Boston Red Sox

By Matt McCarthy,

Just over three weeks ago, the Red Sox made a commitment to Blake Swihart as their backup catcher.

Less than a month later, he’s gone.

The decision to designate Swihart for assignment is nothing short of reactionary. It’s the type of move a panicked 6-11 team makes.

The pitching staff is terrible? Blame the backup catcher. Call up the Pitching Whisperer from Pawtucket.

What a joke.

It’s only fitting that the Red Sox decision to part ways with Swihart ended up being a rash and hasty one. Nearly every decision this organization ever made with Swihart, their former top prospect, seemed to have little forethought.

They converted him from a high school shortstop to a professional catcher after drafting him in 2011. They tried to move him to the outfield after he caught just 90 games over two seasons at the big league level. They tried to move him back behind the plate after that, before attempting to make him some type of super-utility man, but never gave him the opportunity to play in that role.

In the end, Swihart had just 573 at-bats in the majors before the Red Sox gave up on him.

Jul 30, 2018; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart (23) gets a base hit to drive in the winning run against the Philadelphia Phillies in the thirteenth inning at Fenway Park. Red Sox defeated Philadelphia 2-1. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll fully admit that I’ve never been Swihart’s biggest supporter. He’s a tweener. He has more offensive upside than most catchers, but he likely isn’t good enough behind the plate to be a team’s number one backstop. He can play all over the field, but his bat likely isn’t impactful enough to play a corner infield or outfield position on a daily basis.

Despite his obvious limitations, Swihart had value. The Red Sox were just never smart enough to realize that.

Swihart could have given the Sox a bench option that few major league teams have. He’s a utility man who can catch when needed, can run well, and can hit a bit.

Find me another bench player in the big leagues who fits that mold.

His value is not as an everyday catcher. His value is as someone who can catch here and there and can contribute in a number of ways off the bench late in games.

That sounds like a skillset a manager would like to have at his disposal, but maybe Alex Cora isn’t astute enough to find ways to take advantage of a player like that.

It doesn’t take a baseball genius to realize that the Red Sox need more position players. For some unexplained reason, the Sox are still carrying 13 pitchers on their roster. That’s entirely unnecessary, even for a team that can’t pitch.

If Sandy Leon is going to be the savior of this pitching staff, then why is some bum like Erasmo Ramirez needed at the end of the bullpen anyway? Isn’t everything going to magically turn around with Leon’s presence?

Apr 29, 2018, Boston, MA, USA: Boston Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon watches his RBI single against the Tampa Bay Rays during the eighth inning at Fenway Park. (Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Apr 29, 2018, Boston, MA, USA: Boston Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon watches his RBI single against the Tampa Bay Rays during the eighth inning at Fenway Park. (Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

The Sox have left themselves so short with position players that Christian Vazquez played second base on Monday. They’re an in-game injury or two away from Colten Brewer or some poor sap playing the field.

There is an obvious need to carry four bench players, not three, on the 25-man roster, and there certainly was room for both Swihart and Leon in that case. The only thing that got in the way of that was the Red Sox stubbornness and unwillingness to think outside the box.

They told themselves they weren’t going to carry three catchers again in 2019. Dave Dombrowski made that announcement over the offseason and he wasn’t going to deviate from that plan.

Why not? Carrying Swihart and Leon certainly didn’t hurt the Sox in 2018, why would it hurt them now?

They’ve now designated both Swihart and Leon for assignment in a matter of three weeks to make sure they stick to their newfound philosophy on roster-building. They were lucky to keep Leon in the organization. They likely won’t be so lucky with Swihart.

Some team, a National League club perhaps, will recognize Swihart’s value. Perhaps he’ll get a legitimate chance to find a role in the big leagues.

Best of luck to him. He deserves more of a shot than the Red Sox gave him.

You can hear Matt McCarthy on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s own Hardcore Baseball podcast and on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.

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