BOSTON -- With Christian Vázquez now entrenched as the starting catcher, the Red Sox traded veteran Sandy León to the Indians in exchange for Minor League right-hander Adenys Bautista several hours before Monday's non-tender deadline.
The Sox chose not to tender 2020 contracts to infielder Marco Hernandez and lefty reliever Josh Osich. The club will tender 2020 contracts to all 27 remaining unsigned players on their Major League roster, including Jackie Bradley Jr., who was loosely rumored as a non-tender candidate.
Bradley earned $8.55 million last season and is entering his final arbitration-eligible season. MLB Trade Rumors projects that he will earn $11 million in 2020.
Given that Bradley is one of the top defensive center fielders in the game and belted 21 homers last season, the chances that he would be non-tendered seemed remote at best.
With the Sox looking to trim payroll below the Competitive Balance Tax threshold of $208 million this winter, Bradley is a candidate to be traded in the coming weeks. If that happens, left fielder Andrew Benintendi could slide over to his natural position of center field.
Mookie Betts, entering the final season of his contract, is another candidate to be traded. However, it could be hard for chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom to get fair value for Betts when the right fielder has just one year of club control left. The 2018 American League Most Valuable Player earned $20 million through the arbitration process last season and his projected salary is $27.7 million for ’20, according to MLB Trade Rumors.
If Betts does get traded, there’s a much better chance Bradley will stay in Boston for another season.
As for the catching situation, Bloom will now be on the hunt for a cost-effective replacement for León.
León and Vázquez essentially shared the catching job in 2016 and ’17. But Vázquez inched ahead of León in the championship season of 2018 and left no doubt about who the team’s backstop of the present and future is with his breakout 2019 season, when he hit .276 with 23 homers, 72 RBIs and a .798 OPS.
León, entering his final year of arbitration, earned $2.475 million last season. He was widely expected to get non-tendered, but the Red Sox instead found a new home for him in Cleveland while getting Bautista back in return.
The 21-year-old Bautista pitched at the Rookie level in 2019, compiling a 7.79 ERA in 14 relief appearances in the Dominican Summer League and the Arizona Rookie League. He was signed out of the Dominican Republic as a teenager.
As for León, the Red Sox nearly parted ways with him last season when they designated him for assignment at the end of Spring Training. After León cleared waivers, he accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Pawtucket.
The Red Sox brought León back in the fold on April 16 when they designated Blake Swihart for assignment. One of the big reasons León was brought back was due to his strong rapport with ace Chris Sale, who had struggled early last season without his familiar battery-mate.
However, Sale remained inconsistent even after León’s return and wound up having the worst statistical season of his career.
It will be interesting to see if Sale can develop more success with Vázquez going forward. In the six starts Sale worked with Vázquez last season, he had a 6.68 ERA in 31 innings, compared to 3.79 in 116 1/3 innings with León. Obviously, the sample size with Vázquez was so small that perhaps not much can be read into that.
Always known for his offense, León had a surprisingly strong 2016 season in Boston, when he slashed .310/.369/.476 with seven homers in 283 plate appearances.
However, the last three seasons have been rough at the plate for the 30-year-old switch-hitter. Over 239 games and 780 plate appearances from 2017-19, León had a .199/.259/.312 slash line with 17 homers and 29 doubles.
His defensive prowess has been another reason to keep him in the Majors. León’s 32.2 career caught-stealing percentage (58-for-122) is fifth highest among active catchers. Going back to 2015, Boston pitchers have posted a 3.74 ERA with León behind the plate, the fifth-lowest ERA among backstops with at least 300 games caught.
The 27-year-old Hernandez played 61 games over three stints with the Sox in 2019 after missing most of ’17 and all of ’18 recovering from left shoulder surgery.
Osich, 31, was claimed by Boston off waivers from the White Sox on Oct. 31 in Bloom’s first player transaction for the Red Sox. But Osich's time on the team’s roster proved to be short-lived.
Boston’s 40-man roster, currently at 34, is as follows:
Pitchers (20): Yoan Aybar, Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Colten Brewer, Nathan Eovaldi, Kyle Hart, Heath Hembree, Darwinzon Hernandez, Travis Lakins, Bobby Poyner, David Price, Denyi Reyes, Eduardo Rodriguez, Chris Sale, Mike Shawaryn, Josh Taylor, Hector Velázquez, Marcus Walden, Ryan Weber, Brandon Workman
Catchers (1): Christian Vázquez
Infielders (8): Xander Bogaerts, C.J. Chatham, Michael Chavis, Bobby Dalbec, Rafael Devers, Tzu-Wei Lin, Dustin Pedroia, Sam Travis
Outfielders (5): Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., J.D. Martinez, Marcus Wilson
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.