2014 Reds / Hot Stove

Jocketty’s moves at catcher may have a big payoff

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.)

71 thoughts on “Jocketty’s moves at catcher may have a big payoff

  1. Ditto – great job Steve.

    Whats the next move? Phillips now likely NOT to be dealt?

    Leadoff/Outfield?

    Bailey?

    I think I would rather put the dollars being talked about for Choo into extending Latos/Bailey. Keep the pitching!

  2. Excellent analysis. While we all liked Hanigan, to get a guy who could be a #3 or #4 at a very low cost is a no brainer. I will be very interested to see how Walt gets “back to work on the rest of it.” I believe he is far from finished. Moreover, I cannot help but think that the “Phillips won’t be traded” talk is tradecraft designed to counteract the whole “we are definitely trading Phillips” talk from a few weeks ago.

  3. Good job Steve. You scooped the Cincy beat reporters yesterday, as Dusty Baker would say, “Big Time.” I said yesterday that WJ did his due diligence. And then you posted the link to the Sheldon interview with WJ. They targeted Holmberg, much like they did with Latos. Kudos to the front office.
    The only negative from yesterday was the A’s getting OF Craig Gentry from Texas. I knew he was available and that the Reds were interested, but I thought they would be aggressive and go get him. The A’s put a nice trade package together, but the Reds could have bettered that. Oh well, we can’t get our way on every little thing.
    BP not going to be traded afterall? I’ll beleive that when I see it. Negotiation ploy? Likely. By taking him of the market, if Cano does not return to NYY, it makes the asking price a bit more if NY comes calling. Or Seattle if they do not get Cano. WJ can then say that he wasn’t intending on trading BP, but would certainly listen to any offers. I think that in itself would have to make the other team kick up their offer from the get go. WJ being WJ. Shrewd.

  4. I am just curious everyone, who is the right handed bat that’s not Stanton that is feasible to trade for or sign at this point in time?

    • @rfay00: I think they are hoping Mesoraco becomes the right handed bat that they need. And if that is the case then a true leadoff hitter is the current need.

      If Mesoraco grows into his full potential and Ludwick and Frazier can at least get some of their 2012 form back then we may be in pretty good shape with just a decent leadoff hitter. I know that’s a lot of ifs, but I don’t see us being any worse on offense outside of the leadoff spot.

      The only question is where do you put Devin? With all the talk of Joey going to the 2 spot do you put him at 3 to split Joey and Jay or does he have to earn that spot? My thought is that Devin will get a ton more hitable pitches being between those two and he would have a better chance of reaching his potential of being a middle of the order guy just by being in the middle of the order.

      • @DevAJS:

        Assuming the Reds lose Choo and make no other moves aside from calling up Hamilton, I would make the lineup:
        1. Frazier
        2. Votto
        3. BP (He won’t hurt the lineup in the 3 hole since it is far less valuable than 2 or 4)
        4. Bruce
        5. Ludwick
        6. Mesoraco
        7. Cozart
        8. Pitcher
        9. Hamilton

        • @ltcheese: Statistical models show that the order of hitters has little to no impact on an individual game. Lineups are only important in so much as how many plate appearances they provide the best hitters over the length of a season. Otherwise, there is a slight advantage of grouping your best hitters together to try to score runs, but the advantage of this is less than a .4 run advantage per game.

          So, in light of that, your lineup is perfectly fine.

        • @TC: Over the course of a season, 0.4 additional runs/game adds up to nearly 67 runs. That would equate to a nearly 8% increase in runs scored which is not insignificant at all.

          I think the lineup I posted makes the best use of the players the Reds have in the correct positions. I’m not an expert on lineup optimization but I think I know it well enough to make some educated decisions on it.

        • @ltcheese: BTW – I hear what you’re say. I really do. But the success of a season is not defined by the total number of runs a team score throughout a season. The only cumulative stat that matters is wins. A .38??? difference in runs per game would not translate to a drastic difference in wins.

        • @TC: 10 runs added over the course of a season add up to 1 win (according to Dave Cameron). So 64 would be 6.4 wins added (or lost).

        • @rhayex: This isn’t a statistic, but a theory. If a team is on pace with their Pythagorean win total it is purely coincidental. A single team is too small a sample size. It because a close when applied to all teams and even then it isn’t always correct.

          That said, logically more runs will lead to more wins. Fair enough.

          But I wonder how much of that would be attributed to the number of PAs your better hitters getting during the season as opposed to simply putting the players in the correct order.

        • @rhayex: OH! That .38???? is the difference between the MOST optimal and the LEAST optimal. Least being batting your pitcher as leadoff and your best hitter last. The real difference is perhaps 1/10th of a run per game. According to the theory that is a real difference of 1 to 2 games a year.

