The twins got into a fast-paced contagious market, seemingly agreeing to terms with Christian Vazquez on a three-year contract. The deal, which is pending a physical, will secure him $30 million. Vázquez is represented by MDR Sports Management.
A longtime member of the Red Sox, Vázquez is now changing his uniform for the second time in five months. Boston dealt him to the Astros at last summer’s trade deadline, bringing back prospects Wilyer Abreu and Emmanuel Valdez for the final half season before moving into free agency. This left Vázquez in an unknown role dividing his time with martin maldonadobut it positioned him to secure his second World Series title.
Vázquez, 32, is one of the best all-around receivers in the game. A light defense specialist for his first few seasons, the Puerto Rico native has taken a step forward with the bat over the past four years. He hit .276 / .320 / .477 in 521 plate appearances in 2019, hitting a career-best 23 home runs. Vázquez hasn’t replicated that kind of power outside of a season with perhaps the snappiest ball the league has ever used, never hitting double-digit longballs in another season. Still, he’s been an adequate hitter in two of the last three years. Vázquez stumbled to a .258/.308/.352 mark in 2021, but he was an above-average hitter in the abbreviated 2020 campaign and around league average last season.
As of the start of 2019, he has a .271/.318/.416 line in just over 1,600 plate appearances. That’s five percentage points below the overall league average, by wRC+ metric, but it’s above par for a receiver. Safety nets have a cumulative mark of 0.232/0.304/0.390 on this stretch. Vázquez doesn’t draw many walks and, 2019 aside, rarely punches for power. His high-contact approach sets him apart from most of his positional peers, as he has the fifth-lowest strikeout percentage among catchers (minimum 750 plate appearances) since the start of 2019.
The 2022 season has been generally normal for the course. Among 29 catchers with more than 300 trips to the flat, he had the fourth lowest strikeout rate (16.2%) and the fourth best contact rate per swing (85.1%). Overall, Vázquez posted a .274/.315/.399 line in 119 games. He had an impressive .282/.327/.432 mark with the Red Sox before the trade, but stumbled to a .250/.278/.308 performance in 35 regular season games as an Astro . Vázquez also did very little offensively in his six playoff games.
The Twins are clearly not discouraged by this slow end to the year. That came in an unfamiliar role splitting its reps with Maldonado, and Minnesota likely anticipates he’ll be getting closer to its production from his time in Boston going forward. Attacking is only part of the story and Vázquez has an excellent reputation with the glove.
For his career, Vázquez has caught just under 34% of attempted robberies. He had a more modest mark of 27.1% this year, but that’s still just above the league average of around 25%. Statcast also credits him with a better-than-average arm, placing him 20th among 73 catchers with 10+ throws in pop time (average time to throw to second base). Vázquez consistently gets high marks from the public pitch framing metrics. Pair solid receiving with his ability to control the run game, he’s been rated an above-average receiver in defensive points saved in all but one season of his career. The DRS gave him 11 points above par in 2022 and rated him 51 points above average in his eight years in the majors.
That wealth of experience in call plays has certainly added to Vázquez’s appeal to the Minnesota front office. The twins have a young support Ryan Jeffers already at hand. The 25-year-old will continue to see a healthy amount of runs at Target Field, but President of Baseball Operations Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine have each expressed their desire to add another starting-caliber catcher to partner with. Jeffers. They did just that, leaving manager Rocco Baldelli to decide how to allocate playing time.
Jeffers, a right-handed hitter, was much better against left-handed throwing (.263/.344/.450) than against opponents on the same side (.185/.256/.361) in his first two MLB campaigns. Vázquez also hits right-handed and is better against left-handers, but his career isn’t that drastic. He has a line of .257/.309/.422 against left-handers and a mark of .263/.310/.372 against right-handers. Falvey has previously suggested the Twins don’t plan to relegate Jeffers to just the small side of a field, but having a more balanced hitter in Vázquez gives Baldelli more flexibility to take on opposing pitchers.
It’s the first significant dip in free agency for Minnesota this offseason. Vázquez’s contract fits perfectly with MLBTR’s forecast of $27 million over three years. The specific financial split has yet to be released, but an even split of $10 million per year would bring Minnesota’s payroll in 2023 to around $107 million, according to Roster Resource’s estimate. There’s plenty of room before they hit last season’s rough $134 million mark, and the Twins sure aren’t done. Address the shortstop – where the organization waits by Carlos Correa decision — is the big question, but the Twins could also improve both areas of the pitching staff (especially the bullpen) and potentially shake up their outfield.
Vázquez’s signing follows last week’s five-year deal between the Cardinals and Willson Contreras and this afternoon’s blockbuster that sent Sean Murphy in Atlanta. As a result, the capture market is rapidly drying up. The Blue Jays can still dangle one of their three backstops, with Danny Janssen apparently the most likely to move. Free agency is without many obvious solutions at this point, with glove-first players like Austin Hedges, Tucker Barnhart, Roberto Perez and Mike Zunino (the latter two of whom had their 2022 seasons cut short by surgery) among the options.
Mass Live’s Chris Cotillo reported that Vázquez was progressing on a deal with an unknown team. Jon Heyman of the New York Post first reported that the backstop was okay with the Twins. Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham reported that it was a three-year contract, while Ted Schwerzler of Twins Daily was the first to report the $30 million guarantee.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.
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