Early Friday, we learned that the Cincinnati Reds had signed catcher Brayan Pena and in turn, would likely be shopping incumbent backstop Ryan Hanigan. Hmm…if only we could find a team that is looking for an experienced catcher at a reasonable price. I wonder where we could find one.
Oh wait, I believe our very own Toronto Blue Jays are in the market for a catcher this winter.
At first glance, Ryan Hanigan does not appear to be much of an upgrade over current Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, as their batting lines are eerily familiar this past season. Hanigan hit a paltry .198 with a .567 OPS in what was easily the worst season of the 33-year-old’s career. Now, compare that to our hero Arencibia, who in comparison looks like he downright raked with his .194 average and .592 OPS.
However, there is a different story to be seen here.
While Arencibia has shown a steady rate of decline, Hanigan’s rough season may just be a blip on his otherwise solid track record. Hanigan is a career .262 hitter with a .703 OPS, but more importantly he has a career on-base percentage of .359 and has a better than 1:1 walk to strike-out ratio during his career. In fact, his .306 on-base percentage in 2013 was the only time in his career that his OBP was lower than .350. That is likely more a byproduct of an extremely unlucky BABIP of just .216 than it was of steep decline with the bat.
MLBtr sees the same trend, forecasting that Hanigan will likely see a rebound in 2014:
The main culprit in Hanigan’s poor season appears to have been a .216 batting average on balls in play. That number figures to trend back toward his career mark of .283, especially when considering that Hanigan’s batted-ball profile didn’t radically change in 2013. In fact, Hanigan’s 21.5 percent line-drive rate was actually a slight increase over his 2012 mark (21.2 percent) and is right in line with his career mark (21.9 percent).
Hanigan’s Steamer project for 2014, courtesy of FanGraphs, agrees that a rebound is in order, projecting that Hanigan will be good for a .254/.346/.344 slash line and worth 2.6 wins above replacement.
With that in mind, employing Hanigan rather than Arencibia has a detriment in regards to power production, as Hanigan has never popped more than 6 home runs or 14 doubles in a given season. Meanwhile, Arencibia has managed no less that 16 doubles and 18 home runs in his three seasons at the big league level.
That all said, Hanigan could become a more dependable platoon partner with Arencibia that would Josh Thole. Hanigan brings a solid reputation as a defensive catcher as well, something that often dogs Arencibia in Toronto.
What the Reds will be looking at in return is a bit of a mystery just yet. The Blue Jays have a plethora of available arms in the bullpen, but the Reds turned out the 7th most productive bullpen (in terms of ERA) in baseball last season. The Reds could be in the market for some outfield help, but Toronto is unlikely to flip a prospect like Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar, or Moises Sierra for a 33-year-old catcher. However, if we can expand the deal to perhaps include second base prospect Neftali Soto coming back to Toronto, perhaps we could talk.
With the Blue Jays likely to want to save their monetary commitments towards their starting rotation, a trade for a low-budget catcher like Hanigan makes a lot of sense for the team. There is a deal that could be made here, Toronto just needs to get a little creative to get it to happen.