2016 Reds

The Catcher Conundrum

Here’s my latest piece over at Cincinnati Magazine*, on what the Reds should do with Devin Mesoraco and Tucker Barnhart. It’s the single biggest question facing the 2017 Reds, in my opinion:

Much digital ink has been spilled, here and elsewhere, about the so-called “rebuild” of the Cincinnati Reds. Much of the discussion has centered on all the pitching prospects acquired by the team recently, and how the rotation and bullpen will shake out over the next couple of years. Or how all these talented young infielders—Eugenio Suarez, Dilson Herrera, Jose Peraza, Nick Senzel—are going to fit next to Joey Votto in the infield for the next good Reds team. Or whether top prospect Jesse Winker is the long-term answer to a long-time hole in the outfield, and whether Adam Duvall or Scott Schebler are the answer on the other side of Billy Hamilton.

All of those are legitimate topics of conversation, and many questions remain about how the Reds have positioned themselves to compete in the coming years. None of that, however, addresses the single biggest question mark facing this franchise as they attempt to return to respectability: Who is going to be the catcher for the next good Reds team?

Read the rest, and let me know what you think. It’s also something we discussed on the latest podcast. I think it’s the biggest question facing the 2017 Reds, because we really have no idea what to expect. We’re all hopeful that the Reds can be somewhat competitive next season, but add a former All-Star catcher (Mesoraco) into the mix, and who knows what next year’s club can look like?

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*Okay, it’s not actually my latest for Cincinnati Magazine. If you go out to the newsstand, you can pick up the latest issue of the print magazine, where you’ll see that I addressed the question of whether or not Joey Votto will be worth the money the Reds are paying him (please go buy it, and let the Magazine know you bought it just because I was featured). See below!

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27 thoughts on “The Catcher Conundrum

  1. I still think the Reds jumped on the Mesoraco bandwagon too soon. He had a single 2 month incredible stretch inside lots of mediocre play. Tucker is far better behind the plate but is limited on offense. We are now paying Mesoraco to be a good starter, so he needs to play like it or we are in trouble. Never understood signing guys through arbitration. Too many times it has been a roster killer. Hopefully they form a single great player.

    • Are we remembering the same season? August of that year he had an ops below 700. The next lowest month was 839.

    • I agree on the jumping the gun part, but it was just another in a long line of irrational, incompetent roster and contract decisions. Along with holding on to Cueto and Chapman far too long to get the best return, they gave a four year, back loaded, guaranteed contract to a guy in his first year of arbitration. A guy who plays the most physically demanding position in the game but that had never played in more than 114 games in a season. By comparison, most front line catchers in the game, including those who are much older regularly play 130 to 150 games a season.

      As we’ve found out in the meantime, one of the biggest roadblocks to a full rebuild is the presence of pricey, long-term contracts that hamstring you financially and are nearly impossible to move. The worst part about this one (unlike Votto and Phillips) is that they did it just as the Reds were fielding their worst team in a generation. A team that would lose 98 games and was at least a year beyond when they actually needed to start a rebuild.

      • I disagree that the Reds are hamstrung by bad contracts. They had max international money this year and spent it. There is no free agent out there who would have helped this year. We’ll see about next. They definitely panicked and sold low on Chapman, but the Cueto return still looks good to me.

        • I wouldn’t say the Reds were hamstrung, either. But, I will say they could have done better. I would have originally signed Cueto a bit longer, I wouldn’t have extended BP, I wouldn’t have signed Bruce and Devin until after one more season, to prove they can do what they did, and I wouldn’t have extended Votto so long.

          I would say the worst contracts right now are Homer and BP.

      • Who are these catchers playing over 130 games? There are only a very small few.

        130+ Games Started as Catcher:
        2010: Molina (130)
        2011: Molina (132), Montero (131), Avila (130)
        2012: Montero (136), Molina (133), Wieters (132)
        2013: Wieters (134)
        2014: Perez (143)!!!, Lucroy (133), Montero (130)
        2015: Perez (137), Molina (131)

        Even 120 games produces a list that includes less than half of MLB starting catchers since 2010.

