The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and 2007 with Jason Varitek as the starting catcher. Varitek spent the better part of the entirety of the first decade of this century as the Bosox backstop starter.
With Varitek aging out, Boston brought in Victor Martinez from the Cleveland Indians at the 2009 trade deadline. He would become a 2010 AL All-Star with Boston, but then left via free agency for the Detroit Tigers.
The catcher of the future at that point appeared to be Jarrod Saltalamacchia. ‘Salty’ took over as the starter for the 2011 season. He held that role for two more years through the 2013 World Series victory, after which he signed as a free agent with the Miami Marlins.
Since that time, the Red Sox have not had a regular starting catcher who has been able to hold the role. While trying to give opportunities to their youngsters, they have leaned on veterans such as A.J. Pierzynski, Ryan Hanigan, and David Ross at various times.
Entering 2017, Vazquez has the inside track on the starters role, with Leon likely his backup and Swihart at AAA readying himself for his own next opportunity.
Vazquez and Leon are each out of minor league options, while Swihart still has those options. That is the simple reasoning. Unless Swihart blows the others away at spring training, he is on his way back to AAA Pawtucket.
Leon received the most time this past season. The 27-year old appeared in 74 games behind the plate, 67 of those as starts. He hit for a .310/.369/.476 slash with seven homers and 17 doubles.
Vazquez appeared in 56 games, 49 of those as the starter. The 25-year old also appeared in 55 games back in the 2014 season, and is considered the best defensive player of the trio.
A year ago it seemed as though Swihart was ready to assume the mantle. He appeared in 83 games behind the plate, 78 of those as starts when he hit .274 with 17 doubles and 31 RBI over his first 309 big league plate appearances.
But this year, Swihart ended up behind the plate just a half-dozen times after being tried in the outfield. He played in 13 games out in left field with Boston. Swihart missed most of the season after needing left ankle surgery.
The Red Sox have now told Swihart to forget the outfield and concentrate on preparing to catch once again, putting him squarely back in the long-term mix at the position.
Leon has produced at the big league level. Vazquez is the best defender. Swihart is the best hitter in the bunch. Put them all together, and you have a pretty good starting catcher.
The trouble for the Red Sox is, of course, that you can’t put them all together. Ideally, one of them will seize the job and end the discussion. I would still bet on Swihart in the long run, but for the short term the Boston Red Sox catcher of the future role is still up in the air.