          Those games may matter. In fact they always seem to. But 2 wins isn’t worth all the fighting every year.

  5. Jocketty is taking his lumps on other sites and on the airwaves in Cincy, so I’m glad to see he’s getting his due on here. Yet again, RLN proves to be the smartest discussion around regarding the Reds! I’m ready for another radio broadcast with Chad and Bill!

  6. Well said. Signs of a big picture possibly taking shape. I don’t think Hanigan’s numbers would have been so bad if he would have had the opportunity to get healthy last season, seems like he was really banged up from Day One, but perhaps that’s sentimentality talking. … Wishing him good luck in the AL East!

  7. Finally created a profile. Love reading this site.

    Really liked these moves – bravo to WJ. Got a decent LH prospect for Hannigan; can’t ask for much better than that.

    I don’t see Phillips being moved at this point. Yanks just signed Kelly Johnson and I think the market for Phillips is a lot smaller than we believe. Plus, I think he’ll rebound a bit this year at the plate.

    Next up: figuring out what to do with Hamilton and the LF spots.

    • @betzler: I agree. And by putting the rumors out there that they were interested in trading BP I believe they accomplished the desired impact they were looking for. This is further compounded by the fact that there weren’t a lot of teams interested.

      I believe the only thing keeps a big ego in check is to damage it from time to time.

      • @TC: I so agree with this TC. A damaged BP could actually be a better player for us in 2014 as he tries to win back his image in a town that he has spurned.

        The only thing that has me thinking they will dump him is the 5/10.

        I think they would like to keep the player.

        Brent Gardner from the Yankees does make a lot of sense as the key coming back to us

  8. From ESPN:

    “WEDNESDAY: ESPN’s Jayson Stark spoke with three teams that inquired on Phillips, each of which got the sense that Reds ownership wants to trade Phillips more than the front office does ”

    I’m not sure what that means, but there it is…….

  9. Can you bring Phillips back at this point? Isn’t he too much of a sensitive titty baby to deal with trade rumors then come back and play?

    • @Kurt Frost: How would we know? I’ve never met the man and certainly can’t construct a reasonable psychological profile of him based on media reports and watching him play baseball.

  10. I’ll admit my enthusiasm is tempered somewhat by the idea of not having Hanigan as a Reds player anymore. There is an X-Factor regarding Hanigan. The quality I’m describing is outside the numbers. The best I can do is to describe it as a quiet confidence of his own competency. A maturity. The sense that when he’s behind the plate, he will do everything right and that everyone around him is made better by it.

    It’s a quality I think Tucker Barnhart also has. Peña is a nice bridge until Tucker is ready. While saddened, this move makes a lot of sense for the longer term success of the team.

    • @TC: I’ll call the quiet confidence and maturity of Hanigan (and I completely agree!) and raise the fiery enthusiasm and leadership of Mesoraco. A little more of what Mesoraco brings to the table is something the Reds need. Let’s see Ludwick back in the saddle and joined by Mesoraco in the middle of the lineup complemented by the quiet leadership-by-example of Votto and Bruce. The Reds need table setter(s) to complete the package.

  11. I agree with everyone, solid moves at the C position. The question becomes, if they feel they need to save $2 million that badly by making a couple moves, what are the odds that we sign or trade for a big name and spend big $$. My optimism is low. Especially with Fowler now being traded away at a very low cost, I remember we targeted him hard last year. I would love to see Kemp if it meant getting rid of BP for that big RH power bat, but it seems like too many other teams are in and the cost would be high.

    • @NastyBoys3: While I agree with you in principal, there is a caveat: the multiple team deal. This always adds some twist to the expected and can often land a player while not overly extending costs. These are hard to anticipate and I’m not sure we are done yet for this reason.

  12. I wonder that if all it took to put Mesoraco in the regular catcher’s job was to simply … do it, why didn’t the Reds just do that last year? The trade for Pena makes the story complete, but it wasn’t necessary to give the top job to Mesoraco. That took the GM just saying, that’s what is going to happen.

  13. I guess I am in the minority in wondering why it’s taken 6 years to find a left fielder. We get one, he gets hurt and … we’re still looking for a left fielder. Just … like, get one, put the guy there and let him hit and play LF. How many guys have played LF for the Reds since Dunn left? More than 500 guys in the big leagues. Get one, tell him to play LF and be done with it. Cheese and rice.

