2017 Reds

Devin Mesoraco may not be ready by the spring

I’ve said repeatedly that the return of a fully-healthy and productive Devin Mesoraco could be key in accelerating this rebuilding process. After all, if Mesoraco were to return to form, that’s an All-Star hitter in the middle of the Cincinnati lineup that wasn’t there the last couple of years.

Alas, you’d be foolish to bet the ranch on Mesoraco returning completely to form. And this quote from GM Dick Williams makes me a little less optimistic:

“We’re optimistic he’ll open the season ready for catch, but probably on some sort of schedule. We’d probably prevent him going out there and catching the first 14 games of the season. It’s probably some sort of timeshare arrangement to make sure he’s eased back in. It’s hard to say for sure. The doctors said that really mid-January is when they’d be able to tell us with a lot more precision what the timetable looks like.”

Maybe I’ve missed it, but this is the first time I’ve heard anything about Mesoraco other than the Reds’ insistence that he’s going to be fully healthy and able to catch in 2017. Forgive me if, after the last couple of seasons, I’m pessimistic about Mesoraco coming back, even if I’m extremely hopeful. I miss Devin.

(Partly because he’s been so good to Redleg Nation over the years. Here’s his interview with us before that magical 2014 season, and here’s his very first interview with us, all the way back in 2010, when he was moving his way up the Reds’ minor league system. He’s a great kid.)

Anyway, our friend Wick Terrell had some comments about Mesoraco, but then he also made an interesting point about Dick Williams:

It’s not something we’re at all surprised by – Mes not being able to be the team’s full time catcher anymore – but I do think hearing it laid out this explicitly this early in the offseason is a reflection of Williams as the team’s voice instead of the tight-lipped Walt Jocketty. This exact kind of news is exactly the kind of thing Jocketty kept close to the vest, and while the overall M.O. of the front office might not have been different, I do get the impression this is something we wouldn’t have heard until Spring Training, if said publicly at all. Regardless, it’s another depressing revelation about Mesoraco, who has hit exactly zero home runs since his breakout 2014 campaign.

Wick is exactly correct. I think we’ve already seen, read, and heard more quotes from Dick Williams in his short reign as Reds general manager than we saw from his predecessor, Walt Jocketty, in eight years at the helm. We can argue about whether this is good or bad — there are times, certainly, when the brass needs to keep their cards close to the vest — but for those of us writing about the Reds on a daily basis, it’s a godsend.

So kudos to you, Dick Williams. Keep us updated on Mesoraco’s recovery.

35 thoughts on “Devin Mesoraco may not be ready by the spring

  1. Im starting to give up hope on Mesoraco. I had hope they would move him to another position, but at this point im not really sure where he could fit in.

    With next year being another rebuilding year, they need to wait and be completely sure hes 100% healthy (if that ever happens) before he takes the field. I would just love to get him out of that catcher spot where his body seems to take a beating.

    • There’s no reason for optimism, but I’m not convinced that the Williams quote should be seen as a gloomy surprise. Of course they wouldn’t immediately throw him into full-time catching after the surgeries, not to mention two years of accumulated rust. Nobody can know with precision what the final outcome of multiple surgeries will be, so caution and gradual reintroduction are the rational course.

  2. No one is admitting that Mesoraco will NEVER be 100% healthy. It’s just the nature of the surgeries he’s underwent for hip repair. Mobility is key to being a professional athlete, and undergoing hip repair after extensive-use injury NEVER leaves someone the same. The guy is lucky to be walking pain free.

  3. In part, distraction.

    The question is -not- whether Mesoraco can catch. Either (a) he can, but with less form and endurance than before the injuries or (b) he can’t. If (a) there will be other catchers in system and out that have better defensive and game-call skills. If (b), the odds of him moving to outfield or first base are not all that high. In either case, Barnhart is the nr. 1 catcher for the near-term.

