The Detroit Tigers aren’t in desperate need for a catcher. They decided not to pursue a new deal with Brayan Pena who has agreed to a one year deal with the Cincinnati Reds in the $1.25 million range, but, even though the Tigers probably would feel comfortable enough with Bryan Holaday as the backup heading into the season, perhaps they would feel more comfortable with another established major leaguer on the roster.
The problem wouldn’t be so much with Holaday’s ability to serve as the backup as it would be with his ability to serve as the starter should Alex Avila land on the disabled list. Avila, ever the foul ball magnet, has been hampered by injuries the past couple of years that have seemed to rob him of effectiveness at the plate even when they haven’t been cause for a stint on the disabled list. If Avila had to miss a period of the 2014 season would the Tigers be ready to run with the Holaday-James McCann duo?
If not, an option (albeit a relatively expensive one) might be Cincinnati Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan. Hanigan, 33 years old, is under team control with the Reds as a third-year arbitration eligible player, but he may have been made expendable by the recent acquisition of Pena. At a projected $2.3 million, he’d cost the team nearly a million and a half dollars more than Pena cost a season ago (plus the cost of the trade), but he’s probably a better candidate to shoulder a larger share of the load than Pena was (or is).
Hanigan didn’t hit the ball very well a season ago (.198/.306/.261), he’s not young (33 years old), and he only has the one year of team control remaining, so the Reds wouldn’t be looking for a hefty return in a trade; maybe just a low level player to be named later or something.
Hanigan has mostly been a 70-90 game player over the past five seasons (with a career high 112 games played in 2012), so not quite full time, but he has the experience to be able to handle a large share of the duties should it come to that. He owns a career 90 wRC+ which is a bit below average (even for a catcher), but Pena, in his basically career year last year, hit for a wRC+ of only 93. But what would make Hanigan an ideal fit for the Tigers is that he does a good job at controlling the running game (he’s caught 40% of the runners trying to steal against him in his career compared to an MLB average of 28%), and he’s traditionally been a very good hitter against lefties (114 wRC+, making him a good platoon partner with Avila).
He would definitely be a good fit for the team, but the question the Tigers would face is whether or not the cost is worth it. The Tigers wouldn’t want their championship hopes dashed for want of a decent catcher should the position unravel due to injuries or the like, but neither do they want to fork over $2 million+ and a minor league player (however insignificant) for what they hope will be a 50-60 game bench player. I don’t think it’s actually very likely that the Tigers explore Hanigan in a trade, but perhaps they’d take a more serious look at him as a free agent if he gets non-tendered at December’s arbitration deadline.