The Twins have been open about their plans to reduce payroll and that has reportedly led them to try to trade some players from their roster. In an appearance on Foul Territory, Robert Murray of FanSided listed catcher Christian Vázquez as one player that the club has been aggressively shopping.
Vázquez, now 33, signed a three-year, $30MM deal with the Twins almost a year ago. He got that deal after many years of solid work in the big leagues, generally pairing strong defense with offense around league average for a backstop. However, the first year in Minnesota didn’t go especially well. Vázquez was still good when donning the tools of ignorance but his work with the bat took a big step backwards. His strikeout rate jumped to a career high of 23.1% and his overall line of .223/.280/.318 translated to a wRC+ of just 65.
While Vázquez was going through that disappointing season, the Twins saw Ryan Jeffers take the opposite path. He had a tremendous breakout campaign in 2023, hitting 14 home runs in 96 games. His .276/.369/.490 batting line led to a wRC+ of 138. His glovework isn’t as heralded as that of Vázquez but he is still just 26 years old and could still make strides behind the plate. He’s only entering arbitration for the first time this winter with a projected salary of $2.3MM and isn’t slated for free agency until after 2026.
Vázquez still has two years and $20MM left on his deal, which isn’t terribly burdensome by baseball payroll standards. But for a club looking to cut costs due to its uncertainty around broadcast revenue, $10MM per year on a catcher who has been leapfrogged on the depth chart might be a luxury they can’t afford. Jair Camargo just had a strong season in Triple-A and got added to the 40-man roster, so perhaps he could step in as a backup to Jeffers, or the club could also look for a lower-cost veteran to replace Vázquez.
Though the Twins are looking to shed salary, they will likely have to eat at least a little bit of the deal in order to move it. Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic reported this week that several other clubs were willing to give Vázquez deals around two years and $20MM last year before the Twins got it done by adding a third year. But with Vázquez now a year older and coming off a rough season, the desire by other clubs to take on that contract is surely diminished.
But once the financials are worked out, there would likely be plenty of interest around the league. Murray mentions that the Padres had interest in Vázquez when he was a free agent, though they have their own payroll concerns and Luis Campusano had a strong finish to the 2023 season for them, perhaps reducing their need for help behind the plate. Murray also mentions the Marlins as a speculative fit, which is sensible since they are known to be looking for upgrades there. Some other clubs that could perhaps look for veteran to help with the workload behind the plate include the Red Sox, White Sox, Cubs, Rays, Diamondbacks and others.
Despite the rough 2023 campaign, Vázquez suitors might be interested in the .271/.318/.416 batting line he posted from 2019 to 2022. That translated to a 94 wRC+, below average overall but roughly par for a catcher, which paired nicely with his excellent glovework. What might help the Twins is that the free agent market doesn’t have many more exciting options. Mitch Garver and Tom Murphy have more offensive upside but both have significant injury histories and can’t match Vázquez in terms of defense. Gary Sánchez, Victor Caratini and Yasmani Grandal are some of the other top names available. What might work against the Twins, however, is that the Yankees are also looking to trade from their catching surplus.
It’s been suggested that the Twins could look to open 2024 with a payroll between $125MM and $140MM, a drop from last year’s $154MM mark. Roster Resource has them pegged at $125MM already, giving them little wiggle room for upgrading the pitching staff. They could give themselves a bit more breathing space with a trade of a player making a somewhat notable salary, such as Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco or Kyle Farmer, but Vázquez is apparently on the list as well.