The Cincinnati Reds unexpectedly signed catcher Brayan Pena to a two-year deal on Friday. After the signing, it was reported that the club would be looking into moving backup Ryan Hanigan, and the Rays and Yankees were floated as possible landing spots for Hanigan.
But where does Hanigan rank among the free agent catchers on the market? MLBTR projects him to earn $2.3 million in 2014, his final year of arbitration. That seems like a lot for a backup, until you realize that the going rate for backup catchers is right around that area. The Braves paid Gerald Laird $1.5 million in 2013 (and will do the same in 2014) to serve as their backup. David Ross made $3.1 million for the Red Sox this year, and will make the same next year. Toronto paid Josh Thole $1.25 million in 2013 (and again, in 2014) to do…I'm not sure what, exactly.
The point is that if you're looking for a backup catcher that isn't either a rookie or has one foot in the retirement home, it's going to cost you between $1 and $3 million. You're seeing that happen with Pena, who will make a minimum of $1.25 million in 2014. But we're not talking about Pena right now – we're talking about Hanigan. It's not going to cost an interested team a significant prospect to bring him into the fold. Hell, it might not even take an actual prospect – a warm body might be just fine.
There's no denying that Hanigan was awful in 2013. He hit .198/.306/.261 as Devin Mesoraco's backup, but was banged up for a decent bit of the year, missing time with a strained oblique and a sprained wrist. After coming back from the sprained wrist in the second half, Hanigan's power disappeared as he hit for a miniscule .026 ISO and only doubling twice (while not homering) in 92 plate appearances. Over at Fangraphs, Matt Klaassen was bullish on his performance going forward and was willing to consider 2013 an outlier.
However, there are still a lot of things to like about Hanigan. He walked more than he struck out in 2013 for the sixth straight year in the majors, though I'm wondering how much of that has to do with him hitting almost exclusively in the eighth spot of Cincinnati's lineup. Hanigan also hit well before falling off a cliff in 2013, coming into the season with a career line of .275/.370/.360. His 97 wRC+ over those six seasons is comparable to fellow backstops George Kottaras, Gregg Zaun, and John Baker over those years, and is better than players who got a lot of playing time as their team's primary catcher like AJ Pierzynski, Ramon Hernandez, Nick Hundley, Chris Snyder, John Buck, and Kurt Suzuki.
Hanigan also brings something else to the table other than his stick: his incredible pitch framing talent. Back in May on Grantland, Ben Lindbergh conducted an interview with Hanigan about his skills, and Baseball Prospectus' pitch framing stats marked him as one of the best framers in the league this season. For a team like the Rays, who could be losing backstop Jose Molina on the free agent market, acquiring Hanigan would be something right up their alley. and the guys at DRays Bay fully agree.
Dave Cameron of Fangraphs things the bidding for Hanigan could get hairy among the smart AL East teams that need catching help and know what Hanigan's skills are. And I agree with him – Hanigan's going to be a nice pickup for a team that needs catching help, and the Reds shouldn't have any issues finding a new home for him.