Tomase: Is Christian Vazquez a building block or a trade chip? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
* Throughout this month, we'll put a member of the 2020 Red Sox and one of their most notable statistics under the microscope while assessing their season and what lies ahead. Today's installment: Christian Vazquez.
Is Christian Vazquez a top-five offensive catcher? The question would've been absurd two years ago, but not anymore. Since the start of the 2019 season, Vazquez's .798 OPS ranks sixth among full-time backstops, trailing only All-Stars Willson Contreras, Yasmani Grandal, J.T. Realmuto, and James McCann, as well as Travis d'Arnaud.
He checks in one spot ahead of vaunted Yankees slugger and former Baby Bomber Gary Sanchez. Once known primarily for his arm, Vazquez now supports his defensive prowess with a legitimate bat.
What went right for Vazquez in 2020
Can't argue with the final numbers. Vazquez hit .283 with seven homers and an .801 OPS, building on his breakthrough 2019, when he slammed a career-high 23 homers. In a sea of offensive disappointment -- we're looking at you, Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez, and Michael Chavis, to name three -- Vazquez stayed the course.
Also on the list of positives: he's still here. His name came up at the trade deadline, thanks to a team-friendly contract that potentially runs through 2022, as well as the obvious positional scarcity of being a useful offensive catcher.
What went wrong for Vazquez in 2020
We can salute Vazquez's final numbers while quibbling with how he reached them, however. After a red-hot start that included four homers in his first five games, Vazquez seemed a little too willing to embrace his role as a Bash Brother. He began swinging for the fences and did not homer again for more than a month, posting just a .586 OPS over 34 games while striking out 34 times from July 31 through Sept. 11.
He then tore it up in garbage time, with three homers and 11 RBIs over his final eight games. We should also note that while Vazquez is considered an elite pitch framer, he can still get a little sloppy receiving the ball, especially when trying to rush a throw.
Early outlook for 2021
The primary question for Vazquez is whether he'll return. On a team with so many holes, a thumping 30-year-old catcher on a reasonable contract could fetch a useful return.
If he is back, that's certainly not a bad thing. Vazquez provides stability at a bedrock position and gives the Red Sox solid all-around production at a spot where other clubs either punt on offense or heavily platoon.
Vazquez represents that rare luxury as a truly reliable everyday catcher.