GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Every time Devin Mesoraco got hurt, there always was next year.
He had the security of the four-year, $28 million deal he signed with the Reds before the 2015 season. Injuries claimed each of his first three seasons of that contract, but the Reds still had reasons to hang hopes on him. His contract is guaranteed, so they were paying him no matter what. He was still under 30 and an All-Star in 2014, and maybe he could find that form again.
But now the 29-year-old catcher enters his final guaranteed year of that deal – he’ll make $13 million – and then will hit free agency. And he enters that year as a backup catcher who has played only 95 games the last three years, and has hit just .191 in that span.
The time for rebuilding value is about up.
“I’d certainly like to prove that I’m still a productive player, that I’m still somebody that can go out there and produce on the field,” Mesoraco said. “I don’t know that I feel pressure. I’m comfortable with where I’m at.”
Mesoraco believes firmly that players who produce get more playing time, and he’s the first to acknowledge he hasn’t produced. He casts no blame on himself for his injuries, but he also knows he hasn’t made the most of his healthy spurts either.
He felt pretty good in the month of June, when he batted .260/.346/.600. But then he hurt his shoulder in July and never quite found his groove again before a broken toe ended his season in August. He’s fully healthy now – or for now, given his injury history – and sees no reason why he should continue to struggle.
“I feel confident that if my body can hold up, then I’ll be productive,” Mesoraco said.
What may be hard to come by is opportunity. Coming off a Gold Glove season, Tucker Barnhart has cemented himself as the team’s starting catcher. Reds manager Bryan Price said Mesoraco will receive sporadic starts, and will also be used as a potent bat off the bench.
That still doesn’t leave much regular playing time, though. To pinch hit Mesoraco in the fifth or sixth inning would leave the Reds without a capable catcher in case of emergency. Price expressed a willingness to risk it if the situation called for it, but odds are such cases rarely will present themselves.
Barring an injury to Barnhart, more opportunities for Mesoraco will be his to create.
“You’ve got to go out there and produce,” Mesoraco said. “You don’t produce, you don’t play.”
On Thursday, the Reds signed veteran infielder Cliff Pennington to a minor-league deal that will guarantee him $1.5 million if he makes the big-league roster, sources confirmed to The Enquirer. The deal was first reported by Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.
Pennington will enter camp as the only player with significant experience playing shortstop in the majors, including expected starter Jose Peraza.
The Reds also voided the minor-league contract of pitcher Jeff Manship, who did not pass his physical. The specific issue with Manship is unknown.