Red Sox

Don't forget about Blake Swihart, who says he's fully healthy

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Don't forget about Blake Swihart, who says he's fully healthy

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — No one really thinks of Blake Swihart, the 26th overall draft pick in 2011, as part of the Red Sox farm system anymore. Prospect lists move quickly, even if most careers don’t follow a straight-line trajectory.

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Swihart’s health has been the complicating factor for years. He was on the Opening Day roster in 2016 but was sent to the minors quickly before returning in a utility role. A June collision with the wall while playing the outfield led to surgery on his left ankle in August 2016. 

That ankle wasn’t fully healed in 2017 when he hit just .187 across the minors (mostly at Triple-A).

“I have a lot to prove and I have a lot to show people who Blake really is, who I really am,” Swihart said Saturday morning at Red Sox Winter Weekend at Foxwoods. “And I can’t wait to show everybody that I’m back.

“I think when I went and played in the Dominican [this winter is when I felt fully healed]. I was playing in my second straight game at catcher. Usually, when I played back-to-back days, I could feel something. I wasn’t supposed to play back-to-back days in the Dominican and I went there and I caught the next day and I was like you know what I actually feel pretty good today, what’s going on? … I’m ready.”

The ankle definitely affected his ability to hit.

“I couldn’t sit on my backside very well hitting left-handed so I was coming out of my swing and you guys saw last year, I struggled,” Swihart said. “I was trying to play through it and I think I’m taking this offseason to get healthy, it’s going to be a big difference.”

Swihart will be 26 in early April. Spring training will be Swihart’s chance to prove his health, and the Sox will have a decision to make by the end of spring with Swihart out of options for the first time in his career. Carry him on the 25-man roster, which appears most likely, or trade him. 

He would never get through waivers to be able to be sent to the minor leagues after teams pursued him this winter. Swihart said he knew the trade rumors were out there, but he’s dealt with them plenty of times before.

Swihart wants to catch and said so Saturday. Still, he indicated he doesn’t see a conflict between his career goals and the potential for the Red Sox to use him as a utility man.

“I look at it as a win,” Swihart said. “I mean, I’m athletic enough to play other positions. I’m a switch-hitting catcher that can play nine other positions. You know? I can get on the mound if you need me to. So, I mean, I’ve always played every position. Growing up my dad had me play everywhere. That’s just something I’ve always done. So it’s kind of normal to me.”

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BEST OF BST PODCAST: How J.D. Martinez signing impacts Red Sox

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BEST OF BST PODCAST: How J.D. Martinez signing impacts Red Sox

0:41 - The Red Sox have made their splash in free agency as they sign slugger J.D. Martinez to a 5-year, $110 million. Evan Drellich and Lou Merloni discuss the addition and how it makes the Red Sox offense much deeper.

5:44 - Devin McCourty told NJ.com recently that the team knew Malcolm Butler wasn’t going to start in the Super Bowl. Albert Breer joins BST to discuss McCourty’s comments on Butler.

11:38 - Tom Giles, DJ Bean, and Joe Haggerty discuss the Bruins 2-1 win in overtime against the Flames and how they were able to bounce back after a 6-1 loss over the weekend. 

16:21 - Tom Curran, Kayce Smith, and Michael Hurley talk about why more people aren’t taking it seriously that Rob Gronkowski might retire.

J.D. Martinez's deal makes Dave Dombrowski, John Henry look good

J.D. Martinez's deal makes Dave Dombrowski, John Henry look good

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The marriage felt arranged. The engagement was definitely too long. At the altar, they proved a perfect match.

J.D. Martinez’s five-year, $110 million contract with the Red Sox, which isn’t yet official but has been confirmed to NBC Sports Boston, created a night that was uncommon for the Red Sox in the last year: nothing but love.

Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in October took responsibility for providing a subpar offense in 2017. At last, he addressed an admitted shortcoming with the best available option, at a reasonable price to boot.

In front of the microphones Monday morning, Red Sox ownership did not acknowledge their most basic of obligations: to improve every winter. John Henry and Tom Werner suggested they had made sufficient changes.

Later in the day, Henry and Werner put their money where their mouth earlier was not.

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Doling out dollars is not always the solution, as the Red Sox and many teams have learned over the years. But in this case, a situation where the Sox were so clearly missing one thing — a bat capable of 40 home runs, someone whose production might come close to David Ortiz’s — dipping into free agency made sense. The depressed market and the state of the Sox farm system made a signing even more logical compared to a trade. There was greater impetus to act now, too, because of the likelihood this group looks somewhat different in coming years.

Missing out on Martinez would have been problematic. The posturing throughout the negotiations was constant from both sides, and sometimes downright aggravating to listen to. But the Sox did what they had to, and Martinez is still positioned to get a full slate of at-bats with the Sox this spring to be ready for Opening Day. Long wait, no foul.

One has to hope, and assume, that the Sox dug in on Martinez’s background, personality and character to best predict how he’ll fit in Boston. He’s not an Eric Hosmer, center-of-the-clubhouse figure. He’s a thoughtful and confident hitter, someone who was released four spring trainings ago by the Astros and signed with the Tigers on a minor league deal — Dombrowski’s old Tigers. Martinez handled the pressure of a pennant race last season in Arizona, although Arizona is a wee bit different.

The contract can work out well for both sides. Martinez surely wanted more, but he’s getting $50 million over the first two years and $72 million in the first years if he chooses not to take one of his two potential opt outs. He can become a free agent after Year 2 or Year 3, and has the insurance of two more years if he doesn’t want to test the market again.

Dombrowski has taken a lot of flack here and elsewhere for being an inefficient spender, for not squeezing out value when he can and should. He took the Martinez pursuit right up to the first day of full workouts at JetBlue Park (and Martinez’s agent, Scott Boras, took it there as well). But Dombrowski squeezed out value.

Martinez’s production at the plate is on par with some of the absolute best, even if he is a late-blooming star who isn’t as well known as say, Giancarlo Stanton.

From 2014-16, Ortiz had a .937 OPS. From 2014-17, Bryce Harper had a .937 OPS. Martinez had a .936 OPS.

The top slugging percentages from 2014-17, with a minimum of 1,500 plate appearances: Mike Trout, .579, Martinez .574, Stanton .573 and Ortiz .564.

Via BaseballSavant.com creator Daren Willman, Martinez barreled up 19.5 percent of batted balls last season, third most in the majors behind Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo.

Speaking of Judge — he has a partner in the lineup in Stanton. The Astros added top pitcher Gerritt Cole. Finally, the Red Sox added a big piece of their own. They did what they had to, and Dombrowski, Sam Kennedy and the Sox owners should be applauded for that.

Now, can they upgrade the bullpen? Just kidding. Mostly.

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