The 2015 season starts today, and all eyes should be on
Christian Vazquez (right), as his start could determine
Blake Swihart's (left) future with Boston.
Photo courtesy of NESN.com
With pitchers and catchers set to report to Fort Myers this morning, everyone's eyes should be on the most important man on the Red Sox roster. No, it's not a new masher like Hanley Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval. It's not a player who is on the bubble, like Jackie Bradley or Mookie Betts. If you said Christian Vazquez was the most important player on the roster this Spring, you'd not only be right, but you'd be thinking like me.
Vazquez needs to have a strong Spring to solidify his role as a starter in 2015. With so many new pitchers, Boston has their work cut out for them. In the next month, they will need to find their ace between the injury risks of Justin Masterson, unproven AL East commodities like Rick Porcello and Wade Miley, and last year's back of the rotation guys, Clay Buchholz and "The People's Champ" Joe Kelly. So why is Christian Vazquez the most important man on this year's roster? It's simple, really. A rough Spring by the Puerto Rican catcher will tell the Red Sox that they need more help in the catcher's role, and it will cause Boston to keep the highest ranked catching prospect in baseball, Blake Swihart. If Vazquez has a strong Spring, however, Boston can breathe and look to trade their best trade chip for a much needed pitcher.
It's true that Vazquez is not known for his hitting, but his defense has been so strong in the minors and in his 55 major league games that Boston has named him the starting catcher over Ryan Hanigan for 2015. With such a strong lineup of hitters around him (many have the Red Sox ranked #1 in the American League in offense), Vazquez can afford to hit .240 like he did last year. As long as he puts the bat on the ball and cuts down on his strikeouts (he struck out in 15% of at bats in 2015) and adds to his power (only ten extra base hits in the majors), he can be a valuable asset to the Red Sox going forward.
With many teams looking for a catcher, Blake Swihart has looked very tasty for some teams, including the Philadelphia Phillies, who, according to GM Ruben Amaro says. are in a rebuilding phase this season. With the Red Sox needs including a front of the rotation guy, Cole Hamels has surfaced as a possible trade target for Boston. If Christian Vazquez comes out of the gate hot, Boston can feel good about dealing Swihart to either Philly or another team for an ace. Rumors have surfaced that Jordan Zimmerman and Jonny Cueto have also been talked about in the Red Sox organization.
Just two days ago, Hamels surprised everyone when he went public and told the USA Today that he "just wants to win" and that he is hoping for a trade to a competitive team. His comments brought down his trade value for Philly but also, in theory, made him more attainable. With Hamels owed about $23 million a year until 2018, he will not only cost another team their top prospects but also a lot of cash. And if Vazquez can show that he can shoulder the load of all these new pitchers, plus he can put the ball in play with a little more power, Boston might say goodbye Swihart, and hello Ace.