  2. Great piece, Chad.

    Lots of different directions the Reds could take. Maybe Meso comes back with a vengeance, maybe the rest of the Reds’ lineup is so good Barnhart is a good enough player, maybe Okey surprises everyone and becomes a must-notice major league prospect.

    Or, outside the box, maybe the Reds get creative and put together a package of players around a young pitcher or two to go get a young bonafide catcher

    • Agreed – our favorite game is fully of “maybes”. I often tell other baseball fans I believe the best pitcher ever to take the mound was JR Richard (or at least in the very top tier). But he’s a very sad story of a “maybe” that nobody expected.

      Mez isn’t headed anywhere else, so he’s ours until we see what plays out.

  3. I have serious doubts about Mez being a catcher again. I’d love to be wrong and I don’t have any stats or a medical background to fall back on. It’s just my gut feeling as a long-time baseball fan that it won’t happen. And without a DH in the NL (and I sadly see that coming at some point), he’ll be a man without a country if he can’t catch.

  4. The Reds need at lest four big bats. At present, we only have three, Duvall, Votto and Suarez. Meso would look awfully good in there if we’re making a run for the pennant next year. Of course, he could always play the outfield if Schebler isn’t ready with Tucker behind the plate.

    • I think it is quite a stretch to say he could “always” play the outfield. It’s not as easy to make that transition as it looks on TV.

    • Mes is not taking an outfield spot from Schebler, If he goes to the outfield it is taking a spot from Winker or Duvall, I am still not convinced that Duvall or Suarez are the answers at 3B and LF either. Suarez’s second half is promising, but Duvall seems to have fallen off a bit. Winker has yet experience major league pitching so he is no sure thing either. The only one you can count on at this point is Votto

    • He could play there, competitively, with all those war wounds and surgeries behind him. Hey, you gotta have some speed out there, and a good “stop and throw” motion.

  5. The Old Cossack fails to understand the angst or teeth gnashing regarding the catcher position going into the 2017 season.

    Devin Mesoraco is signed through the 2018 season and will be 30 years old at the expiration of his current contract. This is his last contract with the Reds. If Mesoraco returns to his 2014 form, sans injuries, he will find a monster contract waiting for him after the 2018 season and the Reds will be out of the picture. If Mesoraco does not return as that dominant bat in the middle of the lineup, his average defense behind the dish sends him looking for the best payday he can find after the 2018 season and it won’t be a big payday. If Mesoraco physically can’t catch becomes an irrelevant issue. If he can hit, he will find a position to play.

    Tucker Barnhart is under team control through the arbitration process for the next 4 seasons. By 2021, the Reds will find themselves with completely new issues regarding the roster makeup.

    The 2017 season will focus on the finishing moves for the purported reload/rebuild for the Reds. Mesoraco should be fully recovered from his hip surgeries and his shoulder surgery prior to pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training in 2017. In fact, the Reds should have a pretty good feel for his physical capabilities in terms of baseball activities prior to that time, but probably won’t know what to expect productively from Mesoraco for spring training and headed into the 2017 season. Barnhart can not physically catch on a full time basis. If his playing time is limited to ~60% of the catching duties, Barnhart will put up a superior performance.

    The Reds beigin the 2017 regular season with Barnhart and Mesoraco sharing the catcher responsibilites on a 60%/40% basis, respectively, with Mesoraco starting against EVERY LH starting pitcher. Assuming the Reds are not silly enough to start Jesse Winker’s service time clock until he passes super-2 status, the Reds have more than 2 months with this arrangement before decisions need to be made. Mesoraco’s performance during those 2+ months will decide the catching issue.

    If Mesoraco can catch and his dominant bat returns, then Mesoaraco will be the man behind the plate through the 2018 season. If Mesoraco can’t catch but his dominant bat returns, then Mesoaro will find himself in LF and hitting cleanup behind Votto. If Mesoraco’s dominant bat does not return, then Barnhart will be the man behind the plate going forward and the Reds need to make plans to upgrade the backup catcher position. Upgrading a backup catcher position should not be an impediment to the team’s future success. If Mesoraco really struggles in LF (and I believe Mesoraco will surprise a lot of detractors much as Adam Duvall did), then Williams will have an early test under fire to arrange a trade with an AL team needing a premier DH.

