The Sandy Leon era has come to an end.
In the first trade by new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, the Red Sox traded their trusty catcher to the Cleveland Indians for minor league right-hander Adenys Bautista.
Bautista, 21, is not a top prospect and posted a 5.98 ERA over 28 appearances in two seasons in the Dominican Summer League and the Arizona League.
But with Monday night’s deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players, the cost-cutting Sox were unlikely to keep Leon, who made $2.5 million last year and was due a small raise in 2020.
He served his role well since being acquired as a last-second catching option from the Nationals at the end of spring training in 2015, when Christian Vazquez hurt his elbow and required Tommy John surgery.
Leon had been a 17-year-old signing out of Venezuela who taught himself English and worked his way up from the low levels of the minor leagues. Never much of a hitter, Leon had been a star in the making on the defensive side of the game, with his former coaches praising his ability to connect with pitchers and develop in-game rhythm, in addition to a strong throwing arm and skillful blocking ability.
“He developed trust,” his former coach, Matt LeCroy, told the Herald in 2018. “And once he developed trust, the pitchers had no doubt. They threw what Sandy wanted. That’s what makes guys lead really great.
“Look at Jason Varitek. I looked up to him. Why did people trust him? He did the work and they trusted him. He put his time in with each pitcher. It’s like Sandy. That was something that we talked about. But a lot of times guys don’t do it.
With the Red Sox, Leon wasn’t used often as a backup in 2015. But after a year in the organization, he found comfort and enjoyed a breakout season in 2016, starting 67 games behind the plate while hitting .310 with 17 doubles and seven home runs.
The offensive fizzle faded as he hit just .199 with 17 homers over the next three years, but Leon remained a key part of the backstop tandems each year, earning high praise from Chris Sale, who never shook Leon’s pitch-calling, David Price and Rick Porcello.
Price has with a 2.96 ERA in 33 starts throwing to Leon, but a 4.31 ERA in 65 starts throwing to anybody else with the Red Sox.
Sale has a 2.79 ERA with Leon and a 4.61 ERA with Vazquez.
Porcello has a 4.19 ERA with Leon and a 4.96 ERA with Vazquez.
“No disrespect to any other catcher that I’ve thrown to, but he’s the best catcher I’ve ever thrown to,” Porcello said in 2018. “His game calling, he’s prepared for every pitcher, starter or bullpen. He’s kind of the heartbeat of our pitching staff.”
Jackie Bradley Jr., due about $11 million in his final year of arbitration, will be tendered a contract, according to The Boston Globe. There was some debate over whether or not the Sox should non-tender him to save a big chunk of money, but they’re likely to seek out a trade partner for either Bradley or Mookie Betts this offseason.