With news breaking that the Cincinnati Reds have signed Brayan Pena to a two year deal, the Reds are now overstocked at catcher. With Devin Mesoraco and Pena both now representing options for the Reds at catcher, Ryan Hanigan is the odd man out. It has already been rumored that Hanigan is very likely to be moved–could Tampa Bay be the place that he ends up.
Hanigan had a fairly poor season in 2013 at the plate, hitting just .198/.306/.261. However, his drop in average is due in part to a very unlucky .216 BABIP, which is likely to improve closer to his .283 career mark in 2014. In addition, Hanigan’s struggle at the plate did not affect his defense in the slightest as he led the league with a 45% caught stealing rate. Overall Hanigan’s poor season at the plate is likely due to an off-year that was compounded by poor luck. In 2014, look for Hanigan to bounce back closer to his career .262/.359/.343 line, and combining that with his defense makes him a valuable player.
The Rays are in need of a catcher for 2014, as Jose Molina is a free agent this offseason. Jose Lobaton will return, but due to his poor defense, he is not an everyday option at catcher. The Rays would like a second catcher to split time with him, Hanigan could represent a very good option. Hanigan has the type of strong defense that the Rays’ value, and his 40% caught stealing rate lies in sharp contrast to the Rays’ bottom five ranking in that regard this season. Hanigan also fits extremely welll at the plate as Joe Maddon could elect to use Lobaton and Hanigan in a strict platoon. For his career, Hanigan is a much better hitter against lefties, posting a .786 OPS against them compared to just a .677 OPS against righties. Lobaton’s career splits are fairly neutral, but in 2013 his .736 OPS against righties was better than his .653 OPS against lefties. And while Rays fans won’t forget Lobaton’s heroics in 2013, it is probable that Maddon would elect to start Hangian against some righties to take advantage of his great defense even more.
After his down season in 2013, the Reds would be selling low on Hanigan. However with catching always being a hot commodity, it will still take a decent amount in order to acquire Hanigan. Acquiring Hanigan will not take one of the Rays’ top prospects, but rather a lower-level prospect with some upside. A deal that could work for both sides could be Hanigan in exchange for Jake Hager. Hager was one of the Rays’ several supplemental first rounders in 2011, but is a bit of a tweener now. Scouts are mostly optimistic about his ability to stick at shortstop, but even if he does he will never be more than an average defender there. Hager also has some raw power, but it has not begun to show up in games as much as the Rays would like, especially as he has moved up the ladder. Hager is still a solid prospect, and could become an average major league shortstop one day, but at the same time he carries plenty of risk and still has plenty to prove in the minors. He would give the Reds a player with potential in exchange for their extra catcher, and while the Rays would rather not give up on him yet, Hanigan’s ability seems worth the cost.
Hanigan has one year of team control left, but he should not be too expensive to extend. MLB Trade Rumors projects Hanigan to earn 2.3 million through arbitration this offseason. Based on that, the Rays could try to sign Hanigan to something along the lines of a three-year deal for around $12 million (with a team option at the end, of course) to buy out his last arbitration year and a couple free agent years as well. This is a very reasonable number for the cost-oriented Rays, who would maintain one of the most underrated catchers in baseball on the cheap.
The idea of acquiring Hanigan is very exciting, as Hanigan could represent the best catcher that has ever been on the Rays’ roster, especially if he could rebound at the plate in 2014. Hanigan has been one of the best defensive catchers in baseball the past few years, and has only gotten better as time has gone on, upping his caught stealing rate to 45% the last two years after surpassing 35% in the previous four. While his down year at the plate cannot be overlooked, he has been a good-hitting catcher throughout his career, and everything points to him bouncing back at the plate in 2014. Hanigan is available, and Andrew Freidman and Co. need to pounce on this opportunity if the price is right.