Bradford: Moving on from Blake Swihart just doesn't feel right

Rob Bradford
April 16, 2019 - 7:55 pm

I had come around on the Sandy Leon effect.

It wasn't complicated. This was the exact same team that won the World Series with the exception of just a few parts, one of which was Leon navigating these starting pitchers. It took me a while, but the dynamic became too obvious to ignore.

In my world, that is unfortunate.

Major League pitchers shouldn't need specific catchers as a crutch. That's just a fact. Yet it exists. It has before, and will when our grandchildren's grandchildren are watching this great game when pitchers are working with five-second pitch clocks.

Remember when the Red Sox traded for Victor Martinez? I remember one team executive saying that the club felt they got two players in one shot, reeling in a middle of the order hitter while also securing someone Clay Buchholz wanted to throw to. (Buchholz at the time didn't feel comfortable with Jason Varitek as his batterymate.) It happens.

But Martinez and his offense was one thing. This is Leon. This is immediately going to put a hole in the bottom in the lineup that wasn't there before, as the switch-hitter's offensive production both last season and this year with Pawtucket would suggest. And while they're prioritizing the guy with the lowest catcher's ERA in baseball a year ago (3.29), the Red Sox are not only implementing one of the worst bats in the bigs but saying see ya to a guy who offers a rarity in this game -- the potential to be an everyday catcher with the ability to hit the baseball.

Jumping ship on Blake Swihart seems like a reactionary and bad idea.

"We just felt at this time it was better to bring up more of a veteran type catcher to handle a veteran starting pitching staff so that’s what we decided to do," Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday night.

Dombrowski told reporters at Yankee Stadium the decision to designate Swihart for assignment was met with much debate during a 1 1/2-hour Monday afternoon with Alex Cora and his coaching staff. The president of baseball operations also noted he had attempted to deal the 27-year-old numerous times throughout the past two seasons. (One American League general manager noted that his team had interest Swihart on numerous occasions but like other clubs didn't see a fit this time around due to the overall catching market.)

That's all fine. But wouldn't it have been wise to at some point give Swihart a chance to show his stuff as the main guy? It's a chance this version of the former No. 1 pick never got.

Cora had said in the middle of last season that Swihart leap-frogged Chrisitan Vazquez in the pecking order. That lasted about a week.

Other than Vazquez starting Opening Day there was no designation of a starting catcher, that was until Dombrowski suggested they had been viewing Swihart as the backup.

"We never really said this year we were going to commit to him 100 percent," the Sox boss said. "We had Vazquez, really Vazquez was our No. 1 guy coming into it. It's hard. Really, what Blake needs at this point and we did commit to him at the end of 2015, 2016 he started real well, and he's been hurt. We really felt at this time he would get some catching time, which he has, but the reality of his situation is he really for his own development really needs to go out and play more than what we can give him, to handle the staff, all the nuances of the game, all the things he needs to do, and we like him a lot. It's just right now, we think Sandy Leon's a better fit for us."

Swihart isn't a slam dunk, but he certainly didn't offer significantly more concerns than Vazquez. Both had their moments, good and bad. For Swihart, the game in which he caught Eduardo Rodriguez in Seattle wasn't a good look considering Dana LeVangie's insistence the gameplan hadn't been followed. But considering this 6-11 team went 3-3 in games Swihart started, it would suggest he could certainly be a player to build on.

The Red Sox catching situation coming into this season was always an imperfect one. Each of these guys had their strengths and weaknesses, just ask any scout. That was the consistent narrative from virtually all of the talent evaluators whose job it was to evaluate the situation. But the consensus also was that Swihart should be the one who could ultimately bury the most concerns.

Whether or not Chris Sale returned to form Tuesday night with Leon behind the plate -- which he really did not -- this is about finding the foundation. This shouldn't be about hoping the quick fix will make people forget what might have been.

It didn't feel right Tuesday afternoon, and it's an uneasiness that didn't go away by day's end.