        • @Johnu1: while I largely agree with you, and Dunn’s power numbers are indisputable, I have to ask: how did all of that work out for the Reds? They were hapless, hopeless and no fun to watch during the Dunn era. I keep saying, boringly I’m certain, that a team like the Reds, which relies so heavily on pitching, really needs defense to maximize the effectiveness of the pitching. That’s why I’m cautious about the moves made so far and very opposed to unloading BP for somebody like Kemp, assuming that it could even be done.

        • @greenmtred: I think the discussion is warping off to the side. This really isn’t about Dunn, it’s about the fact that the Reds can’t find a left fielder. You are endeavoring to discuss Dunn. He’s not relevant beyond the fact that he was the pivot point on where the Reds have been in left field. I have zero interest in him beyond the fact that an uncountable number of left fielders have come and gone and we still ain’t got one.

          So evaluate Dunn all you want. He’s not the topic, IMO.

          And it wasn’t Dunn’s fault the Reds had no pitching or infield defense. He seems to get a lot of blame for the other 8 spots on the field.

          Meanwhile, I haven’t seen the Reds tack on much defense in left field since the Donkey left town. Not much at all.

          So I still wonder: What has it taken 6 years to find a left fielder? If he’s as bad as Dunn was, and hit 44 home runs, would you settle for that?

        • @Johnu1: I wasn’t discussing Dunn so much as I was reflecting on team philosophy, and agree that neither Dunn nor any other one player can be blamed for a team’s shortcomings. My point about the importance of defense stands.

  14. NOw that the Yankees have signed Jacoby Ellsbury, I think it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll bring back Cano. They could now trade for Phillips and take all of his contract, and owe a combined $205mil, which is probably quite a bit less than Cano is going to get. I think that was probably in their thinking. Ellsbury + Phillips > Cano + ?

      • @pinson343: The ideal trade in my mind for the Reds would be Phillips + Ludwick for Gardner and a good prospect.

        That would leave us with a hole at 2B, and Jocketty would have to be creative about that, but it would give Hamilton another year to improve, and allow us to sign Choo (if he still wants to return) because we would be clearing more than $20mil off the books.

        An outfield of Choo, Gardner, and Bruce would probably be the best in the league, offensively and defensively. With that, we could probably deal with Schumaker at 2B if need be.

        Then when Gardner leaves the next year, Hamilton steps in and takes his place.

        For the Yankees, now that they have Ellsbury, Gardner is sort of wasted in LF. Ludwick gives them an improvement at DH and can play LF as well. From their perspective, I would imagine that a deal like this would come down to the prospect(s) that they were asked to give up. Since they would be taking on a lot of money, giving up a valuable guy in Gardner, and taking on a pretty big risk in Ludwick, they might not be very interested in giving up a top 10 guy, and I’m sure that’s what the Reds would want, considering they’re giving up their starting LF and starting 2B.

        So it might be a tough deal to get done, but I think the basics are there.

        • @al:

          The Yankees have a 23-year old Brett Gardner-like player in OF Slade Heathcott. Got to like the name. May be better than Gardner in speed, defense and arm, but not quite at the plate. He was at AA and said to be at or near ML ready.

        • @pinson343: That would leave us with a hole at 2B, and Jocketty would have to be creative about that,

          You mentioned it right there, Al. If we trade off BP to help fill one hole, then we develop another hole at 2nd. So, the thing is, given that every team does have some kind of hole in its lineup most every year, what holes do/would we live with?

    • @pinson343: I got an ESPN update that said Walt has told BP that he is not in talks to trade him. Either that’s being really coy with “I mean, not right this moment ” or that’s a very unusually public statement for Walt to back away from.

    • @pinson343: Please say it ain’t so. This is the worst news I’ve heard all day. If true, I hope like hell that Price fights him on it.

        • @VaRedsFan: I wouldn’t count on that 100 RBI’s without Choo in the lineup, as well as if Votto decides to actually swing the bat some more, clearing the bases more. As for the glove, I can’t help thinking that a couple of plays he needlessly made them look 10-20 times more difficult than they were, which can only spell doom for the player and/or the team.

        • @steveschoen: rbi’s, of course, require runners on base. But, despite all of the bashing of BP’s offense last season, I submit that the list of bad hitters who drove in 100 is much, much shorter than is the list of good hitters who did it. As for the defensive flash, I don’t really agree with you; BP is flashy, yes, because he enjoys it, he can do it, and he knows that people like to see it (this is a branch of the entertainment industry, after all), but to my eyes, the vast majority of those flashy plays needed to be executed the way he did if they were going to result in outs. A more conventional fielder raises no hackles, makes a decent try, and has a runner on first.

