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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Christian Vázquez

The former Red Sox and Astros catcher is a dependable option, but probably not a match with the Bombers.

World Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Nobody would say that the catcher position was a weakness for the Yankees in 2022. Although they were not the most offensively potent duo in the league, the tandem of Platinum Glove recipient and All-Star Jose Trevino and backup catcher Kyle Higashioka provided so much value as pitch framers that they accrued a combined 5.4 fWAR; only the Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies, and Atlanta Braves saw more production from their backstops than the Yankees did.

That said, the unit’s success in 2022 does not mean that it enters 2023 without questions whatsoever. Trevino’s 90 OPS+ constitutes a breakout season by his standards, as he had a 69 OPS+ in 519 plate appearances across four seasons as a member of the Texas Rangers. Higashioka, meanwhile, has regularly shown that he gets exposed at the plate any time he’s in the lineup more than once or twice a week, and will turn 33 next April. The Yankees might opt to bring in a veteran catcher to pair with one of them (likely Trevino) for a bit more stability at the position going forward.

Fortunately, even with Willson Contreras signing with the St. Louis Cardinals, a veteran catcher still remains on the free agent market, two-time World Series champion Christian Vázquez.

Originally drafted by the Red Sox in the ninth round of the 2008 MLB Draft, Vázquez has had a much more interesting career trajectory than you typically expect out of somebody who only changed organizations for the first time back in July. He made his MLB debut in July 2014 in his age-23 season, and then missed all of 2015 due to Tommy John surgery. He would spend 2016 bouncing between Triple-A Pawtucket and Boston, split backstop duties with Sandy Leon in 2017 and 2018 (catching the final out of the World Series victory), before finally seizing the job for himself in 2019. For the next two and a half seasons, Vázquez was the undisputed starting catcher for the Red Sox, before ultimately being traded to the Houston Astros as part of Boston’s “We won’t say we’re selling, but we’re selling” approach to the 2022 trade deadline.

In many ways, Vázquez represents the sort of catcher that the Yankees have gravitated towards since trading Gary Sánchez in March. He’s an above-average pitch framer, having been worth 1 catcher framing runs and generating a 47.8-percent strike rate according to Statcast; FanGraphs pegs him at 4.9 framing runs, 15th most among the 68 catchers with at least 200 innings behind the plate this past year. While this is, obviously, nowhere near as good as Trevino, who is almost undoubtedly the best pitch framer in the game, it’s roughly comparable to Higashioka.

If you’re the Yankees, however, you don’t add Vázquez purely because of his pitch framing; you bring him in because he’s a solid pitch framer whose performance at the plate has been a bit more consistent than that of Higashioka and Trevino over their careers. Since the start of the 2019 season, the former Red Sox catcher has slashed .271/.318/.416 with 45 home runs in 1634 plate appearances, good for a 95 OPS+. Trevino and Higgy, meanwhile, have posted a 78 and 80 OPS+ in that same span, respectively. While nobody would ever expect Vázquez to be a middle of the order power bat, he lengthens the lineup more than either of the Yankees’ current options.

At the end of the day, however, I don’t really foresee the Yankees bringing in Vázquez. Trevino and Higashioka have shown that they are solid, dependable players, and they did a wonderful job with the Yankees pitching staff in 2022. For the team to move on from either, it would have to be for an impact player that would be a definitive upgrade — somebody like Sean Murphy. At this point, Vázquez is likely to see more playing time if he signs elsewhere and simply isn’t enough of an improvement over the Yankees’ internal options for the fit to be there.