Reds, Mesoraco perfect fit for each other

The Reds and catcher Devin Mesoraco have avoided arbitration.

Frank Victores/Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI – The Reds entrusted their everyday catching duties to Devin Mesoraco last year. It worked out so well the two have decided to keep the relationship going another four seasons.

The Reds and Mesoraco, 26, reached agreement on a four-year contract worth $28 million on Monday that keeps Mesoraco behind the Cincinnati plate through the 2018 season. The deal covers Mesoraco’s three years of arbitration plus his first year of free agency.

“This is the only organization that I’ve ever known and it’s always been a pleasure to be a part of the Reds, so I think this is something that I was very excited to go forward with and do,” said Mesoraco Monday afternoon at Great American Ball Park. “I’m very happy to be part of this team and one of the guys that going forward can be something that the younger guys do look up to, someone that people and fans can count on for being part of the club and producing out on the field.”

Mesoraco, who was a National League All-Star in his first season as the full-time catcher last year, was entering his first year of being eligible for arbitration. His representatives and the team exchanged contract figures for arbitration – the Reds offered $2.45 million, while Mesoraco’s camp countered with $3.6 million – but now neither side will have to deal with that process.

When the two sides exchanged arbitration figures is when Jocketty first reached out to Mesoraco’s agent, BB Abbott about a long-term deal. Mesoraco was on his honeymoon in Maui. His bride, Kira, allowed Mesoraco a few minutes each day to catch up with the outside world via his cell phone. He got the messages he needed to get.

“We didn’t bother him on his honeymoon,” joked Jocketty.

The Reds selected Mesoraco No. 15 overall in the 2007 draft out of Punxsutawney (Pa.) Area High School. He made his debut with the big league team in 2011 playing 18 games as a September call-up. He played in 54 games in 2012 backing up Ryan Hanigan and 103 games in 2013.

The Reds traded Hanigan last offseason as part of a three-team deal that brought them left-handed pitcher David Holmberg from Arizona. Holmberg will be in the competition for a starting rotation spot during spring training. The trade was a sign the Reds were ready to make Mesoraco the No. 1 catcher.

Mesoraco responded by hitting .273 with a .359 on-base percentage and .539 slugging percentage. He hit 25 home runs and drove in 80 runs, both of which led all catchers in Major League Baseball. His slugging percentage was tops among catchers with at least 400 plate appearances and his overall Win Above Replacement (WAR) rating of 4.4 was fifth among all catchers, according to the analytical web site FanGraphs.com.  

“When he hit the way he did and caught the way he did we felt we better get him signed as soon as we can. I think it was a breakout year for him,” said Jocketty. “Just watching him grow through the organization is the fun part of our job. Seeing him develop into one of the best young catchers in the game you try to lock those guys up and keep them a part of your organization for as long as you can. That’s for at least the next four years.”

Mesoraco’s defense and handling of the pitching staff has steadily improved. That was always a strength of Hanigan. It’s something that Mesoraco said he still has room to get better.

“I certainly got a lot more comfortable,” said Mesoraco. “I think mechanically there are some things that we can still work to improve but it’s definitely far and away better than it has been the past couple of years before last season.”

Mesoraco was a part of the Reds caravan this past weekend. It was during the caravan stop in Lima on Friday that he got word the contract was all worked out. He has been working out in Cincinnati, with other players as well as Reds major league catching coordinator Mike Stefanski ahead of going to Goodyear, Ariz., for spring training. 

“At (Punxsutawney) I certainly don’t have any major league pitchers to catch or anybody to throw me good BP (batting practice) – my dad throws all cutters,” said Mesoraco.

The Reds have done similar deals in the past, locking up arbitration-eligible players to longer-term deals that cover those arbitration years, and in some cases beyond. Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto are prime examples of such deals.

AROUND THE HORN

“We’ve said this many times, with a small market club like ours we have to try to develop through our own system,” said Jocketty. “It’s almost crucial for us to operate like that. We’ve had pretty good success doing it and hopefully we can have more success going forward.”

Mesoraco fits into the same mold as those other three, said Jocketty.

“You watch their work ethic and you watch their progress and find out what kind of character they have, what kind of work ethic and kind of person they are, then you watch how they adapt to the major leagues and you get a pretty good idea of how they project out,” Jocketty. “We do some statistical analysis, too, on these guys but mostly it’s our evaluations of the person and their character. In most cases we’ve been pretty accurate.”

The Reds began the offseason with nine players eligible for arbitration but now have just closer Aroldis Chapman and third baseman Todd Frazier still in that group. Starting pitchers Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon as well as outfielder Chris Heisey were traded. Starting pitcher Mike Leake and shortstop Zack Cozart avoided arbitration by signing one-year deals. Reliever Logan Ondrusek was not tendered an offer and has signed with the Yakult Swallows in Japan.

Jocketty said Chapman and Frazier are his next focus.

Chapman is a second-year arbitration eligible player, while Frazier is a first-year arbitration player, as Mesoraco was. Chapman made $7.86 million last season and should see a salary in the same zip code whether he goes to arbitration or that hearing is avoided with a contract. Frazier will be getting a significant pay raise from the $600,000 he made last season. The Reds have offered him $3.9 million in arbitration, while Frazier’s representatives have countered with $5.7 million.