The Christian Vazquez twins agree on a three-year contract

The twins have entered a fast-paced catching market and have reportedly struck deals Christian Vazquez on a three-year contract. The deal, pending physical inspection, guarantees him $30 million. Vázquez is represented by MDR Sportmanagement.

As a longtime member of the Red Sox, Vázquez is changing uniforms for the second time in five months. Boston sold it to the Astros at the close of trading last summer, bringing back interested parties Wilyer Abreu and Emmanuel Valdez for the last half season before hitting free agency. That left Vázquez in an unfamiliar role to share 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. The Puerto Rico native, who was a lightweight defensive specialist in his early seasons, has made a step up with the racquet over the past four years. He hit 276/.320/.477 in 521 plate appearances in 2019, hitting a career-best 23 homers. Vázquez hasn’t replicated that kind of power outside of one season with perhaps the liveliest ball the league has ever used, and never reached double-digit longballs in another season. Still, he’s been a decent 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 during the truncated 2020 season and was around league average last season.

As of early 2019, he owns a .271/.318/.416 line in just over 1600 plate appearances. That’s five percentage points below the overall league average as measured by wRC+, but it’s above average for a catcher. Backstops have a cumulative mark of 0.232/0.304/0.390 on this stretch. Vázquez doesn’t draw many walks and, apart from 2019, he rarely scores 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 (at least 750 plate appearances) as of early 2019.

The 2022 season was generally normal. Among 29 catchers with more than 300 trips to the dish, he had the fourth-lowest strikeout rate (16.2%) and the fourth-best contact rate per shot (85.1%). Overall, Vázquez hit a .274/.315/.399 line in 119 games. He carried an impressive .282/.327/.432 mark with the Red Sox before trade but stumbled on a .250/.278/.308 performance in 35 regular season games as the Astro. Vázquez has also done very little offensively in his six playoff games.

The twins are clearly not deterred by this slow end of the year. That came in an unfamiliar role, which his reps shared with Maldonado, and Minnesota expects he’ll likely be reconciling his production from his Boston days in the future. Offense is only part of the story and Vázquez has a stellar reputation with the glove.

For his career, Vázquez has caught almost 34% of attempted base stealers. He’s 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 an above-average arm, ranking him 20th out of 73 catchers with more than 10 throws in pop time (average time to throw to second base). Vázquez consistently pulls strong marks from public pitch-framing metrics. Combined with his ability to control the game in progress, he was ranked as an above-average catcher in terms of defensive runs saved in all but one season of his career. DRS gave him 11 runs above average in 2022 and rated him 51 runs above average in his eight years in the majors.

This wealth of calling game experience certainly contributed to Vázquez’s appeal for the Minnesota front office. The Twins have a young backstop Ryan Jeffers already at hand. The 25-year-old will continue to see plenty of run at Target Field, but baseball operations president Derek Falvey and GM Thad Levine have each spoken of a desire to add another starting-caliber catcher to pair with Jeffers. They did just that and let manager Rocco Baldelli decide how the playing time was divided up.

Jeffers, a right-hander, was far better against lefties (.263/.344/.450) than even-handed opponents (.185/.256/.361) in his first few MLB campaigns. Vázquez also scores with the right hand and is better against lefties, but his career splits aren’t as drastic. It has a .257/.309/.422 line against lefties and a .263/.310/.372 mark against righties. Falvey has already indicated that the Twins don’t plan on relegating Jeffers to just the small side of a platoon, but the presence of a more balanced hitter in Vázquez gives Baldelli a little more flexibility when matching against opposing pitchers.

It’s the first significant free-hand jump for Minnesota this offseason. Vázquez’s contract lands right in line with MLBTR’s projection of $27 million over three years. The exact financial breakdown hasn’t been reported yet, but an even spread of $10 million per year would bring Minnesota’s payroll to around $107 million in 2023, Roster Resource estimates. There’s a fair amount of room before hitting last season’s approximate $134 million mark, and the twins are certainly not done yet. Address shortstop – where the organization is waiting Carlos Correas Decision – is the big question, but the Twins could also improve both areas of the pitching staff (particularly the bullpen) and potentially shake up their outfield.

Vázquez’s signing follows last week’s five-year deal between the Cardinals and the Cardinals Willson Contreras and this afternoon’s blockbuster that aired Sean Murphy to Atlanta. As a result, the catch market dries up quickly. The Blue Jays can still dangle one of their three backstops Danny Jansen seem most likely to move. The free hand is without many obvious fixes at this point, with glove-first players like Austin Hedges, Tucker Barnhart, Roberto Perez and Mike Zunino (in the latter two, the 2022 season was shortened by an operation) under the options.

MassLive’s Chris Cotillo reported Vázquez making progress on a deal with an unknown team. Jon Heyman of the New York Post First, the backstop reported that he was in agreement with the twins. Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe reported it was a three-year deal, while Twins Daily’s Ted Schwerzler was the first to report the $30 million guarantee.

Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.

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