Early Friday afternoon the Boston Red Sox announced (via twitter) the following transactions.
Carson Smith was placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to May 15 with right elbow soreness. Brock Holt was placed on the 7-day concussion disabled list retroactive to May 19, with what is being called a “mild concussion.”
Blake Swihart and Noe Ramirez were both recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket.
What do all those moves mean?
Let’s start with Carson Smith. Wednesday night I was discussing concerns about Smith’s health with Mike Grinnell and Tom Rowe of ESPN New Hampshire on the ESPN GameNight show.
There’s really nothing too positive to discuss with regards to Smith hitting the disabled list. For now the Red Sox are calling it “elbow soreness,” but anyone who has followed baseball recently knows all-too-well that “elbow soreness,” can often end up being diagnosed as some form of ligament tear. Ligament tears can often lead to season-ending, tommy john surgery.
The Red Sox haven’t given any sort of time table for Smith’s return from the DL. While he’s out of action a Red Sox bullpen that lacks depth, becomes even more shallow.
There’s another side to this injury, one that hasn’t been discussed much. When the Red Sox traded for Carson Smith they sent starting pitcher Wade Miley to the Seattle Mariners in return.
Miley isn’t one of those guys who grabs headlines with high strikeout totals or dominant performances, but as of May 20, 2016 he’s 4-2 with a 4.32 earned run average and a 1.20 whip ratio for the 23-17, first-place Mariners.
With Eduardo Rodriguez’s return delayed, the Red Sox are in a situation where they’re starting both Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly, with little confidence that either can be consistently effective.
In other words, a guy like Miley might not be such a bad guy to have right now. A healthy and effective Carson Smith means that this probably isn’t being discussed. Smith isn’t healthy, and while one could easily chalk this up to bad luck, there have been concerns about him being injury prone since well before that Red Sox-Mariners trade last offseason.
In late February of 2015 Ryan Divish, the Seattle Mariners beat writer for the Seattle Times wrote a lengthy column detailing Smith’s unorthodox delivery, and how various coaches and scouts had warned Smith of injury risk throughout his amateur and minor league career.
Scouts would tell him he would break down from injury. That the sidearm style would simply put too much pressure on his elbow and shoulder.
“I know there are health problems,” he (Smith) said. “People have told me about all the red flags when I’m out there throwing the baseball.”
Smith was dominant for the first half of 2015. Then he hit a very rough patch which lasted through most of July and August. The Mariners cut down on his use, and Smith rebounded with a solid September.
With Major League teams placing increased value on late-inning relievers, it might have come as a bit of mystery as to why a Seattle team with an awful bullpen would deal one of their few seemingly good relievers for a fairly pedestrian starter in Wade Miley.
Maybe the Mariners felt Smith’s unorthodox delivery would never hold up under frequent use? That it was better to try and deal him before he incurred what they may have seen as an inevitable series of injuries?
If that’s the case then their timing was exceptional. In late March of 2016 Smith strained a forearm muscle. Tests showed it was nothing more than a strain, but it still took Smith almost six weeks to make his May 3, 2016 Red Sox debut.
Smith needed only nine pitches to retire the side in his one inning of action. He made two more appearances before landing back on the disabled list. All together he’s worked a total of 2.2 innings and thrown only 48 pitches. Now he’s back on the disabled list with that all-too-concerning elbow soreness.
Here’s hoping that Smith is fine and merely needs some rest because if some sort of major surgery is required then you can add “bullpen depth” to “starting pitching depth” on that list of serious Red Sox needs this season.
The Red Sox also recalled Blake Swihart. Remember Swihart? He was the Red Sox first round draft pick (No.26 overall) in 2011. Swihart spent almost all of his minor league career steadily climbing up those top 100 prospect rankings that various websites churn out on an annual basis.
Swihart is athletic, he’s a switch-hitter, and he’s a catcher. That’s a nifty combo of skills, and it was expected they’d combine to produce a fairly reliable and effective major league catcher.
Only problem has been that he’s yet to really fulfill those expectations. On the one hand, he hasn’t been given too much of a chance. A series of Red Sox injuries led to Swihart being brought up to the big leagues for his major league debut on May 2, 2015.
He wasn’t perfect at or behind the plate, but when the 2015 season had finished he had played in 84 games, slashed .274/.319/.393, hit four home runs, stolen five bases and driven in 31 as well. He arrived at spring training 2016 as the presumed opening day starting catcher.
One week into the season Swihart was demoted to Pawtucket. The Red Sox called up Christian Vazquez, another talented but less heavily hyped catching prospect. Vazquez had a reputation as a better fielder than Swihart, but with a more limited offensive arsenal.
Thus far Vazquez has provided some impressive defensive plays. He’s made some unexpected misplays behind the plate, and his offensive numbers are fairly unimpressive.
Swihart played 29 games in Pawtucket. He slashed a fairly unimpressive .243/.344/.311 but what stands out about his time in Pawtucket is that he wasn’t always behind the plate.
He played 11 games in left field, and with both Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan currently healthy, the odds are that when Swihart does play for the Red Sox, he’ll probably be in left field, as a Brock Holt replacement.
Does that make Swihart the eventual or inevitable longterm Brock Holt replacement?
Everyone loves Holt, but the reality is that while the Red Sox offense has dominated the league, Holt has been just about the only member of the team in a slump. His May slash line is .200/.245/.289 with one home run and 5 RBI’s.
He’s not a bad left fielder, but he’s not going to win a gold glove out there. Chris Young is more than adequate as a fill-in, provided that there’s a lefty on the mound. If not then it would seem that Swihart would be the choice.
What isn’t clear is whether or not this move makes sense for the Red Sox, or for Swihart.
He’s not a bad fielding catcher and while he’s projected to be a better offensive player than what he’s shown in 2016, he was never seen as an offensive superstar. His offense looked good primarily because of the position he played. He was projected to be a very good major league hitter, for a catcher.
It will be interesting to see how Swihart performs in left field, and even more interesting to see how he produces at the plate.
If the Red Sox are serious about Vazquez as their long-term starting catcher, they’d probably be better off keeping Swihart as a catcher, and then shopping him. Plenty of other major league teams would be interested in acquiring Swihart, but his ability to play catcher is a huge part of his trade value.
The Red Sox would be better off promoting one of their $10 million minor leaguers to play left field. Allen Craig and Rusney Castillo have almost zero value as long as they’re languishing in the minors. The only possible way for the Red Sox to work either of them into a future trade would be to promote one or both to the majors, and then give them playing time in left field.
As long as they’re both in Pawtucket, they’re nothing more than two guys in triple-A making over $10 million a year.
Holt is only on the 7-day disabled list, so whatever happens with Swihart would seem to be quite temporary, but that doesn’t negate the importance of trying to maintain his trade value, something that could be critical for a team that appears all but certain to need both starting and relief pitching in the near future.