BOSTON — Blake Swihart has spent all season in a virtually non-existent role, one that Alex Cora and Dave Dombrowski both indicated on Tuesday will not change barring injury to Sandy Leon or Christian Vazquez. Swihart's agent, Brodie Scoffield of The Legacy Agency, sees a situation that's been unproductive for both the player and the team, and has asked the Red Sox to trade Swihart.
“Yes. We’ve had conversations with the team, and they’re aware of how we feel,” Scoffield told NBC Sports Boston on Tuesday night. “Blake’s in a really difficult position. We’ve got a switch-hitter, offensive impact player, and his bat deserves a chance to be in the lineup.
“Blake’s not the type of player that’s going to ask or demand a trade [on his own]. He’s focused on what’s in front of him and happy having a positive impact on the team and the situation at hand. That being said, I don’t think we’re building any type of trade value, nor helping him progress as a ballplayer, nor is the team really being served by him in this role.”
Swihart earlier in May said he would leave the trade topic to Scoffield. Scoffield declined to comment at the time. Now, with more than a quarter of the season completed and Swihart still serving no purpose other than “protection for us as a third catcher,” as Dombrowski put it Tuesday, Scoffield is pushing for change.
"With Dustin Pedroia returning, it seems now would be the time to make a move with Blake," Scoffield said.
Reached by email Wednesday, Dombrowski did not let on how he plans to handle this situation.
"Always listen to the player/agent and understand their desire to play," Dombrowski wrote. "However, do not have any set policy about this type of request."
Boston Red Sox
With Carson Smith hurt, the Sox have an obvious need for a reliever that Swihart could help them fill as a trade piece.
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The way the season has unfolded has been an about-face from the potential super-utility role Cora publicly described for Swihart in spring training. Leon and Vazquez, meanwhile, have given the Sox the worst offensive production at catcher in the majors, but even a single start for Swihart behind the plate has not materialized.
“The plan is very much like it is right now,” Dombrowski said Tuesday, prior to Scoffield's comments. “He is a protection for us as a third catcher. Really, I know people keep writing about that too, but the reality is, your 25th player usually doesn’t play that much anyway, really. It’s more an unfortunate situation I think probably for him, because a lot of times it’s a veteran-type player that fits that role that doesn’t play all that much. And for him, ideally he’d be out there playing on an every day basis, but with the rules and the optional status, we just don’t have that luxury with him. So he’s in a spot where he contributes.
“He’s a protection, third catcher for us. He gets in the lineup every so often, and it’s just up to him to be in a position to try to do the best he can. It’s a tough role, we know it. But it’s not like if we went and moved him off and put somebody else on that that other person would be playing a great deal. They really wouldn’t be playing at that point."
Swihart, 26, has had four starts at designated hitter, one inning behind the plate, four innings at first base and 19 innings in the outfield. He has not hit well in 32 plate appearances: 4-for-29, or a .138 average. But he cannot be expected to produce with scarce opportunity.
The only merit to the status quo for the club: they retain Swihart in the organization. Dombrowski’s description of Swihart’s roster spot as one that typically relegates a player to little on-field time is a stretch, particularly on a club where Cora is emphasizing rest and keeping everyone fresh. The Sox theoretically could carry a reliever they would use in Swihart’s place.
The playing time of any player, a “25th man” or otherwise, usually depends on skillset: speed, defense, whatever it may be. But Swihart has barely had a chance to do anything. He has not been asked to pinch hit since April 27. Swihart is often praised for his athleticism, but has not pinch run since April 5.
Vazquez and Leon entered Tuesday with a combined .452 OPS, the worst in the majors. Cora on Tuesday was asked if there is a point where what those two bring defensively is outweighed by their poor hitting.
“We’re scoring a lot of runs still,” Cora said before a 5-3 loss to the A’s. “If we were struggling as a unit offensively, we might think about it, but we’re scoring runs.”
One of Swihart's outs in a rare start Monday had an exit velocity of 108 mph, a harder hit ball in play than Leon has this season, and harder than any in Vazquez's big league career.
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In Fort Myers this spring, Cora made a reference to Astros standout Marwin Gonzalez when talking about Swihart.
“The Marwin Gonzalez’s of the world are good for the manager. They really help you out,” Cora told reporters in mid-March. “With Swi, the way he’s moving around and the way he’s swinging the bat, I don’t want to get ahead of myself and say super utility. But that’s what you envision, like Marwin. He’s good on both sides of the ball, so you can move him around and your lineup doesn’t suffer and defense stays the same.”
Said Scoffield: “We’re talking about Blake being the Marwin Gonzalez of the Red Sox. We’re talking about ground balls at second base, we’re taking ground balls at third base, we’re in the outfield, we’re catching. But none of that’s materialized. And so it’s mixed messages. It’s an undefined role for a player that can catch, that can hit, and whose athleticism allows him to move all around the diamond.”
Swihart’s case is a unique one where the player has been particularly agreeable to the team’s needs and requests. But there's no way his lot improves now besides someone being moved or getting hurt. When Swihart sits, he doesn't grow personally or in trade value. Swihart cannot be sent to the minor leagues freely because he is out of options.
A top prospect and first-round draft pick out of high school in 2011, the Red Sox had Swihart move from shortstop to catcher when he entered the organization. They asked him to move to the outfield in 2016 when catching didn’t work out immediately at the big league level, and Swihart got hurt playing the outfield. He wasn’t fully himself in 2017 until winter ball, when he hit well. In spring training this year he drew a lot of attention with early success. He's been working hard at multiple positions during the season, including at catcher. But his only starts have come at DH.
Dombrowski hinted that a move with Swihart could indeed come when Pedroia returns in roughly two weeks. But that's not a guarantee. If the Sox make room for Pedroia in a way that doesn't directly involve Swihart — say Eduardo Nunez happens to go to the disabled list — Swihart could find himself in the same situation. Sitting around, waiting for the very slim chance he gets to play.
“With the flexibility that we have, with [Brock] Holt and Nunez both, now when Pedey comes back — which I anticipate sometime in a couple weeks, I don’t have the exact time, but he’s making significant strides — we’ll have to make a move at that point,” Dombrowski said. “And we’ll see that, where it takes us."
Scoffield hopes the Red Sox agree the moment should take Swihart to greener pastures, somewhere he has a chance to help his team.