The Boston Red Sox, according to the latest rumors circulating around Major League Baseball with the start of Spring Training less than three weeks away, remain players in the Cole Hamels sweepstakes. The Red Sox have been reportedly targeting the Philadelphia Phillies southpaw ace since dealing away lefty Jon Lester at the 2014 trade deadline.
When Lester chose to sign as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs rather than return to Boston, the apparent urgency to work a deal to bring Hamels to Boston seemed to take on even greater urgency. But apparently, the one person not feeling that urgency was the only person who mattered — Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington.
Cherington revamped the Boston starting rotation, but without adding any of the high-profile Number One starters on the market, either as free agents of by trade. The GM declared himself satisfied with the additions of Wade Miley, Rick Porcello and Justin Masterson, to round out a five-man front topped by veteran Clay Buchholz and last year’s trade deadline acquisition Joe Kelly.
Why won’t Cherington bite on bringing Hamels to Boston? According to a report by longtime USA Today baseball correspondent Bob Nightengale, the Red Sox are one of five teams still expressing what the writer called “varying degrees of interest” in Hamels.
But Nightengale also had this to say about Boston’s chances to land Hamels.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) February 3, 2015
Blake Swihart, at 22 years old, is widely considered the top catching prospect in baseball, and the most promising non-pitcher in the Red Sox minor league system.
“Athletic, switch hitting catcher. Possesses fluid swings from both sides of the plate. Plus bat speed via quick, explosive hands….Elite makeup, strong work ethic. First-division regular potential as a two-way threat who can hit for both average and power and play plus defense at a premium position.”
Apparently, Cherington agrees. But the puzzling element of the situation is that the Red Sox already have a catcher. Christian Vasquez made a well-regarded Major League debut last season, starting 50 of 72 games after breaking in on July 9.
“We’re very comfortable with him catching,” Red Sox Manager John Farrell has said of Vasquez. “His defense is at such a high level. He has already shown us he can be one of the best catchers in the league.”
The Red Sox then went out an acquired another top defensive catcher, Ryan Hanigan — picked up from San Diego in exchange for third-baseman Will Middlebrooks — and if either Vasquez of Hanigan go down, the Red Sox have another veteran, Dan Butler, ready to step in from the minor leagues.
All of which makes Cherington’s refusal to part with Swihart somewhat confusing. The answer may be simply that Cherington likes alternatives. According to Boston Globe baseball writer Peter Abraham, the Red Sox organization believes that Swihart has the potential to be even better defensively than Vasquez, and the 20-year-old has already shown that his offense would be superior to what the light-hitting Vasquez can bring.
But is the chance that Swihart could become a superstar the next year or two worth preventing the Red Sox from bringing a proven superstar pitcher to Boston in Cole Hamels? The answer may never be known for sure, but the next three weeks will at least reveal what Cherington believes.