    The question -is-: Can he bat? With pre-injury power? If yes, then he retains a decent trade value for any AL team needing a pure DH. (For the moment, we are disregarding the case that, in a fit of dementia, the NL actually adopts DH in the next year or two…..). The answer to this should be apparent by the mid-season break or earlier.

    I would -love- to be proven wrong by a return to Mesoraco past, but I’m not betting resources on it. And, as a small market club, the Reds need to husband resources, -always-.

  4. The best course of action would be to plan as if he won’t be available as a catcher period. I for one thought Barnhart proved himself as a starting catcher in the majors this past season — not an all-star, but certainly above average. You have a guy in Mesoraco who has had major surgery on his shoulder and both hips. You can rehab all you want, but who doesn’t think 1,000 innings of crouching down, shifting, diving to block balls in the dirt and taking foul tips isn’t going to aggravate injuries to both hips?

    If he proves he can play everyday and hit like he did in his prime, then you certainly have an asset you didn’t expect to have. If not, he may become a piece you can play occasionally in the outfield or at first base perhaps. My impressions of Dick Williams so far is that he is sharp. I suspect he knows that planning on a fully healthy Mesoraco would be a big mistake, particularly since he probably won’t be around for the next contending Reds team.

  5. … Mr. Glass.

    Amazing – truly amazing that the two biggest contracts awarded since Votto have both been given to players who suffered season ending injuries the year after(In Meso’s case, two years in a row).

    That’s very bad luck.

    • And the guy they should have given a team-friendly extension to (Hamilton) remains without one! My arbitration model predicts he’ll get between a $1.15-$1.35 million raise, so a salary next year of $1.7 to $1.9 million.

      Given the medians and if his next two years are similar to his career, he’ll earn a total of $1.8+$3.0+$4.2 = $9 million.

      If the Reds gave him something like 5 years, $20 million before 2016, I bet he would have taken it, effectively buying out 3 years of Arb at market price and 2 years of free agency below market price ($11M) assuming you think Hamilton is good for 2.0 WAR or so.

      • If they extend Hamilton, he’ll pop an achilles tendon and never be the same again. That’s just how it seems to go these days.

  6. It’s important to get the detail here that the issue Dick Williams highlighted is Mesoraco’s shoulder, not hips. Shoulder recovery for hitters is really tricky. For *some* it takes well over a year to get their swing and power back. Ryan Ludwick never did. If you want a quick supplemental post to this, here’s what I wrote about Ludwick’s recovery a few years ago:

    https://redlegnation.com/2013/08/08/waiting-for-ludwick/

    [Excerpt:] “Expect for Ludwick to suffer diminished power initially as the post-operative weakness slows his bat speed and prevents force from transferring from his legs through to his swing. The Dodgers’ center fielder, Matt Kemp, had similar labrum surgery this past off-season. His hitting (.263/.319/.382) has dramatically fallen from his previous two seasons (.314/.383/.562). That’s just one example and Ludwick’s case may be completely different.

    The torn labrum also presents a serious long-term risk. If Ludwick comes back too soon (I know, hard to imagine the Reds mishandling this), he runs the risk of permanent damage that could jeopardize his career. Reds’ fans need to look no further than Scott Rolen for the dramatic impact a chronic shoulder injury can have on a hitter’s power. Renewed damage to the labrum could make the outlook for Ludwick returning to his previous performance levels extremely unlikely.”

    • True about the shoulder being the current focus, but he looked very bad behind the plate in his limited exposure in 2016. How much of that was one hip still recovering, the other going south, or the shoulder giving way we have no way of knowing.

      • It’s the shoulder. The hip impingement surgery can be overcome. Last year, Steve wrote an excellent article about the nature of the injury, the surgery and the prospects for recovery.
        Yes, all things being equal, the hip surgeries (both) are something to be overcome. But the labrum tear brings into question if he will ever be able to hit again. Ludwick never over came his surgery (different, but the same). Ludwick was older, etc., but I think the labrum tear will end Devin’s ability to hit ML pitching.

        I hope I’m wrong. It would be sad for such a promising young guy to see his career end like this.

