Christian Vázquez is a month away from what will be 14 years as a member of the Red Sox organization. No active player has been with the team longer.
Is that time running out?
Vázquez will be a free agent after the season and he wonders how many more games he has left with the Sox. One quick glance around the clubhouse drives home the point that his long tenure is far from the norm.
“Maybe it’ll be fun to see who wants me in free agency,” Vázquez said Wednesday before getting behind the plate against the Los Angeles Angels. “I’ve never been in that situation before.”
Vázquez has caught 590 games for the Sox, seventh-most in team history. By the time this season is over, barring a trade or injury, he’ll be in the top five.
“I would love to stay here. This is home,” Vázquez said. “But this is a business. Once you get a taste of the outside you never know what will happen. I’m not worried about it. I’m just thinking about the season.”
Vázquez was a ninth-round draft pick in 2008, a 17-year-old from Puerto Rico. Now he’s a 31-year-old husband and a father of two boys.
Any decision he makes now will be centered around what best benefits his family.
“That’s how I have to look at it,” Vázquez said. “I have to do the right thing for them. But we love it here. Boston has been a second home for us.”
Vázquez has hit .263 with a .705 OPS since 2017, his first full season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015. The league average for catchers in 2021 was .229 with a .697 OPS.
He’s also regarded as a good defender, although the metrics don’t always back that up.
“I think he’s done an amazing job [defensively]. He’s been really good,” manager Alex Cora said.
How catchers are valued defensively is going to change in the coming years and Vázquez will be in the middle of that revolution.
The ability to frame pitches — catching a borderline pitch to make it look more like a strike to an umpire — will be a defunct skill once balls and strikes are called via a tracking system.
But the ability to control the running game will become magnified in importance as MLB adjusts rules to encourage more base-stealing.
According to Baseball America, minor league teams have averaged 1.45 stolen base attempts this season, the most since 2000 and a 33 percent increase since 2018.
With pickoff throws limited and the pitch clock decreasing how long a pitcher can hold the ball and look the runner back to first, runners are taking off.
“It’ll be different. You’ll have to be able to hit,” Vázquez said. “But you’ll need to be able to throw people out, too. That will be very important.”
Cora feels Vázquez is throwing the ball as well as he ever has. He’s more comfortable with the one knee down stance the Sox encourage their catchers to use and his throwing mechanics have been consistent.
He’s caught 6 of 12 base-stealers this season.
It’s a product of losing some weight and playing in the Puerto Rico Winter League. Vázquez didn’t catch any games in winter ball but he did work on his catching skills before games.
It showed in spring training.
“Throwing, it’s the best since the surgery. He’s in a good spot,” Cora said. “We’re very pleased with the way he’s playing defense … you can see the difference.”
Catching coach Jason Varitek also has worked with Vázquez on what best to focus on in pre-game preparation. Game-planning is a group effort in modern baseball with multiple coaches, scouts, and analysts involved. But at the end, it funnels through the catcher.
“The game has changed a lot in the last few years,” Vázquez said. “But that’s good, I think. We get a lot more information.”
Free agency is six months away. Vázquez is far more focused on helping the Sox get back in contention after a slow start.
“Our pitching has been very good. To me, that means we’ll be fine,” Vázquez said. “We’ll get there offensively. The bats have been slow. But it will get better.”