Astros Acquire Christian Vázquez From Red Sox in Needed Catcher Upgrade

Christian Vázquez
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox dealing free agent-to-be Christian Vázquez by the trade deadline felt inevitable after the team went 8–19 in July, and that parting came to pass on Monday evening, when the 31-year-old catcher was sent to the Astros in exchange for prospects Wilyer Abreu and Enmanuel Valdez. It was a bittersweet moment for both player and club; Boston’s ninth-round pick in the 2008 draft, Vázquez, a product of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, was the organization’s longest-tenured player.

Vázquez represents a meaningful offensive upgrade for the postseason-bound Astros. The contact-oriented right-handed hitter is slashing .282/.327/.432 with eight home runs and a 111 wRC+ in 318 plate appearances. Martín Maldonado, Houston’s primary catcher to this point in the season, is slashing just .173/.239/.342 with 10 home runs and a 66 wRC+ in 262 plate appearances. As good as Maldonado is defensively, an upgrade was in order.

Experience on the big stage augments the new arrival’s resume. Vázquez has played in 25 postseason games, including four in the 2018 World Series and 11 last year. His most impactful October moment came in Game 3 of the 2021 ALDS, when he walked off the Rays with an 11th-inning, Monster-clearing home run.

Vázquez is by no means a power hitter. While he did leave the yard 23 times in 2019, that total was by far a career high. The eight-year veteran has just 31 home runs across the rest of his career and would be better described as a strong-armed, plus defender — 5 DRS in each of the past two seasons — with a solid bat. The Astros are acquiring a player with a 16% strikeout rate, the third-best among backstops with at least 300 plate appearances, as well an ability to handle high velocity. As The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier wrote on Monday morning, Vázquez “[has] a .314 average this year against pitches of 95-plus m.p.h. — 10th among the 110 big leaguers who have seen at least 500 pitches in that range.”

As Speier also pointed out, Vázquez also leads all players in catcher innings over the past two seasons. While he’s also recently seen time at first base due to injuries and Boston’s dearth of viable options at that position, he’s been a veritable workhorse behind the plate by modern-day standards.

As for Boston’s catching situation going forward, Reese McGuire has been acquired from the White Sox in exchange for left-handed reliever Jake Diekman. (You can find analysis of that deal in Ben Clemens’ upcoming roundup of reliever trades.) The corresponding move was all but necessary. Kevin Plawecki provided value as Vázquez’s backup in 2020 and ’21, but he’s been anything but an heir apparent in the current campaign. The 31-year-old journeyman has a 53 wRC+ and has thrown out just one of 22 runners attempting to steal. Meanwhile, the organization’s top-rated catching prospect is 26-year-old Connor Wong, who has played 11 big-league games and is ranked a non-inspiring No. 25 in the Boston system.

The prospects the Red Sox are receiving in exchange represent a fair return, given that Vázquez is essentially a rental. Abreu, a 23-year-old outfielder, is No. 21 on our updated Astros top prospects list with a 35 Future Value grade. From Eric Longenhagen’s scouting report on him: “Abreu has all-fields power and good feel for the strike zone, enough that he could play a low-end corner outfield role in the big leagues. A hole in his swing (high fastballs) and tepid scout sentiment about his defense in center field (even though he runs pretty well) are round-down aspects of the profile.” Valdez, a 23-year-old third baseman, is unranked, although Eric did provide the following after the deal was announced:

There are enough things to like about Valdez that you could consider him a gripe-able omission from the Astros list. He has clubbed 20 homers for consecutive seasons and has a ferocious swing for such a diminutive hitter. He doesn’t have a clear position, is definitely the sort of defender who will be hurt by the looming ban on shifts, and began to see reps at first base and in left field starting in mid-June. Combine a likely bottom-of-the-spectrum defensive fit with a) worse-than-average chase rates (per Synergy Sports, 37% this year) and a some difficulty getting to fastballs up and away from him (ones still in the zone) and things start to feel scary and flimsy here despite the on-paper production.

In short, both players profile as under-the-radar lottery tickets that Boston’s scouting department found appealing.

The aforementioned acquisition of McGuire (and of Tommy Pham in a separate deal with Cincinnati) lends credence to Chaim Bloom’s stated goal of approaching the deadline neither in sell nor buy mode. As reported in this week’s Sunday Notes column, Boston’s Chief Baseball Officer is focused on the short and long term alike. Not yet out of this year’s postseason picture, the Red Sox are looking to contend and build at the same time. Parting ways with a free-agent-to-be is but one half of that equation.

[Update: Bloom told The Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey that the Red Sox are “still pushing for the postseason and this is an incomplete picture of what they’ll do over the next 20 hours.”}

As for the Astros, this is a team with its sights set on October. While they have the American League West all but locked up, a return to the World Series and a second chance at their first title since 2018 is the ultimate goal. An upgrade at the catcher position, which is what Vázquez provides, can only help in that pursuit.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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1 year ago

Though just a rental, feel like the Astros got him on the cheap.