CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – You’ve seen Ryan Hanigan’s name pop up plenty since 2007 despite a career .679 OPS, and even at 37, the veteran’s name has made its way to Goodyear.
Hanigan officially signed a minor league deal with the Indians on Thursday, coming with a spring invite despite the Tribe’s depth of veteran and minor league catching talent.
Upon reports of his signing last weekend, rumbles began about a potential move of top catching prospect Francisco Mejia, but there is a fairly decent chance Hanigan does not make it out of spring on the roster at all.
Though the veteran could have the same value sticking at Triple-A Columbus as he does for Spring Training. Hanigan has long been a plus-defender, amassing double-digit DRS behind the dish from 2010-2012. He has slowed later in his career, posting -3 values the last two seasons (one at Coors Field), years in which he nabbed 68 total appearances in the bigs.
Mainly, Hanigan could serve has an extra coach for Mejia and Eric Haase, because of his mastery of pitch framing. In a stretch from 2008 to 2014, Hanigan held above average framing metrics according to Baseball Prospectus, including framing above average marks of 25.0 and 26.3 in 2009 and 2012, respectively.
(10 runs saved roughly equal one win, meaning Hanigan won the Cincinnati Reds 2 ½ games defensively those seasons.)
The righty showed that instinct from the day he showed up to Great American Ballpark in 2007, posting a 6.2 FRAA over just 31 games in 2008, leading to his being coveted. Even following a .198/.306/.261 slash season in 2013, Hanigan was so coveted for his defense that the Tampa Bay Rays sought him out via trade prior to the 2014 season.
The metric is obviously one the Indians covet, already holding two of the top 20 pitch framers in the game from 2017 in Roberto Perez (7th, 14.4 FRAA) and Yan Gomes (20th, 3.2). Gomes was handed a six-year, $23 million extension prior to 2014 because of his ability behind the dish and at bat. Perez was handed a four-year, $9 million pact prior to 2017 with team options for 2021 and 2022.
Neither have produced positive oWAR recently, save Perez’s 0.1 oWAR in 2016, but the team has been content with the defensive impact.
There is a reason Sandy Alomar Jr. holds such a presence on the coaching staff, and it is already seen in the team’s two defensive standouts. He will be able to get his hands on both Mejia and Haase this spring, but Alomar holds plenty more duties within the Tribe clubhouse, including getting Gomes and Perez ready for the season.
That brings us back to Hanigan, who has enough veteran experience to mentor the other pair of catchers on the 40-man while still auditioning for a big league roster this season.
There is not a whole lot to measure Mejia on defensively to this point, but even in 613 2/3 innings behind the plate at Akron last year, he allowed 42 stolen bases on 60 attempts and allowed 7 passed balls.
He got just four innings of work behind the dish during his time with the major league club, and all indications are that the organization is not ready for the 22-year-old to get anywhere near a full-time job. That is made easy by the veterans in front of him.
Mejia may never wind up a catcher in the big leagues, as his experiment at third base may continue this spring as well, despite Manager Terry Francona indicating the opposite.
Haase posted a .923 OPS at Akron in 95 games last year, and was better than Mejia defensively, tossing out 21 base-stealers in 55 attempts and allowing only four passed balls.
For now, Haase seems to fit the team’s blueprint behind the plate more than Mejia, which could allow them to utilize their top prospect’s hitting elsewhere.
FRAA and other framing metrics are not publicly available yet for minor leaguers, but having Hanigan in camp will give another eye to how the team’s next crop of potential backstops may perform in an underrated aspect of run prevention.