Reds general manager Walt Jocketty has plenty of heavy lifting ahead of him this off-season in formulating the Reds’ roster for 2014 and beyond. Whether or not to trade Brandon Phillips is just part of his challenge.
But now that the rumor we reported yesterday morning, that Ryan Hanigan would be traded to the Tampa Bay Rays, turned out to be accurate, it appears Jocketty’s moves for at least one position group — catcher — are probably finished.
Jocketty has taken three deft steps – a decision, a signing and a trade – at the catcher position. And each one offers significant upside.
First, the Reds made the decision to give Devin Mesoraco the keys to Bryan Price’s high-performance pitching staff.
In recent years under Dusty Baker, the Reds’ catching job has belonged to veteran Ryan Hanigan. But now, Devin Mesoraco (25), long regarded as the Reds’ catcher of the future, has finally became the catcher of the present. The Reds’ general manager commented about the club’s plans yesterday, ”This gives Mesoraco the opportunity to develop into a No. 1, frontline catcher that we think he can be. Pena will be a quality backup and good bat off of the bench. It gives Devin the chance for more playing time.”
Expect Mesoraco to start 120 games or more in 2014. He’ll be the one who catches this season’s no-hitter by Homer Bailey.
Mesoraco’s bat plays, especially when it plays every day. His best month last season was the one Ryan Hanigan spent on the disabled list. If you extrapolate his production from July 10-August 8, the stretch when Hanigan was out, over an entire six month season, Mesoraco would bat .289, hit 24 home runs and drive in 84 RBI. In the past two seasons combined, Hanigan has 4 homers, 45 RBI and hit .240. Hanigan walks more, but that’s an area where Mesoraco has shown potential for improvement.
As far as handling the pitchers and calling games, Mesoraco’s catcher ERA, for those of you who like that stat, was the same (3.40) as Hanigan’s last season. It’s taken Mesoraco a while to figure out the major leagues, but he gives the impression of a player about to break through when given sustained playing time.
Jocketty’ second catcher-related move was signing free agent Brayan Peña for two years at $2.275 million.
Peña (31) is a switch-hitter, serviceable (career: .258/.292/.359) at the plate and slightly-below average defensively. He speaks Spanish and shares the common experience with Aroldis Chapman of having defected from Cuba. Peña also worked with Chapman before the Cuban Missile launched in his Reds’ uniform.
Peña may greatly enhance Chapman’s comfort level if the Reds decide to move their best arm to the starting rotation. If Chapman’s awesome skills successfully transition, it settles the Chapman Argument and moves the Reds a gigantic step toward post-season success. And, Peña will do this while making less than half of what Ryan Hanigan would have earned with the Reds.
Jocketty’s final catcher move was announced yesterday. He turned one year (50 games?) of Ryan Hanigan into six years of David Holmberg.
Not every major league team is willing to play a light-hitting catcher. And let’s face it, Hanigan is among the most ethereal. Yet, the Reds general manager found a trade partner who valued Hanigan (33) despite the catcher’s poor hitting (2013: .198/.306/.261; second half: .208/.330/.234).
In return, the Reds received David Holmberg, a standard-issue, solid left-handed starting AA-pitcher. Holmberg was ranked in the top ten of every recent prospect list for the Diamondbacks. He’s the age right now that Mike Leake was in his first season for the Reds.
Putting these moves together, the Reds have become younger and more athletic at the catcher position. The lineup will have considerably more pop. Aroldis Chapman’s path to bring his formidable talent to the rotation may have been eased. The Reds added left-handed pitching depth to the organization. And they cut payroll while doing all that.
Take a bow, Mr. Jocketty. (Then get back to work on the rest of it.)