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How the return of Devin Mesoraco will alter the Cincinnati Reds roster

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The former All Star seems poised to rejoin the club as early as this week.

Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports

Devin Mesoraco went 0 for 4 for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos on Tuesday night. In fact, the 0-fer has become a big commonplace for the 28 year old in Southern League action of late, as it stretched his current streak to 0 for 17 since his 1st inning single against Biloxi back on April 12th.

He’s hitting just .143 with the Cincinnati Reds’ AA club, but he’s obviously not in AA to show he’s a prospect worthy of promotion. He’s in AA on a rehab assignment, there to show a team that invested $28 million in his long-term that he’s healthy enough to be a big league catcher again, and that’s where his 0 for 4 Tuesday evening comes in to play.

Tuesday marked the first time Mesoraco suited up to catch a full 9 inning game on a day after he’d also caught a full 9 inning game, and all things point to him having come out of the scenario feeling good. Not having produced, but having survived the rigor, and that’s largely what he was down there to prove in the first place.

The Enquirer’s Zach Buchanan opined as much in today’s B.A.R., saying "Devin Mesoraco caught nine innings for the second night in a row, ostensibly the last step before he can be activated from the disabled list." And if that’s the case, the Reds are going to have a series of moves to make.

Carrying three catchers on any big league roster is tricky enough under normal circumstances. The Chicago Cubs did so for much of last year, but that included catcher Willson Contreras - who could also play OF. Of course, those Cubs also had a rock solid set of starting pitchers that routinely pitched deep into games, meaning the 25-man roster didn’t need the versatility to accommodate a large bullpen like the Reds currently need. That coupled with the fact that none of Mesoraco, Tucker Barnhart, or Stuart Turner plays any other position means the idea that these Reds could carry three catchers becomes that much more far-fetched, meaning one of the three is going to have to go.

It’s not going to be Tucker Barnhart who gets booted from the roster, leaving Stuart Turner as the obvious odd man out. That’s where things get more complicated.

Turner, you’ll recall, was selected by the Reds from the Minnesota Twins in last winter’s Rule 5 Draft, which means he’s not just your average back-up catcher who can be stashed in AAA as insurance for Mesoraco. Rule 5 draftees come with numerous caveats, the most known being that they must remain on the selecting team’s active roster the year after being selected. Before any scenario where the Reds could send Turner to the minors, he would first have to clear waivers and then have the Twins decline to take him back into their own system, which puts the Reds at risk of losing their best back-up catcher insurance to give Mesoraco one more shot at being a healthy big leaguer.

Turner, 25, is far from a top prospect or established star. There’s a reason he was unprotected by the Twins prior to the Rule 5 Draft in the first place. However, he’s not without talent, and so far has shown a great arm behind the plate as well as solid defense, and his Cactus League efforts showed at least the potential for some offense from him down the line. Yes, he becomes more expendable if Mesoraco is active and healthy, but given the injury history Mes comes with, the idea of losing Turner just to roll the dice with Mes becomes a risky one on paper.

In other words, if Turner gets waived or is taken back by the Twins and Mesoraco winds up hurt in some capacity again, the Reds would be left with Barnhart and a pretty clear catching void until you reach the A and A+ portions of the farm system. Turner, at the moment, isn’t just serving as Mesoraco insurance at the big league level for 2017; he’s serving as franchise catching insurance for the coming few seasons if Mesoraco returns and shows that the multiple hip and shoulder surgeries that have kept him out of late have sapped his ability to be anything close to what he once was.

That’s a pretty big gamble.

Best case scenario? Turner somehow clears waivers unclaimed (thanks to other teams being flush with catching at the big league level and unwilling to carry him on their active roster), and the Twins, for some reason, choose not to take him back. That would effectively keep Turner in the system and allow him to be stashed in AAA. Mesoraco comes back, stays healthy, and rotates with Barnhart. Chris Okey doesn’t get rushed, Tyler Stephenson doesn’t get rushed, and the catching in the system maintains both talent and depth.

The likelihood of each of those moving parts going precisely Cincinnati's way isn't good, though. It's tough to envision things going that perfectly for any positional depth chart, but with the pounding that professional catchers take behind the plate on a daily basis, it's near impossible to think that's a likely outcome. But with 2 years and some $20 million left guaranteed on Mesoraco's contract, setting that chain of events in motion seems as if it's inevitable.

It also seems like it'll happen as early as this week.