- The Red Sox have put a high price tag on Blake Swihart in trade negotiations with other teams, NBCSports.com’s Evan Drellich reports. “Hard to find a trade partner when you’re asking for some of teams’ best prospects,” one rival talent evaluator tells Drellich. Swihart has barely played at all this season coming off the Sox bench, and his previous two seasons also saw little MLB action (though injuries were a big factor in the lack of activity). While these factors have seemingly dimmed Swihart’s former top-prospect status, the Sox are still aiming for a big return for Swihart, with Drellich noting that some familiar with the trade talks have described Boston’s demands as “unreasonable.” The Sox may end up designating Swihart for assignment when Dustin Pedroia returns to ensure that a Swihart deal will happen, though this may or may not create the “bidding war” the Red Sox hope will then occur. MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently broke down the potential market for Swihart, and while there are several teams that could use catching help, it hardly seems like Boston will score multiple quality minor leaguers in exchange for Swihart.
Red Sox Rumors
- Carson Smith will seek out a third opinion on his injured shoulder to see if he can avoid surgery, Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe reports (Twitter link). The Red Sox reliever suffered a subluxation in his right shoulder last week after angrily tossing his glove in frustration over a poor outing. This would be another brutal injury setback for Smith, who missed most of the 2016 and 2017 seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery.
- The Rangers had interest in Red Sox utilityman Blake Swihart as recently as a week ago, per Cafardo, who notes “that avenue may still be available.” A catcher by trade, Swihart’s out of options and doesn’t seem to have a place on this year’s Red Sox, which led his agent to request a trade earlier this week. Still, Boston’s unsure about parting with the 26-year-old, Cafardo suggests. If the Sox do explore a deal, though, there are other fits besides Texas, as MLBTR’s Steve Adams pointed out Wednesday.
- More on the Red Sox, who’d “likely want bullpen help and/or a prospect” in a trade for center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., Cafardo observes. Boston spurned teams’ interest in Bradley in the offseason and has since gotten off to one of the majors’ best starts, though the 28-year-old hasn’t contributed to that as much as expected. Bradley has posted an ugly .165/.267/.252 line in 146 trips to the plate, leading Alex Speier of the Boston Globe to wonder if the Red Sox could consider demoting him despite his $6.1MM salary when second baseman Dustin Pedroia comes off the disabled list soon. While it’s a long shot, Speier concedes, a Bradley-less Red Sox team would still feature the enviable outfield trio of Mookie Betts in right, Andrew Benintendi in center and J.D. Martinez in left.
Aaron Boone recently offered some words of encouragement regarding the imminent return of first baseman Greg Bird to the lineup (h/t Marc Carig of The Athletic). But while Bird’s activation appears to be “around the corner”, news surrounding fellow Yankees hitter Jacoby Ellsbury is not as promising. Ellsbury is reportedly dealing with a minor back injury and as such is not participating in baseball activities at this time. The outfielder made just 406 plate appearances last season and has yet to make his 2018 debut. Unfortunately, Ellsbury’s absence is not the end of the bad news for the Yankees this week, as it turns out hard-hitting outfield prospect Estevan Florial will require surgery on a broken hamate bone (according to a tweet from George A. King III of the New York Post). The injury will keep him sidelined until at least August. Florial was off to somewhat of a slow start at the High-A level, posting a .246/.353/.343 slash line across 156 plate appearances.
More out of the East…
- Phillies righty Jerad Eickhoff is set to begin a rehab assignment, according to Matt Breen of the Philly Enquirer. He’ll kick it off at Triple-A LeHigh Valley. Eickhoff has been sidelined since spring training due to a lat strain, and at this time it’s not clear how he’d fit into a suddenly crowded Phillies rotation that includes Aaron Nola, Nick Pivetta, Jake Arrieta, Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin.
- The Red Sox haven’t gotten any particularly good news about Carson Smith in recent days. According to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe, manager Alex Cora says the club can’t determine at this time whether or not the righty will pitch again this season. Smith was off to a serviceable start this season, posting a 3.77 ERA and 11.30 K/9 in his first 14 1/3 innings before going down with a shoulder subluxation.
- The Blue Jays are describing left-hander Jaime Garcia’s injury as “left shoulder inflammation”. He’s been placed on the DL retroactive to May 16th. The Jays brought Garcia into the fold this past offseason on a one-year deal worth a guarantee of $10MM, but he’s disappointed thus far with a 6.28 ERA across his first 38 2/3 innings. In a related move, the club has recalled righty Deck McGuire from Triple-A Buffalo.
