It's been nearly four weeks since the Reds signed C Brayan Pena to a somewhat out of the blue two-year contract and muddied the catching waters for the upcoming season. See, the general consensus is that there are only two bunk beds in the catching room, and as things currently stand the Cincinnati Reds have three big league caliber catchers on their roster. Immediately following the signing, the baseball media hive mind jumped to a seemingly obvious conclusion that stalwart Ryan Hanigan, perceived as increasing in age and declining in dependability, would be the one to make way via trade in order to finally open up a more full-time role for former uber-prospect Devin Mesoraco.
Pena, a veteran career backup, would slot in nicely as a 150-200 PA spot starter, and Hanigan, entering his last year of arbitration, would be an attractive enough trade piece due to his OBP skills and defense to pick up a decent piece in return via trade. There were many teams interested in Hanigan, it was suggested, and his reputation as being a superb pitch framer and defender against basestealers would create enough of a trade market for him despite coming off the worst season of his career. The Tampa Bay Rays would come calling, surely, as would teams like the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, and New York Yankees, each with backstop issues of their own.
That's not at all how it has played out, however.
Since the Pena signing, free agent catchers have inked Major League deals at a furious pace, and each of the teams listed above has nabbed one. Brian McCann signed what could amount to a $100 million contract with the Yankees, Jose Molina re-upped with the Rays to split time with Jose Lobaton, former Red Dioner Navarro signed for two years with the Blue Jays, Carlos Ruiz opted to return to the Philadelphia Phillies for three more seasons, and the Red Sox agreed to sign A.J. Pierzynski to a one year contract just this morning.
It will be hard to ever know if those teams called Walt Jocketty to ask about Hanigan, and it will be even more difficult to find out if they were told he was unavailable or just that the asking price was too steep. What is certain, though, is that the market for starting catchers has dwindled near to nil, and for the Reds, that's potentially a problem. It's not that Hanigan no longer has any trade value or that the Reds couldn't manage to get something for him in return; rather, it's that at this point, there are so few starting positions open that any team acquiring him would be doing so to make him a backup, and that means, of course, that the asking price that Walt can command has taken a massive hit.
Perhaps Walt's preemptive signing of Pena reduced his leverage to the point where teams now know he's in a bind and won't overpay. Perhaps Hanigan isn't as healthy as we've all assumed, and that's both the reason why Pena was signed and why trading Hanny hasn't materialized. Perhaps famed philosopher Charlie Scrabbles and I were actually on to something by beating the drum to trade Devin Mesoraco this Winter, as many teams may still view him as a cornerstone piece who is still young, still cheap, and still improving, and that might be the one trade chip the Reds have that could bring back a major offensive upgrade. Maybe the Reds' brass has seen enough in Tucker Barnhart to want him as a piece of the catching puzzle after 2014, and moving Mesoraco would allow him to take over.
Who knows. What's certain is that the already limited number of landing spots for a current Reds catcher is dwindling, and barring a philosophical return to the three catcher days of LLM, the Reds will find themselves selling what was once seen as a prized asset on the cheap.
The Winter Meetings start in less than a week. Get your popcorn ready.