HOUSTON — Christian Vázquez will not be in the lineup for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night. He’s an overqualified backup catcher for the Houston Astros.
After a long tenure as the primary catcher of the Red Sox, that stings a little.
“It was hard and it’s still hard,” Vázquez said Tuesday while seated in the home dugout at Minute Maid Park. “But I’ll be a free agent after the postseason and I can choose where I want to go. Everybody knows that.
“The goal now is winning another ring here. That’s what matters. I’ll be in some games and I can help this team. Then I’ll decide what I want to do.”
At 32, it will be Vázquez’s first taste of free agency and playing time will be a priority, along with joining a contender.
If the Red Sox were to call, which at this point seems unlikely, he’s willing to listen.
“I don’t know, man. I hope so. I’d love it. It was my house for a long time,” Vázquez said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Vázquez was stunned when the trade went down. The Sox were only 3 ½ games out of a playoff spot at the time and Vázquez thought, as an important member of the team, he was safe.
The Sox were in Houston at the time of the trade and Vázquez learned of the deal just before batting practice.
“Worst thing ever,” he said. “Awkward and weird and then facing Boston two days later, all my guys. I wasn’t ready to leave.”
Teammates were furious and the Sox quickly faded from contention. From afar, Vázquez took no satisfaction in it.
“You don’t mess around with the core of a team,” he said. “I think that’s very important for any team. But I can’t control that. I wanted them to finish strong, but you saw what happened.”
Now Vázquez wonders what will happen with Xander Bogaerts, one of his best friends. The Red Sox have said they want to keep their All-Star shortstop, who has the right to opt-out of his contract five days after the World Series.
“I hope he stays there,” Vázquez said. “He’s like [Aaron] Judge with the Yankees. He belongs on that team. But you never know what will happen.
“Baseball is a business and you don’t have control of what teams do.”
Vázquez has a .585 OPS over 108 plate appearances and 35 games with the Astros, 24 of them starts. With Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, and Lance McCullers Jr. long working well with Martin Maldonado behind the plate, manager Dusty Baker picks his spots with Vázquez.
“He’s not really a backup to me. I’ve got two regulars,” Baker said. “It’s very comforting to have Christian. He’s a great teammate. Him and Maldy study together. He’s a very astute baseball mind.
“He’s a good athlete. He can run. He can throw. The guy can catch. I know he’s been around awhile, but he has a very bright future and I’m glad we got him.”
Vázquez came up big for the Astros on Sunday in a 1-0, 18-inning victory at Seattle that clinched their Division Series. He caught the final 12 innings, handling seven pitchers.
Had the series been extended, Vázquez likely would have started Game 4 and caught Cristian Javier.
“That was a great game,” Vázquez said. “Seattle, man, they’re going to be good for a long time. But we have a team that knows how to win with the players we have. I’m glad I’m here.”
Vázquez said the toughest burden was on his family. His wife, Gabriela, was in Boston when the trade happened. She was on her own packing up and moving their two young sons to Houston.
“It was hard for her; it was hard for all of us,” Vázquez said. “But we found an apartment close to the park and we’re doing better. Diego [his oldest] is cheering for the Astros now.
“In the beginning it was weird. But we’re here and winning and it’s a good group of guys, a special group. I knew this team. It would have been different if I went to San Diego or someplace like that. I would need to meet everybody. It was easier to get comfortable here.”
In time, perhaps next season, Vázquez will make his return to Fenway Park.
“That will be a lot of emotion. That will be crazy,” he said. “But it will be awesome. I have all good memories.”
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.