The merry-go-round for Blake Swihart continues. Opportunity knocks now, but it will probably amount to window dressing once again.
Even when Hanley Ramirez was released and Swihart briefly played more often, his overall position did not change: he had no sustained opportunity, no way to improve without opportunity, and no clear future with the club beyond this season. That will probably happen when Christian Vazquez returns, too.
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He had a real chance, you say? He has 88 plate appearances on the season. That’s not a chance. It’s a pittance. If you choose to hold a .175 average against a player in his circumstance, so be it.
There were two gains to be found for the Sox by carrying Swihart to start this season: Retaining cost-controlled talent in the organization, and protection from injury to one of Sandy Leon and Vazquez. The latter came to pass on Saturday night in a 15-4 win over the Royals, with Vazquez heading to the disabled list because of a fractured pinky in his throwing hand.
Now, Swihart, at the age of 26, has a chance to be a backup for some unknown period of time. That’s a good thing for him. A dim light at the end of the tunnel has brightened a bit.
But this result still doesn’t justify the process.
There was never any reasonable plan with Swihart heading into this season. There still isn’t one. The Sox didn’t get any trade offers they liked when Swihart had a hot spring, so they decided they couldn’t trade a player they had virtually no plan to use outside of a contingency.
That’s not how winning rosters should be built, nor is it how young players are developed. Yet, here we are.
Having a young player occupy a roster spot for potentially an entire season as someone to play only when others are injured -- or a guy like Hanley Ramirez gets cut -- lacks foresight. Major-league depth pieces are not stashed away on major-league rosters. They’re kept in the minor leagues to be recalled when needed.
Swihart’s agent went so far as to ask the Red Sox for a trade. How could Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski trade away a player whose value his own roster management has diminished?
“Well, it's a situation that really hasn't changed a great deal in that respect, he's played a little bit, in a tough spot, really hasn't had a chance to play on a regular basis,” Dombrowski said last weekend in New York. “It's not anybody's fault, it's just circumstances. He does protect us in a lot of different roles."
Those circumstances are composition of the roster, which is not a force of nature that cannot be predicted.
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“Half the season's gone by and he really hasn't settled in, it's been limited playing time," Dombrowski said. "If we get through this season, I'm sure we'll encourage him to play winter ball and go catch every single day, because we still think he can be an everyday catcher. But it's just a different spot for us right now with two other guys ahead of him. They’ve played well, they handle the pitching staff well, so it really hasn't left a lot of playing time for him.”
What’s going to change after winter ball? What’s going to change when Vazquez returns from injury? Is Leon going to retire and take up woodwork?
The Sox can claim that Swihart’s getting a shot, and we’ll see both how substantial it is and how long Vazquez is out.
What the Sox still cannot claim is that they’ve handled Swihart well.