The Red Sox have reportedly agreed to a minor-league deal with righty Josh Smith. The Roster Roundup Twitter account (link) first conveyed the move, which Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com confirms on Twitter.
Smith was released recently by the Mariners after originally joining the Seattle organization on a minors deal. The 30-year-old had allowed seven earned runs on 17 hits in 10 1/3 innings to open the season, compiled over one start and three relief appearances at Triple-A. He had also run up a much more promising 14:2 K/BB ratio.
It seems that Smith could function as bullpen/swingman depth for a Boston organization that has faced some questions in its relief unit. He has appeared in the majors in each of the past three seasons, working to a cumulative 5.30 ERA with 7.3 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9 over 127 1/3 innings.
Notably, if Smith ends up reporting to Triple-A Pawtucket, he’ll join another player of the same name on the roster. The Boston organization already employs lefty Josh Smith at its top affiliate.
Shortly after landing on the disabled list due to a subluxation in his shoulder that occurred upon throwing his glove out of frustration in the dugout, Red Sox reliever Carson Smith suggested that arm fatigue may have contributed to his injury (link via Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald). “I’ve thrown a lot lately and I think my arm was just tired,” said Smith, though his comments didn’t sit well with manager Alex Cora. Cora flatly told reporters that he “[doesn’t] agree” with Smith’s assessment, adding that Boston’s coaching staff checks in with its pitchers each day when determining who is or isn’t available in relief. Smith gave the team no indication that he was feeling overworked. “It caught me by surprise,” Cora said of Smith’s comment. “If he felt that way he should’ve told it to us or he should’ve mentioned it.” Smith, of course, has placed much of the blame for his injury on himself as well and expressed regret over the manner in which the injury occurred.
Blake Swihart’s career path has been anything but conventional. The former first-round pick was considered one of the game’s elite prospects prior to the 2015 season and was heralded as a potential cornerstone behind the dish before injuries, questions about his defense and the emergence of Christian Vazquez changed his role. Swihart took to the outfield in 2016 with the hope that he’d be able to improve his defense there on the fly while keeping his bat in the lineup, but an ankle injury cost him most of the season. By the time he returned, Andrew Benintendi was entrenched as Boston’s everyday left fielder.
Swihart is now a man without a real role on a Red Sox team that is effectively employing a 24-man roster. Vazquez and Sandy Leon continue to handle the catching, while Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley and J.D. Martinez are all more frequently used in the outfield. Swihart has appeared in only 15 games for the Sox this season and totaled 32 plate appearances. His only four starts have been at DH. He’s played a grand total of 24 innings in the field — 19 in the outfield, four at first base and one behind the plate. The Red Sox have used Swihart about as often as the rebuilding Tigers have used Victor Reyes — a 23-year-old Rule 5 outfielder they’re trying to hold onto for the entire season despite the fact that he’s not quite MLB ready.
Suffice it to say, no one should have been surprised to learn this morning that Swihart’s agent, Brodie Scoffield of the Legacy Agency, asked the Red Sox to trade his client. The current setup is a poor one for team and player. Boston can’t send Swihart to Triple-A for regular at-bats because he is out of minor league options and would surely be lost on waivers. He’s not going to provide virtually any value in such a limited role, though, and the Red Sox could probably make better use of that spot by giving it to a true fourth outfielder, a utility infielder capable of handling several positions, or a reliever with options remaining to create some additional flexibility in the ’pen.
Assuming president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski eventually honors the request and gauges interest in Swihart, there’ll probably be no shortage of clubs interested in taking a shot on the once-vaunted prospect. Some speculative fits for the switch-hitting 26-year-old…
- Nationals: It was a surprise that the Nats didn’t add any catching help this offseason, as Matt Wieters turned in a terrible first year in D.C. and the organization had limited options beyond him. Miguel Montero signed a minor league deal but was quickly jettisoned, and the Nats now have Pedro Severino and Spencer Kieboom behind the plate with Wieters on the disabled list. Swihart is hardly a definitive upgrade, as he’s yet to prove himself over an extended period in the Majors, but he has more upside than their internal options.
- Twins: Minnesota found out on Wednesday that Jason Castro will miss the remainder of the season after surgeons discovered more damage than expected when operating on his right knee. Rookie Mitch Garver and journeyman Bobby Wilson now top the team’s depth chart behind the plate, so perhaps the Twins would be open to flipping some pitching depth for a chance at Swihart.
