There's a laundry list of things that Devin Mesoraco has been unable to be a part of over the last few seasons, what with labrum surgery after labrum surgery after labrum surgery. But while his hips and shoulder have repeatedly kept him out of the Cincinnati Reds lineup for the bulk of 2015 and 2016, being ready for Opening Day in each of those years wasn't a problem for the go-to catcher, as he made starts on both occasions.
For 2017, it looks increasingly unlikely he'll be ready in time, as The Enquirer's Zach Buchanan relayed on Sunday morning.
Bryan Price said it's very unlikely Devin Mesoraco is ready for Opening Day. Not enough time to build up. More likely for Raisel Iglesias— Zach Buchanan (@ZachENQ) March 26, 2017
Given how late of a start he got to Cactus League play, the kid gloves the team rightfully has with him, the $20 plus million left on his contract, and the rigors of regular catching, it's fairly easy to see why the idea of him playing on April 4th is an issue. Truthfully, it's likely much less about him playing on April 4th against the Philadelphia Phillies than it is how he'll feel on April 5th, and how long it would take for him to again be ready to catch a full nine inning game again. If he's too sore to go, that would leave the Reds in a bind, since Tucker Barnhart would be the only other catching option on the team (since they've said repeatedly that they want a roster constructed with only two catchers on the 25-man).
That would leave them a bad foul-tip or rolled ankle from a serious catching conundrum.
So, it's now looking like Mesoraco will probably stick around Goodyear when the team breaks camp and get regular action in extended Spring Training, and then matriculate on to AAA Louisville to get a few live games under his belt before returning to the big leagues. And, in the meantime, that means that one of Rob Brantly or Stuart Turner will be on the 25-man roster when the season begins in just over a week, neither of which inspires a wealth of confidence, all told.
Turner, 25, has a grand total of 97 games under his belt above A-ball, all of which came last year at AA Chattanooga while a member of the Minnesota Twins organization. The Reds plucked him in the Rule 5 Draft this past December after he hit .236/.322/.363 there in 370 PA, and while he's hit quite well in Cactus League play and carries a reputation as a good defensive catcher, sending him straight to the big leagues sans AAA seasoning seems to be a bit of a stretch. However, given how Rule 5 Draftee rules go, if the Reds don't keep him on the active roster, they'll be forced to offer him back to the Twins, and there's a large likelihood they'd take him back (akin to the situation with Jake Cave and the New York Yankees just last year).
Brantly, 27, actually has big league experience from multiple seasons under his belt, albeit his career -1.1 bWAR with the Miami Marlins and Chicago White Sox doesn't exactly scream that he was ready for it. He owns a .603 OPS in 392 career MLB PAs spread across 2012-2015, but coinciding with that limited action over multiple years is the caveat that he's now out of options altogether. That, of course, means that the Reds can't simply send him to AAA to begin the season if they choose to keep Turner, since Brantly will have to pass through waivers unclaimed to get there, so there's also a chance they might lose him.
And that's the scenario that Mesoraco being close-but-no-cigar has left the Reds with. They wanted to make sure he had every opportunity to be ready for Opening Day, which meant they didn't go out and seek a ready-made catching option during the off-season. Now that they're sure he won't be ready, they're left with two sub-optimal options to help fill the void left by his absence, with the caveat that whichever one of those two they don't chose will likely be lost from the organization altogether.
One clear positive in this muddied mess is Barnhart, who held up quite well in 2016 in his first real chance to get starter's time. Strong defensively and with an improving and solid bat, he's being a good pitch-framer away from being an excellent all-around option, and that's reportedly something he and the team have been working to improve since last year. Asking Tucker to be a regular starter at this point is something the team is, and should be comfortable with, it's merely the lack of clear insurance options that leaves things paper-thin with Mesoraco sidelined once again.
Finally, the silver linings here are twofold. At least this time around, Mesoraco isn't going to be on the team because he's not ready, not because he's not healthy. If he's only two or so weeks away, then he'll be on the same schedule as the young prospects the Reds will inevitably hold back for service time reasons, and would allow him to get back into nearly an entire season's worth of action. And if you're a believer in patterns, well, consider that the last time he wasn't ready for Opening Day but was back with the team a bit over a week into a season, it was 2014 - and we all know what he did to baseballs for the remainder of that year once he returned.