseason. Austin Hedges hit free agency, leaving the unproven Bryan Lavastida and Bo Naylor as the only backstops on the 40-man roster. Naylor is a highly-regarded prospect, but turning everyday reps behind the dish over to a 23-year-old could be too risky for a team looking to defend their AL Central title. The Guardians have been one of the more frequently mentioned suitors for A’s backstop Sean Murphy, who seems highly likely to be dealt. Vázquez isn’t that caliber of player, but he wouldn’t force the team to surrender any young talent to add him. A highly-regarded game-caller with consistently strong defensive metrics and a plus arm, Vázquez would be a sensible target for a Cleveland team that has prioritized catcher defense.
The Twins have made no secret of their desire to add another catcher to pair with 25-year-old Ryan Jeffers. Both president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine have spoken of the appeal of bringing in another catcher capable of starting 100-plus games to take some of the responsibility off Jeffers. They’re not so much trying to supplant their internal catcher as find a strong complement to him. Vázquez would surely qualify, although it’s unclear if the Twins are prepared to offer him as many at-bats as he’d like.
Late in the season, Vázquez suggested to Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe he’d prioritize finding a primary job in free agency. A longtime #1 catcher in Boston, he took a bit of a backseat to Martín Maldonado during his final couple months in Houston, starting just 23 games in the season’s final two months.
That desire for playing time would seem to reduce the chances Vázquez ends up back in Houston. Maldonado is under contract for another season and beloved for his ability to work with the pitching staff. The Astros have been wary of usurping him as their top catcher, and Rosenthal suggests they’d pursue a Vázquez reunion as part of a broader playing time split with Maldonado. Houston has been strongly linked to Contreras a few times this winter, with the thought that the longtime Cub’s bat plays well enough he could see extended time at designated hitter or in left field in addition to his time behind the plate. That’s less appealing for a glove-first player like Vázquez, who’s a good hitter for a catcher but a below-average offensive threat compared to players at less demanding positions.
There should be more than enough interest for Vázquez to find a #1 job again if that’s indeed his priority. He also looks in position to land a solid payday, as Rosenthal writes he’s likely to find a three-year commitment. At the start of the offseason, MLBTR predicted the MDR Sports Management client for a three-year, $27MM contract.