Trade of Hanigan opens door for Mesoraco

CINCINNATI — Devin Mesoraco has a big catcher’s mitt to follow.

The Reds traded veteran Ryan Hanigan to the Tampa Bay Rays as part of a three-team deal on Tuesday. They acquired minor-league left-handed pitcher David Holmberg from Arizona in the deal. Holmberg, 22, has been viewed as one of the top prospects in the Diamondbacks farm system and will certainly help the Reds with depth in their system but make no mistake that this trade is all about Devin Mesoraco.

The Reds believe he is ready to take on the every-day duties of handling a pitching staff that has been the core of a team that’s been to the postseason three of the last four years.

“Devin Mesoraco will have the opportunity to become a front-line catcher for us,” said general manager Walt Jocketty in a statement released by the team announcing the trade.

The Reds were fourth in the National League with a 3.38 ERA and set a club record for the second straight season with 1,296 strikeouts. Reds’ starters had an ERA of 3.43, third-best in the NL and a franchise low since 1974 (3.41).

Bronson Arroyo, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake all had 30-plus starts as a group for the second straight season. Bailey, Latos and Leake had career-highs in innings pitched. While Arroyo is a free agent and odds are he will be pitching elsewhere next season, the rest of the starting staff, including Johnny Cueto and Tony Cingrani, will be compromised of pitchers 28-years-old or younger.

Latos, Bailey, Leake and Cueto are entering the prime of their careers. Cingrani is still in need of plenty of polishing — and a reliable off-speed pitch he’s confident in throwing consistently — but it’s undeniable the talent he possesses.  

Hanigan, 33, has been an important part of the growth of the Reds’ pitching staff the past few years. He’s caught both of Bailey’s no-hitters. He led the Major Leagues in 2012 with a 3.04 catcher’s ERA. He has a career fielding percentage of .995 and has thrown out 40 percent of would-be base stealers since making his debut with the Reds in 2007. The MLB average over that time is 28 percent.

His offense, while never great, was solid. He was a good contact hitter at the bottom of the lineup with a career on-base percentage of .359 and slugging percentage of .343.

Last season was injury-filled for Hanigan, though. He twice spent time on the disabled list, missing 17 games with a left oblique strain suffered in April and then 23 games with a left wrist injury in July. He struggled at the plate; he hit just .198 in 75 games and his OBP of .306 and his SLG of .261 were well below his normal. He still threw out 15 of 33 base stealers (45 percent) and had a .998 fielding percentage.

Hanigan’s injuries pushed Mesoraco into the starting role and he responded well. The 25-year-old started 84 of the 97 games he appeared in as a catcher, with a .993 fielding percentage. He ended up hitting .238 for the season with nine home runs, 13 doubles and 42 RBI but he also struck out a lot — 61 times in 323 at-bats. His OBP was just .287, while his SLG was .367.

The Reds expect him to get better at the plate. There are always financial considerations when a trade takes place — Hanigan got a three-year extension from Tampa Bay worth $10.75 million with a club option on a fourth season, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, while Mesoraco is still under club control and not eligible for arbitration — but Mesoraco’s progress behind the plate is what made Hanigan expendable. The Reds signed former Detroit catcher Brayan Pena to a two-year contract this offseason, further positioning Mesoraco as the front-line starter.

“Defensively is where my biggest jump as been, as far as handling the pitchers,” said Mesoraco during an interview with FoxSportsOhio.com in July. “I think just the understanding of how to call the game and how to get guys out has been 10 times better (than 2012).”

Holmberg made his Major League debut last season for Arizona, a single appearance in August, while spending the majority of the season in the Class Double-A Southern League at Mobile. He’s thrown at least 154 innings each of the last three seasons and had a WHIP of 1.195 in 157 1/3 innings last season (138 hits, 50 walks).

He was a second-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2009. The Diamondbacks acquired him and starter Daniel Hudson in exchange for pitcher Edwin Jackson in 2010. Holmberg has made a steady rise through the Arizona system the last three seasons, moving up from low-A South Bend (Midwest League) to high-A Visalia (California) to Mobile.

The Reds have teams in all three leagues — Dayton, Bakersfield and Pensacola — so they’ve had a chance to see Holmberg up-close throughout his professional career.