Jim Callis: Blake Swihart the most difficult Red Sox prospect to part with

July 29, 2014 - 9:45 am

It's a hectic time for the shaping of the Red Sox. The team is currently in sell mode, with the possibility of dealing any number of key veterans such as Jon Lester and John Lackey. At the same time, the Sox are no doubt in the early stages of contemplating how they're going to address some of their pressing needs for 2015, whether beefing up the middle of the order or identifying a starting pitcher who could serve as a replacement for Lester should he not be with the team in 2015. That, in turn, has created scenarios in which the Sox could both sell (parting with players slated to reach free agency after this year) and buy (adding long-term assets). For instance, could a team that has an organizational commitment to limiting the risk associated with long-term deals let Lester walk (or trade him, as the case may be) rather than signing him to a five- or six-year deal at, say, $24 million a year, and instead seek to trade for a pitcher like Cole Hamels who is essentially Lester's age (Hamels, 30, is less than a month older than Lester), but whose contract guarantee would count as just a four-year, $96 million commitment for luxury tax purposes? In essence, doing so would have the Sox acquiring prospects for Lester and trading other prospects away in order to avoid one or two years at roughly the same AAV that Hamels would be receiving. The Sox would certainly appear to have the trade chips to acquire Hamels, certainly. As Jim Callis of MLB.com noted in this podcast (on whether WEEI.com and/or the baseball industry overrates Red Sox prospects), the Sox might have the best catching prospect (Blake Swihart), the best left-handed pitching prospect (Henry Owens) and the best second base prospect (Mookie Betts) in the game. That permits flexibility to strike a deal. So would it make sense for the Sox to send out prospects -- perhaps a package headlined by Swihart, at a time when Christian Vazquez has been extremely impressive -- in order to acquire a Hamels and avoid going an extra year or two on Lester? To Callis, the answer is no. "I'm the guy who keeps writing the line, and I always qualify this by saying I'm not saying Blake Swihart will be this, but Blake Swihart has the closest thing to Buster Posey's tools since Buster Posey," Callis said, alluding to the Giants catcher and 2012 NL Most Valuable Player. "That's a huge consideration. ... You know what Jon Lester can do in Boston. You don't have to worry about if there's any adjustment there, though it's not like Philadelphia is any cakewalk either. Cole Hamels has been a world champion as well. But I think, if my choices were giving Jon Lester an extra year at $24 million or I could have Cole Hamels for one less year but I had to give up Blake Swihart and other players, I'm signing Jon Lester. I don't want to give up Blake Swihart. "I know you want the flexibility because the team got in a bad way when it committed all the dollars to Crawford and Lackey was hurt, and they had no flexibility before the Dodgers bailed them out, but at the same time, if Blake Swihart, I'm not going to say he's going to be Buster Posey. Let's not even say he'll be an All-Star -- we'll just say an above-average catcher, a guy who can hit .280 with 15 homers and be a solid defender. That's a pretty good player. That is probably an All-Star. "If Blake Swihart is doing that and you're paying him $500,000 or close to it for two or three years, and you still get a discount when you're paying him in arbitration, when you're paying Cole Hamels or Jon Lester for that matter $24 million a year, really, I think, what you're hoping for is that you break even. You're not going to get a lot of excess value if you're paying a pitcher $24 million a year. You might break even, but you're not going to come out ahead. If I'm paying Blake Swihart $500,00 a year, I can come out way ahead." Callis said that he would put Swihart atop the list of the Red Sox prospects who are most difficult to trade. "There never should be anyone [off limits] because you never know what kind of trade package you'll get," said Callis. "An obvious target would be somebody like Giancarlo Stanton. Say Stanton's available. To me, the best prospect in the system is now Mookie Betts. But I've also got Dustin Pedroia signed long term at second base, I've got Sean Coyle and Wendell Rijo coming up behind him, and while I think Mookie Betts can be a good center fielder, I still believe in Jackie Bradley's on-base skills and I still think Jackie Bradley, in time, can be the best defensive center fielder in baseball. So to me, Mookie Betts would be expendable. "If I were running the Red Sox, I'm making the final call, Marlins are on the line and they'll trade Giancarlo Stanton, the guy who it would pain me to give up would be Blake Swihart. But you also have Christian Vazquez. Blake Swihart is arguably the best catching prospect in baseball. Christian Vazquez is in the top eight, 10, 15 catching prospects in baseball. So if Giancarlo Stanton is there and I have to part with Blake Swihart," Callis paused to consider. "I would struggle with that. He would probably be the guy I would have the hardest time trading. That's the hardest position to fill and he has a chance to be really, really good."