  7. Devin’s future in MLB won’t be as a catcher. He is destine for the AL as a DH/1st basemen and it’s time for the Reds to start planning on that and as soon as they can move him and get what the can for him.

    • First he has to prove he can actually hit.

      So far, he has produced about 4 months of above-average production in 2014. The rest of his (admittedly injury plagued) career would not lend creedence to the idea that any team would want him as a DH. Most teams would look at him and see an injury plagued .237/.308/.410 hitter with 2014 serving as an outlier.

  8. A month ago, I said I would take the risk of outrighting Mesoraco and use the forty man roster spot for somebody who figures to give the Red more value over time. If somebody takes him (and the $20M outstanding the Reds owe him), it gives the Reds the closure they need to move on along with $20M to spend elsewhere.

    This is also the best move for Meso because once he is outrighted, he can recover at his own pace at whatever level of the minors he is physically capable of handling until he (hopefully) plays his way back into MLB form.

    • Totally agree. We have a lot of young talent to protect on the 40 and the odds are slim that any team would claim a gimpy catcher at 7 mil in 2017 and 13 mil in 2018. Ain’t gonna happen when no one knows if he will ever play again never mind catch again. And, if someone does claim him then we save a huge chunk of cash. At that salary, and with his condition, that’s a gamble I take 8 days a week.

      IMHO, the odds of catching again with this type of hip and shoulder injury are probably slim at best. As a matter of fact, it probably rules you out of playing any position on the field except for maybe 1st base. I’m thinking his best shot at extending his MLB career is going to be in the AL as a DH if the hip problem doesn’t zap his power and ability to run.

    • Math.

      First (and feel free to correct me on this – I’m only a layman), if the Reds outright him and someone else picks him up, don’t they take the entire contract? And the Reds (apart from the salary dump) do not pick up any of that tab? (Yes, you made that point….I know)

      But, Case B: Assume that the Reds keep Meso for 1/2 of next year and he shows recovery. In that case, can the Reds obtain more value in trade (on a long-term basis) than the 1/2 year salary plus whatever emoluments are necessary to move him off the books? At least this way, there is the prospect of picking up talent in addition to offloading money…the trick (and the risk) is in evaluating the NPV of the new talent and whether it’s worth more than, say $8-12mil.

      This ends my attempt to channel my inner Billy Beane or Theo Epstein

    • Agree with this. Devin just turned 28, so if he can’t cut it this year, then his prime years are already being wasted. It’s sad to say since he seems like a really great guy who has the potential to be a really great player, but baseball is first and foremost a business. It might be time to just accept that Mesoraco is a sunk cost and move on instead of continuing to devote time and energy attempting to recoup value on the investment.

      • I tend to agree with this. If he doesn’t appear ready to contribute sometime early in 2017, he needs to be written out of the future’s plans. What that means exactly, I don’t know.

  9. Since others have mentioned a trade to the AL, the A’s are expected to move Stephen Vogt. He is 32, and expected to receive $3.7M in arbitration for 2017.

    Mesoraco for Vogt + an OF or so (A’s need OFs and have $ to spend) would help both teams. A’s have a catcher-in-waiting, could afford to buy low and bet on an eventual full recovery. Reds get consistency from Vogt (130 games, 2.0 WAR), plus an asset to trade at the deadline, should they wish.

    Counting on a full Meso comeback as a necessity for the Reds contending just feels like a shaky premise. Better to the get the 2018 salary off the books and spent elsewhere.

    • I’m not thinking the A’s are going to trade a $3.7 million productive player, for an unproductive player owed $20 million

  10. Time to move on. Waiting and making plans based on Mez is an elizir and serious distraction. I’ve been just as excited about Mez’s prospects as the next fan, but I highly recommend that the Reds now categorize Mez as the backup catcher until he proves deserving otherwise.

    Barnhart is a developing young catcher who has strong potential on both sides of the plate and who commands respect. His defensive metrics are quite enviable. His offensive numbers continue to improve. When you consider his RISP, it seems to reason that as the Reds improve offensively as a team, Barnhart will continue to impress and surprise with his batting.

