When the Reds settled a modest two-year contract with Ryan Hanigan after 2011, I remember thinking it was a pretty nice deal. He'd just had an incredibly productive season at the plate - albeit in limited time - that saw him slashing .300/.405/.429. He'd established himself as a capable receiver and someone who was going to throw out runners at no worse than league average for at least a few more seasons.
But I also thought, at the time, that Hanigan could easily be a back-up - or traded away - by the second year of that contract. Mesoraco had just finished a monster year at AA. Yasmani Grandal had made a promising professional debut. And Ramon Hernandez was still with the team. He had some shelf life left and favor with Walt and Dusty.
If the last (roughly) twelve months have proved anything, it's that there's No Such Thing as Catcher Depth. That's partly because catchers are attractive trade chips. The Rangers,, had catching riches that peaked around 2008-09. It ended up just being a means to an end.
Perhaps more importantly, catching is a hard job with a steep learning curve - even after years of professional experience. And learning to catch a big league pitching staff, while adjusting to big-league pitching at the same time, can be a strain. It's pretty clear Devin Mesoraco struggled with that this season.
It boiled over one very bad day (July 30), in which Mesoraco sustained what was later diagnosed as a mild concussion, was ejected for an ump-bump and later suspended and sent down to AAA as a result. Red Reporter had a good view of that train wreck.
Meso's suspension and demotion came at the end of a month that was pretty successful for him at the plate. He never really got his job or his swing back after that.
It's going to get better for Meso. Just like it's gotten better for Ryan Hanigan over his career. For RyHan, this may have been his best year in the field, culminating with calling Homer Bailey's no-hitter.
Catchers are fickle beasts. Which is why Dioner Navarro made a start for the Reds in the playoffs. There are no safe bets, especially in Crouch City.
The biggest deficiency in Hanigan's game is his lack of pop. He showed a little bit more a few seasons a go, but in 2012 he posted the lowest isolated power (iSO) of his career. Still, we don't expect much from catchers in that department. Hanigan lead the league in caught-stealing rate, soldified his reputation as an elite game-caller and pitch framer, all while getting on base at a higher rate than any Red not named Joey Votto.
Hanigan is a late-bloomer and has skills that should age well, in catcher terms. I'd like to see him become the Reds' Jason Varitek. Or, at the least, stay past the end of his contract. Maybe continuity and experience doesn't count for much, but if it's does, it's nowhere more important than between catchers and pitchers.
Things got sucky for Mesoraco around mid-July. But it's only up from here. And the upside is still immense.
Mesoraco doesn't turn 25 until next June. Ryan Hanigan was at AA Chattanooga during his Age 25 season. While the last two months of Meso's season were pretty barren, it's hard to hold them against him. He was recovering from a head injury and getting irregular playing time. At the very least, he was nursing a bruised ego.
Mesoraco's July was encouraging. So was his April, as a matter of fact. We're basically looking at a two-month slump in a season of just 184 PAs.
Now that he's hitting again, Navarro becomes a valuable back-up or half-time catcher. He's got a very good arm and showed a lot more power, over a small sample, than Hanigan. Since he's still on the right side of 30, he's going to get a major league offer this winter.
Which means the Reds can't retain him unless they keep Mesoraco at AAA. For the reasons outline above, I don't think this makes sense. Especially if they had to commit to more than one year. Navarro could be a dream to have as your #2, but I don't think the Reds have a place for him.
Starting Pitcher Pairings
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