Jorge Alfaro signing a reminder that Red Sox are unsettled at catcher
Tomase: Alfaro signing a reminder that Red Sox are unsettled at catcher originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
We're about to find out how much Christian Vazquez spoiled us.
The veteran catcher may have never been an All-Star in Boston, but he provided stability at one of the most important positions on the field for nearly a decade.
Since trading him to the Astros on Aug. 1, however, the Red Sox have been surprisingly quiet on the catching front. They added long-time backup Reese McGuire from the White Sox within hours of dealing Vazquez, and this week they signed Jorge Alfaro to a minor-league deal after he was non-tendered by the Padres.
Barring a trade or the signing of someone like free agent Gary Sanchez, the team's catching duties will be handled by some combination of that duo and prospect Connor Wong, who was the final piece of the Mookie Betts deal.
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That can't be how baseball operations drew it up this fall, but just add it to the list of plans that didn't pan out. The Red Sox curiously passed on a chance to sign All-Star Willson Contreras, who ended up joining the Cardinals for less money (5 years, $87.5 million) than the Red Sox gave unproven Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida (5 years, $90 million, plus a $15.4 million posting fee). They were also never players for A's Gold Glover Sean Murphy, who went to the Braves in one of the few blockbuster trades of the winter before signing a six-year, $73 million extension.
As we wrap our heads around a disappointing offseason that saw talent depart at a faster rate than it could be replenished, the catching position has avoided scrutiny as a potential area of major weakness. But if we turn our attention away from the gaping hole at shortstop left by the departure of Xander Bogaerts, it's clear that Boston's problems up the middle start behind the plate.
We haven't had to think about catcher much over the last 25 years, thanks primarily to Vazquez and Jason Varitek, with a little Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Victor Martinez mixed in. The club's catching situation probably hasn't been this unsettled since 1994, when journeyman Damon Berryhill served as the primary backstop, with Rich Rowland and Dave Valle in reserve.
Simply put, there isn't a starter in this group. McGuire has never recorded 250 at-bats in a season, and it would be unwise to assume that his .337 average in 36 games with the Red Sox carries more weight than his lifetime OPS of .683.
Alfaro has earned full-time reps, but they were enough to prove he's not an everyday player. He caught 130 games with the Marlins in 2019 after being part of the deal that sent All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies, and he responded with a career-high 18 home runs, but at the expense of contact. He has struck out in over a third of his lifetime plate appearances, which is Bobby Dalbec territory.
That leaves Wong, an undersized catcher with some pop in the minors that has yet to translate in his brief big league career. His future value may be tied more to versatility than durability behind the plate, since he has also played second and third in the minors, as well as shortstop and outfield in college. He's a lifetime .213 hitter during his brief big-league career.
All three can best be described as backups, and perhaps they'll be treated that way, with no one taking full-time reps. Wong and Alfaro hit right-handed, whereas McGuire bats left-handed, so there's clear platoon potential.
What's lacking is upside. Vazquez may not have been a superstar, but he knew the pitching staff and he was dependable. As the Red Sox try to figure out exactly how they're going to contend in 2023, add backstop to their growing areas of uncertainty.