    This doesn’t even address the clubhouse impact/attitude perspective. From what I can tell with Barnhart, he’s one of those types that elevates the entire team just by his enthusiasm and charisma.

    Time to announce that Barnhart is our starting catcher, until someone out-competes him from a whole-catcher perspective. I don’t see it happening for years.

    • Honestly, I don’t think Barnhart can quite carry a full load as a catcher. I think he’s best served catching about 100 games. The Reds are going to need someone who can catch the other 62. Tucker doesn’t really have the body of a full-time catcher. That said, he can certainly function as a primary catcher and should start pretty much any game behind that plate when the opponent is starting a RHP. I like his defensive skills, even though I don’t think they are quite as good as some people seem to think. I like his leadership as well. Consider though that many of the same things about Mes’ personality make him a valuable leader in the clubhouse and on the field if he can actually catch when the opposition is starting a LHP.

      I am hoping that Mes’ catching career isn’t over and I’m hoping the Reds can get some games out of him but agree that he probably shouldn’t be the main catcher in any of the Reds future plans. If it turns out we’re wrong and he can catch 100 games then great but I don’t think the Reds should count on it at all.

  11. Before everyone jumps off a cliff, there could be an alternative and optimistic interpretation of Dick Williams remarks.

    First, it’s never been a realistic expectation that Mesoraco would come back Opening Day and catch 155 games, particularly every day in April and May.

    Second, Williams may be more modern in his approach to rehab and injuries and developing a more “team” approach to baseball operations, getting input from all personnel. We saw with Iglesias and Lorenzen a very scripted approach to their use pattern in July and August. The big plan worked- Iglesias and Lorenzen looked strong and helped the team win and finished the year 100% and ready for 2017 to contribute in big ways. They may have lost individual games along the way when they were unavailable….but there were always going to be days when they were unavailable….so why not be proactive about it?

    Third- Homer Bailey has proven coming back from major injury on schedule isn’t guaranteed. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce also proved patience is required. It makes sense to get a cheap veteran 3rd catcher who can pinch hit and catch 1-2x a week if needed. Catching is hard and a team needs depth at the position.

    Fourth- Sean Casey had a serious shoulder injury in 2002. He underwent shoulder surgery and went on to have several outstanding years and a career year in 2004,,,similar to his 1999 year. The sky is not falling.

    Mesoraco may just need a scripted, but patient rehab program from February through June.

    • I do not disagree with you. However I stand by that there is no need to burn a 40 man roster spot on him over the winter because the odds very strongly are that no one else is going to bet $20M on a very favorable to best case scenario given that the odds are also so long he ever returns to his previous form and can play enough at that level over the next two seasons to justify the $20M expense.

      If outrighted, he can do the scripted rehab at progressive levels in the minors and be returned to the MLB roster when ready without being exposed to waivers at that point. The only point of “risk” for the Reds is when he is waived for outrighting; and if somebody takes him then, they get all the considerable risk that he will actually “fully” recover while the Reds save $20M to use in their rebuilding.

      • The Reds probably want him “on campus” using state-of-the-art facilities under the close supervision of trainers and coaches.

  12. Anything we get out of Mez will be a bonus. Unfortunately, he has a history of injuries which can’t be ignored.

    • It is easy to forget that beyond the three big surgical procedures, he’s also missed time for a couple of concussions and a leg (hamstring?) and an oblique issue.

      However his run over 114 games in 2014 was truly something to behold and whet appetites with hope that more of the same was in the pipeline. Unfortunately, so far we are still waiting; and, the chances of it ever happening seem between greatly diminished to totally evaporated..

  13. I’ll be happy if he makes it but not surprised if he starts on the DL. As Steve M noted, shoulder stuff is very tricky.

    He’s a sunk cost at the moment. We take what we can. Any player is a gamble in the end. It’s a business and Devin is playing the most physically demanding spot in a sport where injuries happen.

    How many more days until Spring Training camp opens?

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