Red Sox clarify their catching situation by putting Sandy Leon on waivers
MESA, Ariz. — Sandy Leon was not at Sloan Park when the Red Sox played the Chicago Cubs on Monday night. The 30-year-old catcher was back at the team hotel, waiting to find out where he will play this season.
After failing to find an acceptable trade for one of their three catchers, the Red Sox placed Leon on waivers. They will enter the season with Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart as their catchers.
The waivers on Leon will expire at approximately noon on Tuesday. If no team claims him, the Sox are expected to assign him to Triple A Pawtucket.
Leon has the right to refuse that assignment, having previously been outrighted following the 2015 season. But he doesn’t have enough service time to refuse the assignment and retain his $2,475,000 salary for this season.
The Sox are hopeful that he will agree to play for Pawtucket.
It was not a moment of celebration for Swihart, who was told by the Sox that he would be on the Opening Day roster. He counts Leon as a friend.
“Just moving forward,” he said. “I’ll do the best job I can.”
The Sox would have trustworthy depth options in the minors if they retain Leon. The team also has 29-year-old Juan Centeno, who has 111 games of major league experience and was on the Astros’ playoff roster when they won the World Series in 2017.
Leon has played parts of four seasons with the Red Sox and was an important player on teams that won three consecutive American League East titles.
Sox pitchers have a 3.51 earned run average in games Leon caught, and since the 2016 All-Star break, he has started 53 percent of the games.
Leon caught 23 of the team’s last 40 shutouts and in at one point last season — from June 21 to Aug. 8 — the Sox were 25-1 in games he started.
Chris Sale in particular has flourished working with Leon.
“I trust him implicitly,” Sale said after a start last season. “He puts down a pitch, and I throw it. He’s a great catcher.”
But Leon hit .177 with a .511 OPS last season including .095 with a .330 OPS after the All-Star break. He was 3 for 13 in the postseason with one run scored and one RBI.
Leon tried a back-to-basics approach in spring training but was 7 of 30 (.233) with one extra-base hit in 16 games.
Cora sees Vazquez as being the primary catcher with Swihart backing him up. The Sox developed greater faith in Swihart last season, when he started and played well in 11 games behind the plate while Vazquez was on the injured list from July 8 to Aug. 31.
Swihart followed that up with a strong performance in spring training. He hit .400 with a .919 OPS over 13 games and caught 48 innings.
The 26-year-old former first-round draft pick has yet to live up to expectations but still has a high ceiling as player. He has hit .256 with a .613 OPS for his career.
The Sox said in December they planned to enter the season with two catchers. Carrying Swihart last season was unwieldy, particularly in the first half of the season
That made spring training an awkward one for the three catchers as they competed for two spots.
“They’ve been great,” Cora said. “I think they grew closer . . . It wasn’t easy. But the way they went about their business preparing, they’re pros.”
The Sox have already decided the first baseman Steve Pearce, who was the Most Valuable Player of the World Series, will open the season on the injured list.
Pearce has not played since March 17 because of a strained left calf.
“We should do it,” Cora said. “We have to do it that way. It makes sense for us; it makes sense for him. He should be back sooner rather than later, but he won’t be ready for Seattle, so why take a chance?”
Pearce’s stint on the IL can be backdated three days before the regular season. He will return to the team’s complex in Fort Myers, Fla.
Sam Travis will now be on the Opening Day roster. The Sox would want a right-handed-hitting first baseman to platoon with Mitch Moreland, especially given the number of left-handed starters they expect to face in their first three series.
Travis, 25, was a long shot to make the roster from the start of camp, the former second-round pick tumbling down the prospect rankings over the last two seasons. He hit .258 with little power in 97 games for Pawtucket last season.
Travis has hit .222 over 52 major league games with one home run in 112 at-bats.