First in a series
For the better part of five seasons the Red Sox had a reliable option at catcher in Christian Vázquez. That ended when he was traded to the Houston Astros in August.
Vázquez helped the Astros win the World Series, starting three games during their postseason run, including the combined no-hitter in Game 4 of the Series at Philadelphia.
Vázquez is now a free agent and has been in contact with a number of teams. A return to Boston seems unlikely given the more avid interest from the Cubs, Guardians, Twins, and Padres.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has said the Red Sox want to improve at what is an important position. The only players with major league experience in the organization are Reese McGuire and Connor Wong.
McGuire, a 28-year-old career backup, was obtained from the White Sox the same day Vázquez was traded to the Astros. Chicago had picked up McGuire in a trade with Toronto in April.
A first-round pick by the Pirates in 2013, McGuire has been a below-average hitter in the majors (.256 with a .683 OPS over 674 plate appearances). He rarely walks and has 12 career homers.
McGuire hit surprisingly well with the Red Sox, posting an .877 OPS over 36 games. A .411 batting average on balls in play strongly suggests he was the beneficiary of much good fortune.
But McGuire sees the Red Sox as being a good opportunity,
“It’s always been a goal to be a starter and finishing the season strong will help boost my confidence going into the offseason,” he said in October as the season was winding down. “I want to get stronger and better. I’m looking forward to spring training.”
McGuire is a good receiver and the Sox, for now, see him as a valid option.
“We feel very comfortable with [McGuire] behind the plate,” manager Alex Cora said late in the season. “The way he moves and his arm is really good … we’ll see how it goes.”
Wong, 26, was one of the players obtained from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts trade. He has appeared in 33 major league games [25 as a catcher] and hit .213.
Wong was a utility player at the University of Houston with catching as part of his portfolio. He did not focus fully on catching until 2021 and has made strides defensively.
Because both live in the Houston area, Wong is an offseason workout partner with Nate Eovaldi. That led to him catching six of Eovaldi’s starts the last two seasons.
“Good catcher, good athlete,” Eovaldi said last season. “Connor knows what he’s doing back there. I trust him.”
Wong’s ceiling is likely that of a utility man with extra value because he can catch and is athletic enough to use a pinch runner.
There’s not much behind McGuire and Wong.
Ronaldo Hernandez, 25, started 67 games for Triple A Worcester last season and had a .749 OPS. He cleared waivers and was taken off the 40-man roster on Dec. 2.
Hernandez was once considered a top 100 prospect but has faded in recent seasons.
Kole Cottam, 25, was a fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft from Kentucky. He advanced to Triple A last season after hitting .271 with a .730 OPS over 64 games for Double A Portland.
Cottam, who also plays first base, is more of an organizational player than a prospect at this point.
Stephen Scott is an interesting player. He was a power-hitting outfielder for two seasons at Vanderbilt then introduced to catching in 2018. The four-year college player was a 10th round pick in 2019 and signed for a modest $50,000.
The Sox tried him as first baseman and outfielder before getting him behind the plate for 19 games in 2021 and 67 games last season. He’s still very much a work in progress defensively but the Sox saw enough to send him to the Arizona Fall League and he caught 13 more games there.
Scott has been a solid hitter in the minors, posting an .812 OPS.
As the Sox seek improvement, Mike Zunino, Omar Narváez, Gary Sánchez, and Tucker Barnhart are the notable free agents along with Vázquez. Or they could seek a trade.
Zunino was an All-Star in 2021 but played only 36 games last season because of a shoulder injury that required thoracic outlet surgery. He is likely to be a player Bloom would consider a good value.
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.
Primary 2022 starter: Christian Vázquez.
Projected 2023 starter: Reese McGuire.
Major league depth: Connor Wong, Ronaldo Hernandez.
Prospects to watch: Kole Cottam, Stephen Scott.