- Brewers: Milwaukee catchers are hitting a combined .197/.274/.333 on the season, as neither Manny Pina nor Jett Bandy has been performing well. Veteran Stephen Vogt’s season is over due to shoulder surgery, leaving Jacob Nottingham and former prospect Christian Bethancourt as the only upper-level alternatives currently within the organization. Swihart won’t see much, if any playing time in a crowded Milwaukee outfield, but there should be at-bats up for grabs at catcher.
- Mets: Catching is an obvious area of need for the Mets, though they’ve already made one move in the past week, acquiring Devin Mesoraco from the Reds. Given that Kevin Plawecki is nearing a return from a broken hand, it doesn’t seem likely that the Mets would swing a second trade in the near future. But if Swihart is still in Boston as the All-Star break approaches and the Plawecki/Mesoraco tandem is struggling, perhaps the Mets would make another change.
- Athletics: Jonathan Lucroy is only on a one-year deal with the A’s, and Bruce Maxwell’s lack of production was already enough to make him a questionable long-term option before his highly publicized off-field issues. Oakland has room in the outfield corners as well and certainly has never had an aversion to rotating players through multiple positions.
- Rangers: Robinson Chirinos is signed affordably through 2019, and the Rangers do have a fair bit of catching talent in the pipeline, though most of those prospects are still several years away from the Majors. Isiah Kiner-Falefa has done some catching in the minors but has only caught three games this season and has been working primarily as an infielder. There’s not much room in the outfield corners once Willie Calhoun arrives for good, and the Rangers do have former Phillies backstop Cameron Rupp in Triple-A. Still, there’s more playing time available for Swihart in Arlington than there is in Boston.
- White Sox: Welington Castillo is the primary catcher for manager Rick Renteria, and that won’t change after he signed a two-year, $15MM contract in the offseason. But Swihart could easily displace Omar Narvaez as the backup and see some occasional outfield time as well.
- Padres: No one questions Austin Hedges’ defensive prowess, but he’s yet to prove that he can get on base at the highest level. Hedges mashed 18 homers last season but did so with a .262 OBP that ranked dead last in the National League (min. 400 PA). San Diego has a stacked farm system but is still light on catching talent in the upper minors. The Padres don’t really have much to offer in the way of playing time in the outfield or at first base, so they’d need to believe that Swihart can make an impact behind the dish.
- Marlins: J.T. Realmuto is among the game’s best catchers, but he’s also one of the most easily identifiable trade candidates in Major League Baseball as well. The Marlins will get offers on Realmuto this summer, and while they won’t simply take the best one that’s presented with Realmuto controlled through 2020, there’s still a chance that he moves. If they hang onto him, the rumor carousel will fire up again this winter. There’s no real catching help on the horizon beyond Realmuto, and the Marlins are the exact type of rebuilding club that can afford to give Swihart a lengthy look behind the plate.
- Diamondbacks: Arizona GM Mike Hazen and assistant GMs Amiel Sawdaye and Jared Porter all have Red Sox roots, and D-backs catchers haven’t hit whatsoever in 2018. The Diamondbacks added Alex Avila on an affordable two-year deal in the offseason, but that’s yet to pay dividends. Defensive specialist Jeff Mathis isn’t hitting, either, and John Ryan Murphy has a .259 OBP. The Diamondbacks have carried three catchers in each of the past two seasons, and the Hazen-led front office took a similar roll of the dice on another out-of-options former Boston first-rounder, Deven Marrero, late in Spring Training.
Other clubs could and almost certainly will inquire, as well, of course. It stands to reason that while some organizations may not be sold on Swihart as a catcher, they’d be perfectly content to give him a tryout in left field and/or at first base. Some clubs are probably keen on simply shuffling him around at all three positions. In that sense, one could make an argument for Swihart fitting on just about any club in the league, given that he’s likely to have a low cost of acquisition and comes with a fair bit of upside even if his prospect star has undeniably dimmed.
Of course, if the goal of this exercise is to find an organization in need of an upgrade behind the plate, where he brings the most potential value, it’s worth stressing that perhaps no club in baseball could use a boost more than Swihart’s current team. Vazquez and Leon are batting a combined .174/.224/.219, but the Red Sox have still not seen fit to give Swihart more than that one lone inning behind the dish.
Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston recently chatted with Red Sox catching coordinator Chad Epperson about the work Swihart is putting into catching drills in taking a lengthier look at Swihart’s unusual role (or lack thereof) with the team. Within, pitching coach Dana LeVangie acknowledged the dilemma facing the Red Sox: in order for Swihart to improve, the biggest thing he needs is consistent reps behind the plate. Those simply aren’t available in Boston right now, despite the struggles of the team’s top two catchers.
