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Christian Vazquez

Martin Maldonado welcomes Christian Vazquez to Astros

Former Puerto Rican Winter Ball teammates are reunited in Houston

Martin Maldonado was unsure how his status as the Astros’ unquestioned starting catcher would change after Christian Vazquez was acquired Monday. He was committed, however, to welcome the fellow Puerto Rican veteran from the Boston Red Sox.

The former Puerto Rican winter league teammates spoke Monday night after the Red Sox beat the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Maldonado even promised to drive him to his first game with the Astros on Tuesday.

“I’m going to pick him up tomorrow and bring him to the field,” Maldonado said. “We’re going to be walking in tomorrow together.”

Vazquez, who will turn 32 on Aug. 21, and Maldonado, who will turn 36 on Aug. 16, were teammates for the first time as minor leaguers with Mayaguez during the 2010-2011 Puerto Rican winter league season.

They’ve long considered each other friends. Vazquez, who helped the Red Sox win the 2018 World Series title, has been one of baseball’s most dependable catchers in recent years. Since 2019, he has led the American League with 2,968 ⅔ innings behind the plate. 

The Astros sent Class AA Sugar Land infielder Enmanuel Valdez and Class AA Corpus Christi outfielder Wilyer Abreu to the Red Sox for Vazquez. General manager James Click also acquired Trey Mancini from the Baltimore Orioles in a three-team deal that sent Jose Siri to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Christian Vazquez a steady presence

On Saturday, Vazquez moved into sole possession of fifth place on the Red Sox’s most games caught list with his 650th game. Only J.T. Realmuto has caught more innings since 2019 than Vazquez.

He’s also a more potent bat. Vazquez is hitting .282 (83-for-294) with eight home runs, 42 RBIs, 20 doubles and a .759 OPS this season. He also has a 1.8 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference. Maldonado has a -0.3 WAR this season with a .175 batting average and 10 home runs.

Astros manager Dusty Baker wasn’t ready to say how he’ll balance the catching situation with the addition of Vazquez.

“Well, I can’t tell you that,” Baker said. “It’s a simple situation where we’re going to use both of them. Maldi knows the staff. Christian is learning the staff. They feel very comfortable throwing to Maldi. 

“Christian brings us more of an offensive presence and more speed, so if I need a guy who can steal you a base, if I need to pinch run for Maldi I don’t have to use another guy late in the game. I can use him if he’s not playing.”

‘A lot of energy’

It goes without saying, though, that the Astros didn’t acquire Vazquez for his base running.

Even if he doesn’t displace Maldonado as the Astros’ main starter behind the plate, Christian Vazquez gives the Astros the luxury of resting Maldonado more.

“A lot of energy,” Maldonado said when asked what Vazquez brings to the Astros. “Energy, experience, a gamer, a guy that works hard. He brings a lot. He won the World Series, played in many playoff games.”

The Astros got better behind the plate with Vazquez. Time will tell how the playing time will be split, but the Astros are fortunate Maldonado already reached out to Vazquez to welcome him to the team.

With a simple phone call and an invitation to ride together to the ballpark, Maldonado put his team above himself. That was a good sign for the Astros, who are primed for another long postseason run.

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