Barring a rainout or an unexpected play-in for a playoff play-in appearance, the Cincinnati Reds have exactly 302 games to play before Devin Mesoraco will become a free agent. Between his first paycheck for this year and the time those 302 games have been played, the Reds will have paid him $20.45 million, but at least there’s a chance that we’ll begin to see what he’s got left in the tank since the team officially activated him from the 10-day DL on Thursday.
#Reds RHP Barrett Astin optioned to AAA Louisville, C Devin Mesoraco reinstated from DL— C. Trent Rosecrans (@ctrent) April 27, 2017
Since Mesoraco signed his 4 year, $28 million extension after a breakout, All Star 2014 season, he’s hit no dingers. In the 39 games in which he has played, he’s hit just .158/.245/.200, and has had as many labrum surgeries in that time (3) as RBI. Even during that stellar 2014 season in which he hit .273/.359/.534 with 25 dingers and 25 doubles, he logged only 440 PAs in 114 games, in part because he fought a hamstring issue that at one point landed him on the then 15-day DL.
That’s quite the injury history, though it certainly comes along with the pedigree of being a former 1st round draft pick, former top prospect, and former All Star. However, when the Reds doled out that grand extension, they did so with the hopes that he’d do something he never had to that point, and certainly hasn’t done since: be a guy capable of catching 140 games.
140 games is certainly a convenient number, since that’s exactly how many games the Reds have remaining in the 2017 season. It’s a premise that implied he’d catch 7 out of 8 games throughout a full, healthy season, a rate that’s also out of the question for the pro-rated duration of the 2017, too. That’s in part because the team will wisely have kid gloves on him as he returns, in part because it’s likely he’ll pick up a minor ‘injury’ through the rigors of catching even if not on the scale of his previous issues, and in part because of the presence (and success in his stead) of Tucker Barnhart.
And of Stuart Turner, since the Red plan on carrying three catchers.
Realistically, that limited window means the Reds won’t stand much of a chance of getting enough return on their investment to call the contract extension a win. Rationally, it’d be nice to see them not try to at all, since that would require asking Mesoraco to tackle something he’s likely not capable of tackling at the cost of giving Barnhart the playing time he rightly deserves.
That’s the breakdown in a vacuum, though that’s obviously not the world in which we operate. The reality is that in the NL and without the DH, it’ll be hard to even give Mesoraco enough regular playing time to truly work himself back into form. Carrying two catchers and giving them equal playing time is tough enough, much less with three catchers on the roster, an everyday stalwart entrenched at 1B in Joey Votto, and the fact that none of the three catchers has any experience playing any other position on the diamond. That’ll mean a lot of pinch hitting chances as the lone way to show what he’s got left, something that we saw with little to no success when he spent some 40 days on the active roster in 2015 without being able to catch at all due to the pain in his hip.
The best case scenario? After his initial ease-in to big league life again, he ends up catching 3-4 times a week by the start of June, and hits like the Mesoraco we saw when healthy in 2014. Even if he shows no side effects of his previous surgeries and flashes the talent that warranted the extension in the first place, the prevailing thoughts on big-time catching talent these days suggests that asking him to ever return to the kind of playing time most hoped to see out him before he was hurt is a terrible idea, one that ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick explored in depth today regarding a potential full-time position change for San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey.
With $13.25 million of that total dollar value left as his 2018 salary, it’s hard to envision even a pro-rated 2014-esque finish to this season setting up the Reds to use Mesoraco as a trade chip this off-season, at least not one who would be an asset marketable enough to bring back a solid return even if they ate some salary. So while he’s not a total sunk cost - there’s 302 games in which he might be good! - the limited amount of chances the Reds will have to see what he’s got left in the tank might well mean the Reds would be best served treating the former Mesoraco as one, albeit a sunk cost that comes with an upside chance to at least contribute what he can while he’s still under contract.
That may sound rough, but Mesoraco will be 29 in June, and asking a lot of even healthy catchers as they near age 30 is a lot. But even a banged-up 29 year old catcher can still provide something to a team if he’s right, as long as you keep the previous hopes of what he could have been a bit tempered.