Much has been written at Getting Blanked and Drunk Jays Fans about the “Sweepstakes” that the Cincinnati Reds are holding in order to decide who’s going to get backup catcher Ryan Hanigan. With the signing of Brayan Pena and young catcher Devin Mesoraco expected to take the playing time behind the plate for the Reds, Hanigan has become expendable.
Misters Stoeten and Fairservice, in their articles on Hanigan, have pointed out that Hanigan would offer a huge upgrade over J.P. Arencibia behind the plate defensively but on the offensive side, they have also noted that Hanigan is probably a big beneficiary from hitting in the number eight spot in the National League .
Both Fairservice and Stoeten believe that Hanigan is no more than a backup and that, while he is considered among the better catchers who we know are available for trade in this offseason, giving up anything for him would be hard to fathom. I paraphrase of course, but Mr. Stoeten’s actual words are: “do we even want the Jays to pay anything to acquire a guy who is going to force a shit-tonne more playing time onto [Josh] Thole?” Exactly. They also note that even if Hanigan came to back up or split playing time with Thole, he wouldn’t be a huge financial savings because he is expected to earn about half a million dollars less than Arencibia in 2014.
I’ll venture forth that the reason that the Blue Jays should not pursue Ryan Hanigan because the Blue Jays already have a guy who could probably do a similar job without having to give anything up. If we assume that Hanigan, hitting in the American League, would lose about 30 points of on base percentage due to not taking intentional and unintentional walks hitting in front of the pitcher, a comparison could be made between him and Blue Jays prospect A.J. Jimenez.
Jimenez, throughout his minor league career has posted defensive numbers (at least that we’re privy to) that have been just as good, if not better than Hanigan’s. This season, mostly spent at Double-A, Jimenez posted a 42% caught stealing percentage and hasn’t had one below 40% since 2009 when he was in Lansing.*
The biggest difference between Hanigan and Jimenez is the walk rate. Jimenez is not a very patient hitter.** His 7.2% walk rate in New Hampshire was actually his highest as a professional hitter but he has seen somewhat of a trend upwards since 2010. His strikeout rates have remained quite low, hitting the highest level since 2010 last year with a 16.6% rate in Double-A.
While I don’t really think that Jimenez is ready for the major leagues just yet (and injuries have set his development back), his bat has more power potential than Hanigan’s and he can provide the same quality of defense behind the plate as a backup.
My real hope is that the Blue Jays aren’t going to rely on Josh Thole to be the starting catcher if J.P. Arencibia is traded. This is the real issue. I don’t think that the Blue Jays can survive another season with the same low quality offense they got from the catcher’s position last year. I don’t foresee Ryan Hanigan, J.P. Arencibia, Josh Thole or A.J. Jimenez providing the type of offense we’d like to see (a .700 OPS perhaps) but to give up a prospect for a performance out of Hanigan that you could probably get from Jimenez is not the best use of the team’s resources.
In my opinion, if the Jays are going to make a move for a catcher it needs to be a clear upgrade. Jimenez won’t walk but he is probably eventually going to be a solid .260-.270 hitter when he gets the bigs. He doesn’t seem to have the plate discipline to bring that OBP up higher than about .320 when he hits his peak. Hanigan’s 2013 sub-.200 batting average is probably an outlier but his normally high OBP is most likely going to take a big hit in an American League lineup. If you’re looking for an excellent defensive catcher to back up whoever will be starting, the Jays have one in Jimenez if he can stay injury free.
*We should take lower level minor league caught stealing percentages with a big grain of salt. Most pitchers are focused on throwing strikes than shutting down an opponent’s running game.
**It’s tough to read too much into Jimenez’s stats from the last few years due to small sample sizes thanks to injuries related to his 2012 Tommy John surgery.