The Twins have jumped into a fast-moving catching market, reportedly agreeing to terms with Christian Vazquez on a three-year contract. The deal, which is pending a physical, will guarantee him $30MM. Vázquez is represented by MDR Sports Management.
A longtime member of the Red Sox, Vázquez now changes uniforms for the second time in five months. Boston dealt him to the Astros at this past summer’s trade deadline, bringing back prospects Wilyer Abreu other Emmanuel Valdez for the final half-season before he hit free agency. That left Vázquez in an unfamiliar role splitting time with Martin Maldonadobut it positioned him to secure his second World Series title.
Vázquez, 32, is one of the better all-around catchers in the game. A light-hitting defensive 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, popping a career-best 23 home runs. Vázquez hasn’t replicated that kind of power outside a season with perhaps the liveliest ball the league has ever used, never reaching double digit longballs in another season. Still, he’s been an adequate hitter in two of the past three years. Vázquez stumbled to a .258/.308/.352 mark in 2021, but he was an above-average hitter during the abbreviated 2020 campaign and roughly league average this past season.
Going back to the start of 2019, he owns a .271/.318/.416 line in slightly more than 1600 plate appearances. That’s five percentage points below league average overall, by measure of wRC+, but it’s above par for a catcher. Backstops have a cumulative .232/.304/.390 mark over that stretch. Vázquez doesn’t draw many walks and, 2019 aside, rarely hits for power. His high-contact approach differentiates him from most of his positional peers, as he owns the fifth-lowest strikeout percentage among catchers (minimum 750 plate appearances) since the start of 2019.
The 2022 season was generally par for the course. Among 29 catchers with 300+ trips to the dish, he had the fourth-lowest strikeout rate (16.2%) and fourth-best rate of contact per swing (85.1%). Overall, Vázquez posted a .274/.315/.399 line in 119 games. He carried an impressive .282/.327/.432 mark with the Red Sox before the trade but stumbled to a .250/.278/.308 showing in 35 regular season games as an Astro. Vázquez also did very little offensively in his six-game playoff showing.
The Twins clearly aren’t deterred by that slow finish to the year. That came in an unfamiliar role dividing his reps with Maldonado, and Minnesota presumably anticipates he’ll more closely approximate his production from his time in Boston moving forward. Offense is only part of the story and Vázquez has an excellent reputation with the glove.
For his career, Vázquez has nabbed just under 34% of attempted basestealers. He had a more modest 27.1% mark this year, but that’s still narrowly above the roughly 25% league average. 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 draws strong grades from public pitch framing metrics. Pair receiving strong with his ability to control the running game, he’s been rated as an above-average catcher by measure of Defensive Runs Saved in all but one season of his career. DRS pegged him 11 runs above par in 2022 and has rated him as 51 runs above average over his eight years in the majors.
That wealth of experience calling games certainly added to Vázquez’s appeal to the Minnesota front office. The Twins have young backstop Ryan Jeffers on hand already. The 25-year-old will continue to see a fair amount of run at Target Field, but president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine have each spoken of a desire to add another starting-caliber catcher to pair with Jeffers. They’ve done just that, leaving manager Rocco Baldelli to decide how to divvy up playing time.
Jeffers, a right-handed hitter, has been far better against lefty pitching (.263/.344/.450) than same-handed opponents (.185/.256/.361) through his first couple MLB campaigns. Vázquez also hits right-handed and is better against southpaws, but his career splits aren’t so drastic. He has a .257/.309/.422 line against lefty arms and a .263/.310/.372 mark against right-handers. Falvey has already suggested the Twins don’t plan to relegate Jeffers solely to the small side of a platoon, but the presence of a more balanced hitter in Vázquez gives Baldelli some more flexibility in matching up against opposing pitchers.
It’s the first meaningful dip into free agency for Minnesota this offseason. Vázquez’s contract lands right in line with MLBTR’s prediction of $27MM over three years. The specific financial breakdown hasn’t been reported yet, but an even distribution of $10MM annually would bring Minnesota’s 2023 payroll around $107MM, in the estimation of Roster Resource. There’s a fair amount of room before getting to this past season’s approximate $134MM mark, and the Twins surely aren’t finished. Addressing shortstop — where the organization awaits Carlos Correa’s decision — is the big question, but the Twins also could stand to upgrade both areas of the pitching staff (especially the bullpen) and potentially shake up their outfield.
Vazquez’s signing follows last week’s five-year agreement between the Cardinals and Willson Contreras and this afternoon’s blockbuster that sent Sean Murphy to Atlanta. As a result, the catching market is drying up quickly. The Blue Jays can still dangle one of their three backstops, with Danny Jansen 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 other Mike Zunino (the latter two of whom saw their 2022 seasons cut short by surgery) among the options.
Chris Cotillo of MassLive reported Vázquez was making progress on a deal with an unknown team. Jon Heyman of the New York Post first reported the backstop was in agreement with the Twins. Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe reported it was a three-year contract, while Ted Schwerzler of Twins Daily was first to report the $30MM guarantee.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.
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