The Sox, of course, signed Vazquez to a $13.55MM extension this offseason due in no small part to his defensive talents. It’s somewhat more puzzling that there doesn’t appear to be any thought to displacing Leon, however, as he’s hit just .217/.280/.336 in 351 plate appearances dating back to last season.
That the Sox aren’t willing to displace either struggling bat to give Swihart a more legitimate look behind the plate certainly seems like a statement on how they view his current defense. But it still seems likely that another club would be happy to acquire his bat at a discount rate in hopes that increased reps will help him to hone his craft. And for the Sox, who figure to spend the season vying for the AL East crown with the Yankees, having a 25th man on the roster whom they could actually use from time to time certainly seems like an endeavor worth pursuing sooner rather than later.
It has been an awkward arrangement from the start of the season, as the out-of-options Swihart has seen just 24 innings in the field (mostly in left) while picking up 32 plate appearances off of the bench. A catcher by trade, he’s obviously not a part of the team’s plans behind the dish, as he has caught only a single inning despite the marked offensive struggles of Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez.
In all likelihood, the trade request won’t have any meaningful impact on Swihart’s future. But it’s also likely to be fulfilled on the team’s own volition. After all, the Sox are engaged in what promises to be a season-long battle for supremacy in the AL East. It feels as if something has to give at some point, given that Swihart is effectively being treated as something like a Rule 5 pick.
Frankly, it’s a curious situation all around. Surely, some other teams would be glad to give a shot to the 26-year-old Swihart, a former first-round pick and top-100 prospect. But it’s also tough to imagine he’ll be valued too highly in a trade. Swihart produced good, but hardly overwhelming, offensive numbers on the way up the ladder. Since his first MLB action in 2015, he hasn’t hit much at any level and still hasn’t settled in anywhere defensively while dealing with injuries and inconsistent opportunities. The fact that Swihart cannot be optioned will make it tough for a team that wishes to try him out behind the plate, since he’d have to be thrown right into the fire at the MLB level despite minimal time under the mask this season.
As Drellich explains, it seems that a decision point could soon be approaching, as Dustin Pedroia’s pending return from the disabled list will make it all but impossible to continue carrying Swihart. It could be that the Sox are simply waiting until the last possible moment to make a decision. After all, an injury could arise that would enhance Swihart’s utility to the Boston organization (or to a potential trade partner). Presumably, the Boston front office already knows which rivals have serious interest and what sort of return — a useful MLB reliever? some far-off young talent? — might be achievable, if any. In the meantime, there’s little for Swihart to do but sit back and wait.
The Red Sox announced Tuesday that they’ve acquired minor league left-hander Josh Taylor from the Diamondbacks as the player to be named later in the trade that sent infielder Deven Marrero to Arizona back on March 24.
Originally signed by the Phillies as a non-drafted free agent, Taylor was traded to the D-backs alongside right-hander Chris Oliver back in the 2015 trade that sent the top international bonus slot from Arizona to Philadelphia. He’s in his first full season as a reliever after struggling as a starter in the minors and has pitched to a 2.81 ERA with a 20-to-5 K/BB ratio in 16 innings, albeit as a 25-year-old pitching against younger competition at the Class-A Advanced level. Alex Speier of the Boston Globe tweets that Taylor is headed to Boston’s Double-A affiliate in Portland, Maine.
Last season, Taylor worked to a 4.96 ERA with 8.4 K/9, 4.2 BB/9 and a 49 percent ground-ball rate in 98 minor league innings — 97 of which came at the Double-A level. He’s not considered to be among the D-backs’ 30 best prospects by either MLB.com or Baseball America.
The Marrero pickup, thus far, has provided the Diamondbacks with some quality glovework at multiple infield positions but netted sub-par value with the bat. In 56 plate appearances, Marrero is hitting just .196/.250/.235, with a triple representing his lone extra-base hit of the season. Of course, he’s played sparingly and can’t be sent down to sharpen his approach with regular at-bats, given the fact that he’s out of minor league options.
It’s obviously not terribly promising news to hear that the injury is to Smith’s throwing shoulder. It’s still unknown at this point just what kind of absence the team expects from the veteran reliever, but it seems that it could be a rather serious matter.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told reporters, including Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston (via Twitter), that “it’s got the potential of being a major injury.” Smith, who hurt himself flinging his glove after a poor outing, will go for a second opinion.
The 28-year-old Smith had been playing a significant role in the Sox pen after missing most of the past two seasons. He carries a 3.77 ERA in 14 1/3 innings on the year, with 11.3 K/9 (on an 11.8% swinging-strike rate) against 3.8 BB/9 as well as a 52.5% groundball rate.