Pena Signing Makes Things Crowded Behind RedsPlate
It's early in the offseason, but signals are coming out of Cincinnati that the Reds will have noticeable changes in their roster next season after a disappointing early exit in this year's playoffs. FA signing Brayan Pena leaves veteran Ryan Hanigan's status uncertain and the Reds could have heavy turnover among all their players over the age of 30.
Early into the offseason, Cincinnati made a free agent signing by adding veteran catcher Bryan Pena with a two-year deal for an undisclosed amount. The 31 year-old has been playing at the MLB level since debuting with Atlanta in 2003. He’s coming off a career high .297 batting average with Detroit last season while reaching base at a .315 clip. Lifetime he’s hit .258 AVG/.292 OB with eighteen home runs in almost 1,200 plate appearances.
The Cuban immigrant comes with a reputation as an average catcher defensively, throwing out 29% of opposing MLB base-stealers over his career. He’s a switcher hitter at the plate and in 2013 he was much more effective against right-handers, but his LH/RH splits are comparable to each other over his career. In addition to Atlanta and Detroit he’s also played at Kansas City where he’s made over half of his 406 MLB appearances.
This first question this signing invokes is what will happen to the current catching tandem? Devin Mesoraco is a former first round pick that showed improvement at the plate over his second full MLB season and he’s not likely going anywhere. The other backstop still under contract is veteran Ryan Hanigan who’s seen regular action with the team since an August call-up in 2008. Lifetime Hanigan has developed a reputation as one of the better defensive catchers in the game while showing strong on-base skills at the plate, hitting .262 with a .359 on-base percentage. However, the 33 year-old receiver is coming off an injury-plagued season, hit less than .200, and his slugging percentage has declined each of the last four years.
Something’s got to give. The Pena signing does not figure to be one to add organizational depth and the active roster normally has room for only two catchers. There does figure to be decent trade value in the market for Hanigan who has been a steady performer over his career before this season. An oblique sprain and a sprained wrist limited him to 75 games played, his lowest total since his first full MLB season. Ironically he entered spring training coming off a career high number of games played with 112 appearances in 2012.
Historically Hanigan has been an effective catcher, but has shown durability issues while playing the most physically demanding position in baseball. Typically his production at the plate declines when he’s been overused and subjected to various ailments. That hasn’t affected his contribution to the team’s success because previously he and Ramon Hernandez combined to be an effective combo and since the rigors of the job demands two catchers anyway they did not require an additional spot on the active roster. Hernandez’s departure via free agency before last season caused the increase to Hanigan’s action after Mesoraco struggled at the plate as a rookie. He held up well under the increased workload, but could not sustain it into 2013.
Cincinnati’s future plans have probably had the lion’s share of the catching duty going to Mesoraco once ready since they invested the fifteenth overall selection on him in the 2007 draft. He gained a vote of confidence when another Reds first-round catcher selection, Yasmani Grandal, was included in a trade package that returned Mat Latos from San Diego before the 2012 season. In 2012 he hit .238 with an on-base percentage under .300, so there’s room to improve. He did pop nine homers, has the potential to provide good power for the position, and gives good reason to expect further improvement as he enters his third full season while still only 25 years old.
Hanigan has contributed to making the Reds a better organization since the former undrafted free agent worked his way out of the minors and many Reds fans would be sad to see him leave. However, MLB is a competitive business and teams often have to make tough decisions to improve chances of success in the future. Another key contributor their rebuilding effort, durable pitcher Bronson Arroyo, is now eligible for free agency and it isn’t likely that Cincinnati will continue to be able to fit his $10+ million salary in their budget now that he’ll turn 37 before opening day and Tony Cingrani is coming off a strong rookie debut.
There may be a movement toward youth in Cincinnati next season. Their number three catcher from last year, Corky Miller has declared free agency and been removed from the 40-man roster. Exactly what kind of market exists for a 37-year old journeyman with a lifetime batting average below .200 remains to be seen. The Reds have liked having him handle their AAA pitchers for the past five years and perhaps someone else will feel the same way. Miller and Arroyo were the two oldest players to see action for the Reds last year. The next two were Ryan Ludwick and Jack Hannahan who signed multi-year deals before the season. Ludwick was injured most of the campaign and Hannahan hit .216, so either one of them would probably be in limbo if they were not under contract. The only other ones above the age of 30 were Cesar Izturis who’s return in uncertain, Hanigan, Brandon Phillips who has been the subject of trade rumors, and reliever Alfredo Simon who isn’t arbitration eligible until next year. The Reds are also expected to shed the $4 million salary of 31 year-old Nick Massett who has been on the disabled list and hasn’t thrown an MLB pitch over the past two years.
Key for small market teams to remain competitive is the ability of their farm system to provide MLB talent. Of course no one from the farm can contribute to the parent team’s success until there is a spot opened for them on the active roster. They have to stock a roster for success and turn it over to sustain it. After continual turnover across fifteen seasons without a postseason appearance Reds fans have been accustomed to seeing the same core over the past four years as the Reds have enjoyed a greater level of success than they’d seen in a long time. Manager Dusty Baker is not gone while Hanigan and Arroyo both have good reason to be evaluating realtors. Phase one of successfully stocking the roster has been completed and it will be interesting to keep an eye on Cincinnati over the offseason to see how far they transition into the next phase of turnover.
In an earlier roster move the Reds added reliever Pedro Beato who was picked up off waivers from Boston. The 27 year-old right-hander appeared in ten games for the Reds Sox this year and kept a sub-three ERA in 34 games at AAA Pawtucket. He’s seen action in 81 MLB games with most of that during his rookie season with the Mets in 2011. Lifetime he has a 4.55 ERA and 1.303 WHIP across 89 innings pitched while striking out 56 with 34 walks.
Also gone from the 40-man roster is pitcher Greg Reynolds who opted for free agency. The former second overall draft selection came into the organization before last season hoping to resurrect an injury-riddled career. He impressed at Louisville, going 12-3 with a 2.42 ERA which earned him a handful of appearances with the Reds. It’s no surprise that he’s moving on to take his chances somewhere with less pitching depth in an attempt to land a spot on an opening day roster.