AP NEWS

Red Sox Are Shopping Catcher Sandy Leon

March 22, 2019

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After a year of incredible success throwing to catcher Sandy Leon, the Boston Red Sox are reportedly shopping their trusty catcher with a week before opening day.

ESPN reported on Thursday that the Sox are actively discussing possible trades involving Leon, the 30-year-old switch-hitter known for his well-regarded defensive work behind the plate.

Last year, Boston’s pitching staff had a 3.38 ERA throwing to Leon compared to a 3.84 ERA throwing to Christian Vazquez and a 5.32 ERA throwing to Blake Swihart.

The Red Sox were 55-23 (.705) when Leon started behind the plate, 46-21 (.687) when Vazquez started and 5-11 (.313) when Swihart started.

“No disrespect to any other catcher that I’ve thrown to, but (Leon) is the best catcher I’ve ever thrown to,” Rick Porcello said last year. “His game calling, he’s prepared for every pitcher, starter or bullpen. He’s kind of the heartbeat of our pitching staff.”

But after carrying three catchers for a full season, the Red Sox have made it clear they’re only interested in carrying two catchers to start the year in 2019.

Thursday afternoon, manager Alex Cora said he already had a good idea of how he saw the catching situation unfolding.

“In my mind, yeah, but I’ve got a lot of things on my mind,” Cora said. “The three are good, really good. We’re very comfortable with all of them. We’ll take two. I don’t think one hit or two hits there makes a difference. It’s just a matter of where we at as a group.”

The disparity was most noticeable when David Price began throwing to Leon last year. He ended the season with a 2.37 ERA in 13 games throwing to Leon and a 4.68 ERA in 17 games throwing to Vazquez.

Leon “puts in the work, he puts in the time,” Price said last year. “He now has enough time in the American League to know all these hitters. He thinks back there. He doesn’t take his at-bats out to the field. He does a really good job.”

Leon is set to make $2.475 million this year through salary arbitration if he makes the opening-day roster. Or the Red Sox could trade and/or cut him before Monday to save that money.

Vazquez is signed to a long-term deal and will make more than $13 million over the next three seasons.

Swihart is not yet arbitration-eligible and is making $910,000.

BULLPEN COMPETITION STILL HOT

The Red Sox are still looking at three open spots in the bullpen that are subject to competition, Cora said.

They plan on taking eight relievers to start the year. Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree and Ryan Brasier should be locks to make the team. Brian Johnson, Hector Velazquez, Tyler Thornburg and Brandon Workman are the most obvious selections to round out the top seven, with the eighth and final spot open to a variety of pitchers.

Rookie lefty Darwinzon Hernandez has pitched well enough to make the team, as has righty Marcus Walden.

“We need multiple inning guys,” Cora said. “They’re a luxury to have. If you have more than one it’s really good. You can maneuver the bullpen the way you want to, pitch them up four or down two and all of a sudden you save your bullpen. I like that.

“Last year, like I’ve been saying all along, what Hector and BJ have done for us they put us in a great spot. Walden early, too. I still remember that game he pitched in Miami. He survived but did his job. That’s something we look into, we really consider. We really like it.”

MEJIA COULD SURPRISE

Non-roster invite Jenrry Mejia, the former Mets closer once suspended for life due to three PED violations, is still in consideration as well. He has allowed four runs on six hits and two walks in seven innings, striking out nine.

“He’s been throwing the ball well,” Cora said. “Yesterday he got hit but what’s that mean? Two singles and a double. He was around the plate. You could see after that the stuff got better. Probably being too much around the plate didn’t help him. Jenrry is a guy that we like the way he’s throwing the ball. The stuff is getting crisper and velocity is getting up there.”

Cora said it doesn’t matter who makes the team on Opening Day, the roster will undergo ongoing changes throughout the year.

“Last year we surprised a lot of people with the pitchers we took,” Cora said. “We talk about it yesterday and we might have some surprises this year. We might not.”

ODDS AND ENDS

David Price was scheduled to throw an aggressive bullpen on the backfields before the Sox’ evening game on Thursday and he’ll likely pitch against the Cubs on Tuesday, lining him up to make his first regular season start against the Mariners next Sunday.

Steve Pearce (sore calf) hit in the cage on Thursday and is feeling better. The Red Sox have yet to make a decision about his readiness for opening day. He has just 17 at-bats this spring.

On a conference call to promote ESPN’s Opening Day coverage of the Red Sox on Thursday, Alex Rodriguez said he understands why players are signing more contract extensions, but they’ll have more negotiating power if they wait until they’re closer to free agency.

Mookie Betts, in his fourth big league season, is two years away from free agency.

“The minute the fifth or sixth year starts, the agent starts to get a lot of power,” said Rodriguez, who was the highest-paid player in the game for 15 years. “And it’s hard to unwind that once you get to the sixth year. You see players taking a little bit less for security. I don’t blame them. They’re in a great place and capitalizing on it.”