  15. Arizona is looking for a stud arm and Walt sure likes dealing with Towers. They have a lot of nice RH bats that would fill areas of need. Homer for Eaton or Pollack? Homer for 6 years of 3B Davidson, shifting SuperTodd to LF? Of course, this presumes we move Chappy to the rotation or Stephenson develops in a hurry.

    • @Sultan of Swaff: Maybe not a fair comparison, but Frazier in LF doesn’t upgrade the Reds. He becomes a .240 LF instead of a very good .240 3B. The comparison was when Bench moved to 3B from C.

      So unless you simply cannot do better than Frazier, the only value he has — IMO — is 3B, and maybe the occasional game or two at 1B or LF.

      But I’d sure like to see Eaton in GABP 81 times a year.

  16. I really hope the Reds bid on Tanaka now that the new bidding system has been released. I understand that it’s a lot of money, but everything I’ve heard about him makes me think he’ll be a stud for whatever team get him.

    New system sets up a maximum bid of 20 million dollars for a single player. Tanaka’s bid was supposed to go above 60 million. This new system is supposed to help smaller market teams have a chance to sign top Japanese players.

    • @rhayex: Nothing wrong with bidding, but I have to think the Astros are in line for bidding too and if they do bid, they will win the negotiating rights to Tanaka. I haven’t seen all the proposed details, but on the surface, it looks like the new plan addresses some of the inadequacies of the previous system.

    • @rhayex: Or maybe not…

      The new plan is starting to look more like an international free agent process than exclusive negotiating process. If this is true, the new system will leave many of the previous issues unaddressed.

  17. Per Mark Sheldon:

    Jocketty on Phillips:

    “I told him we are not in any talks to trade him,” Jocketty said. “I’m not saying we wouldn’t trade him but I told him we’re a better team with him here.”

    Jocketty on Chapman:

    “We feel we have the depth in our rotation now that we can continue to keep him in the bullpen,” Jocketty said. “That’s probably the plan going into Spring Training. We’ll have him prepare for Spring Training like he has in the past. He’ll come in and pitch a lot of innings in Spring Training so he could go either way. In all likelihood when we get to Spring Training, we’ll make a decision. I would think he’ll continue to be our closer.”

    • @David: (Interpretation) Jocketty on Phillips: “We have disagreements in what to do, we stroked him in case we are keeping him, and once all of the Ellsbury/Cano/pre-winter meeting drama is done, we will see what’s out there. I hope Bob quits trying to get me to trade him.

      (Interpretation)Chapman is closing. Next question.

      • @preach: Price was pretty clear that he is not going to limit Chapman to 60 innings that the tradition closer role would.

        I think Price is smart enough to realize that you cannot have Chapman sitting 9 days without making a difference that happens in the closing role too often

        • @reaganspad: I still think that he may be a 2 inning closer, or used in the occasional non-save situation. That will increase his innings and still keep the people upstairs happy. Gotta play the game within the game.

  18. I don’t know anything about Trumbo’s contract but can we trade Bailey for Trumbo? They need pitching.

      • @Matt WI: So, we could go center, BP, Joey, Trumbo, Bruce, Mes, Frazier, Cozart. That’s a contender. Pitching wouldn’t have to be as lights out if we put up some runs. If we were to extend Bailey, Leake could go. I guess there are several ways it could go but I’m sure WJ has already looked at it.

  19. I’ve decided the Reds need Mark Trumbo. The Angels want pitching. It’d hurt, maybe Homer Bailey hurt, but BP, Joey, Trumbo, Bruce, Mes? Yes please. But, it’s looking like the pitching staff is going to be as is, and I’m all for that. Pitching matters most. So unless it was clear Homer wants out of town anyway or Walt has some other magic up his sleeve??? Maybe the Halos just need to trim some costs?

  20. A lot of ambiguity in WJ’s statements about BP and Chapman. He leaves the door open either way on both of them. No commitment. No consensus.

    Red Sox are entering the Cano fray after losing Ellsbury, Saltalamachia, and probably Napoli. And they lost out on McCann, too.
    The Pirates are said to be hot after Napoli. That would be a serious upgrade at 1B for them, if they were to sign him.

    • @WVRedlegs: A year ago, I laughed at Boston’s scrap-heap approach. Then they hired a manager and some coaches.

      My guess is Cano ends up with the Dodgers.

      • @Johnu1: With Guerrero at SS and Ramirez shifting to 3B? I mean, the Dodgers seem to love spending oodles of money but I’m not sure Guerrero can play SS… Maybe they keep Ramirez at SS and set Guerrero at 3B? I would be surprised if the Dodgers signed Cano but it certainly isn’t out of the question.

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