    Now about the pitching staff, infieders and outfielders…

    • I don’t think the argument is “upgrading a backup catcher position,” it’s upgrading a starting catcher position.

      If Meso comes back to 2014 form, no issues. But, personally, I don’t think that’s likely at all after 3 major surgeries. At that point the Reds who are left with Barnhart, though solid, is not an elite catcher. Maybe not even a good catcher, just solid or above average.

      And if you’re looking to be a serious contender, that then becomes a place you can upgrade

  6. If one of the three catchers don’t find another home at another position, I believe the Reds trade off Tucker or Ramon. I don’t believe anyone would want Devin right now.

  7. What about Stephenson he was the 6th pick of draft. A lot of people thought he had #1 overall pick talent. He’s really young but in twoyears he could be a top prospect

    • He was the #11 pick, FWIW. I think we have to take this season with a grain of salt as he was never healthy for long enough (if really much ever) to get going. He showed brief flashes of hitting well in between the latter DL stints. Wrist injuries tend to effect hitting quite a bit. It was a lost season, but he’s still really young and was touted for his offense coming out of the draft. He put together a nice first season in Billings and I think he will be fine if he can stay healthy.

      But to Chad’s larger point in the article, he’s still a ways away and won’t have much of an impact on the Mes/Barnhart situation over the next two years. Okey may push to be in the equation sometime in 2018, but that would be a stretch under normal circumstances.

  8. I like Tucker Barnhart. He’s a good receiver with an accurate arm and he holds his own on offense. Next season the Reds will find out if Mesoraco can hold up with the rigors of catching. With what he’s been through the last year or so, I doubt it. If not, Barnhart is a more than adequate replacement. He’s not a slugger, but few teams have a catcher in that category. As things slowly come together for the rebuild, I don’t see catching as the Reds main concern for next season. Instead, a solid bullpen from the get-go would be my priority.

  9. Mesoraco will not be Red after 2018. (See Cossack). He will not be an outfielder. Barnhart will catch half the games+ in 2017-18 pending the arrival of Tyler Stephenson and Chris Okey.

  10. Thanks for linking the article. A good summation of the situation as it lies.

    I was a proponent of the Reds looking to acquire someone like Austin Barnes at the deadline from the Dodgers (rich man’s Pacheco?) who can catch but also play around the infield. He’s been able to hit well in the minors as well. Maybe the Reds can revisit bringing in another catcher that has some positional flexibility this winter. That’s really the best case scenario because Mesoraco is going to be on the roster if healthy. Carrying a 3rd C that can play a few other positions would be nice for the bench as it would leave either Mes or Barnhart available to PH when they aren’t starting.

    But outside of bringing in another C through trade (I don’t see them brining in anyone of longterm value via FA), they need to at least address the 3rd C on the 40-man issue. Cabrera has no business being in the big leagues. Sometimes I think he uses a concrete glove. Lopez and Skipworth aren’t the answer either.

    Wallach may have some things to work on defensively, where he’s likely just average but he has been able to get on base and has hit for some power this year in AA. Here’s a quick look at the stats this year: He’s posted a 16.4% BB% against a 17.8% K%. Those are excellent plate discipline numbers. He’s put up a .151 ISO and a 122 wRC+ even though his BABIP is .264 which is on the lower side. The BABIP helps explain his .233 BA which is the only blemish on his offensive stats. He’s played this entire season at the age of 24 and will turn 25 in November.

    He’ll be eligible for Rule V this offseason meaning the Reds will need to protect him or risk losing him. While he may not be picked, why risk losing him at the expense of carrying Cabrera/Lopez? Wallach should move up to AAA and be ready for depth purposes.

    Is he the long term answer? It’s very likely that he’s not. But he would provide a RH complement to Barnhart who shouldn’t be a liability behind the plate, who should get on base at a good clip and should demonstrate some power.

    If Mes can’t get healthy, or return to near 2014 form, then the Reds should make a longer term plan. Otherwise I’m fine with seeing where Mes is next year and having Wallach serve as depth. By 2018 this will need to be figured out.

    • I don’t see the Reds losing Wallach if they don’t protect him. I think there is a great chance that someone will grab him but the odds of his making an MLB roster out of Spring Training are very long. The team that grabs him would most certainly offer him back to the Reds.

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