It always seemed a bit odd that the Cincinnati Reds chose to designate catcher Stuart Turner for assignment at the end of March. That the move was made to clear room for the big league contract given to veteran pitcher Yovani Gallardo was odd in its own right, but the litany of injuries catcher Devin Mesoraco has dealt with over the years made it easy to question the intentional thinning of the team’s depth at that position.
Lucky for the Reds, Turner went unclaimed on waivers and was outrighted to AAA Louisville on Wednesday, the team announced.
C Stuart Turner today cleared waivers and was outrighted to the Triple-A @LouisvilleBats.— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) April 4, 2018
I think the most interesting part of this transaction is how we can now look back on it. The Reds chose to carry Turner on the big league roster for the entirety of the 2017 season (when he was healthy), which is protocol when it comes to retaining any player selected in the Rule 5 Draft. If they hadn’t, he’d have had to be offered back to the team from which he was selected - the Minnesota Twins in this case. So, for the entirety of 2017, Turner largely sat on the end of the bench, rarely playing while occupying a coveted 25-man roster spot in order to keep him in the organization.
That certainly gives you the impression that the team was rather high on him, no? Either that, or it sure gives off the vibe that they were deeply worried about Mesoraco’s health.
How the catching depth in the franchise has changed over the last year is worth looking at closer, I suppose, since that’s the other angle at which we can look at this. Tucker Barnhart certainly emerged as the catcher of both the present and future, and was rewarded with a contract extension. Mesoraco is presumably healthy, finally, but is also now in his final season under contract. In the minors, the two highest rated catching prospects in the system - Tyler Stephenson and Chris Okey - both suffered through injury-riddled 2017 seasons and are both still developing in the lower levels of the minor leagues. That would certainly make it seem on-paper that keeping Turner, a former 3rd round draft pick in his own right, would be something they might well prioritize.
The result of the move is actually best-case scenario for the Reds, as they still have Turner while also were able to open up a 40-man roster spot. The clear risk they took in having him get claimed, though, suggests he’s not quite the valuable asset that he appeared to be last year when the team used an active roster spot on him all season long. Now, he’s on a Louisville Bats roster that also features three other catchers at the moment, so it’s not even clear if he’ll be the go-to catcher at AAA, either.
That’s quite the change in perception across the board for the team’s catching depth in just one calendar year, which means it’s certainly the case that a year from now the catching landscape will be wildly different once again. Barring another massive change in that pecking order, though, the Reds might well be in the market for adding proven catching depth to back Barnhart before the 2019 season, what with Mesoraco set to be a free agent at that point and Turner’s status firmly in question.