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Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington is such a pragmatist that he gave up on last season in July, trading away Stephen Drew, Felix Doubront, Jonny Gomes, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Andrew Miller, and Jake Peavy.

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski would have been traded, too, but there were no takers and he was released.

The deals were designed to provide opportunities to younger players and give the Red Sox a headstart on the 2015 season. No one took better advantage of the situation than rookie catcher Christian Vazquez.

Vazquez made his major league debut July 9 and started 50 of the remaining 72 games. He played 55 games overall and impressed the Red Sox with his ability to handle the pitching staff and control the game from behind the plate.


Vazquez showed quickly that he was adept at framing pitches, and his strong arm made it difficult for other teams to run.

"We're very comfortable with him catching," manager John Farrell said in the final days of the season. "His defense is at such a high level. He has already shown us he can be one of the best catchers in the league."

Vazquez, 24, was 12 for 30 in his final nine starts with his first major league home run, two doubles, six runs scored, and five RBIs. He finished the season hitting .240 with a low .617 OPS.

Vazquez returned to his native Puerto Rico after the season and has been the starting catcher for San Juan in the Roberto Clemente Winter League. Through Sunday, he was hitting .292 with seven extra-base hits and 12 RBIs in 31 games.

Vazquez doesn't have to hit much for the Red Sox because of what he provides defensively. The league average for catchers in the American League last season was a .241 batting average and .674 OPS.


Only 19 catchers had at least 425 plate appearances last season. Of that group, 10 hit better than .252. Only eight had an OPS better than .725.

Vazquez is expected to go into spring training as the Sox' primary catcher. Ryan Hanigan is the latest veteran the Red Sox hope will serve as a reliable backup. Filling that role has proven difficult in recent seasons.

The often-disagreeable Kelly Shoppach was signed for the 2012 season and played pretty well. But he was among those stoking clubhouse dissent around doomed manager Bobby Valentine and was traded in August.

The cheerful David Ross was signed to a two-year deal but played only 86 games and hit .197 because of injuries that included a series of concussions. Ross became a starter in the 2013 World Series and played well, cementing his place in team history. But the Sox did not make a concerted effort to retain him after the 2014 season when he became a free agent.

At about the same time Ross signed with the Chicago Cubs, the Sox traded third baseman Will Middlebrooks to the Padres to obtain Hanigan.

Hanigan, 34, grew up in Massachusetts and is one of the best defensive catchers in the game. He has hit only .208 with a .605 OPS the last two seasons.

The Red Sox believe their improved lineup will be able to carry Vazquez and Hanigan.

In 28-year-old Dan Butler, the Red Sox have a veteran minor leaguer who easily could handle the pitching staff in the event Vazquez or Hanigan spend time on the disabled list.


Butler appeared in seven major league games last season. He had a .349 on-base percentage in six minor league seasons since signing with the Red Sox as an undrafted free agent in 2009. His defensive skills are major-league quality.

The Red Sox have every reason to believe Vazquez and Hanigan will play well, but many eyes in the organization will be on Blake Swihart.

A switch-hitter who turns 23 in April, Swihart finished last season with Triple A Pawtucket, playing 18 games. He hit .300 with an .840 OPS in 92 games for Double A Portland and was named to the Eastern League All-Star team.

Swihart is one of the top prospects in baseball and could one day supplant Vazquez as the everyday catcher. Although Vazquez has advanced defensive skills, some Red Sox executives believe Swihart can be even better. They point to his 47 percent success rate in throwing out would-be base stealers in the Eastern League and his improved receiving skills.

Swihart's athletic ability and offensive potential are such that he could move to a different position, if Vazquez is deemed worthy of staying behind the plate. Swihart easily could switch to any position other than shortstop and perhaps center field.

The other, less likely alternative, would be to use Swihart as a trade chip in the coming weeks or at midseason. If the Sox decide they need to obtain a top-tier starting pitcher, Swihart is the kind of prospect who could help swing such a deal. The Sox so far have resisted the urge to do that. Given the difficulty of finding a catcher who can contribute to the offense, it's easy to understand why.


Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.