From the Head Down




This whole Devin Mesoraco saga just kinda bums me out.

Devin’s 2015 season is emblematic of the bad luck—and, perhaps, bad decision-making by the front office—that this year’s version of the Redlegs have been forced to suffer through. Unfortunately, it’s starting to look like this is going to be a recurring theme all season long.

Let’s recap. You might recall that Mesoraco was an All-Star catcher last year; when the dust settled on the 2014 season, Mesoraco was hitting .273/.359/.534 with 25 homers (leading all major league catchers) and 80 RBI. You remember that, right? C’mon. If you don’t remember the best season by a Reds catcher since Johnny Bench was the club’s backstop, then I’m going to have to question your credentials as a Reds fan. I’m sorry about that.

For the rest of you, you probably also remember that Mesoraco signed a 4-year, $28 million extension this past offseason. And that he has not been able to play catcher for the Reds since April 12. Yet he remains on the club’s active roster for some reason. The stated reason for Mesoraco’s unavailability is a “left hip impingement.” Since that diagnosis, Mesoraco has only been able to pinch-hit five times, collecting zero hits (though he did walk twice) and spurring . So here’s my #hottake: it seems to me that GM Walt Jocketty has committed front-office malpractice in his refusal to place Mesoraco on the disabled list.

Think about it—is this really the best use of a major league roster spot? We are approaching four weeks since Mesoraco was available to play in the field. Would any other major league team keep a player on the active roster who was entirely unable to play defense, and who was only available to pinch-hit (and has only been used in such a manner five times)?

Perhaps another team would be willing to do this. It’s possible. I concede that I don’t follow other teams as closely as I do our beloved Redlegs. But I have my doubts that a competent major league general manager would think that this is an acceptable use of a valuable spot on a big league roster, permitting his team to play short-handed in pretty much every game they play.

Even more worrisome is the possibility that Mesoraco will not be at full strength at any point in 2015. Paul Daugherty was the first to consider that the Reds weren’t telling us the entire story about Mesoraco. Then Redleg Nation’s Steve Mancuso raised the stakes:

Devin Mesoraco is done catching for the Cincinnati Reds this year.

At least the odds are stacked against it. He’s got a painful condition that’s aggravated when he catches. It usually requires surgery to remedy, season-ending surgery.

Mesoraco has been diagnosed with a left hip impingement. And if the doctors have that part right, it’s not going to get better with rest. Bone spurs and cartilage don’t have blood vessels like muscle, so they can’t heal themselves.

Lotta speculation there, but the worst-case scenario here is terrifying. Consider the possibility that Mesoraco really won’t be able to catch for the rest of this season. Is Jocketty content with keeping him on the roster just to pinch-hit? Really?

Only time will tell. Mesoraco should be in the lineup more often over the next couple of weeks, as the Reds will be playing in some American League ballparks and he’ll be able to serve as Cincinnati’s designated hitter. As we enter into the dog days of summer, however, either Mesoraco will have healed enough to put the catcher’s gear on, or the Reds will have a decision to make.

But before we criticize Jocketty too much, let’s concede that Devin’s replacements have actually done a pretty good job in his absence. Brayan Pena—who desperately wants more Twitter followers—is hitting .302/.387/.358 in 17 games this season. That’s not exactly All-Star level production, and Pena has no homers and just 3 RBI, but it’s not bad either. Fellow backup Tucker Barnhart—a fantastic defensive catcher—has two homers in four games with the big club. Sure, that’s a far cry from the performance Mesoraco put up last season, but it’s acceptable in the short term. The problem, however, is that even the most optimistic projections wouldn’t expect Pena and Barnhart to come anywhere near the production Mesoraco would expect to post over a full season. And that’s what makes Jocketty’s refusal, or unwillingness, to make a decision on Mesoraco all the more maddening.

We always knew that the Reds’ opportunity to compete this season was heavily dependent upon the best players not only performing well, but remaining healthy. The way Jocketty has constructed the roster meant that Cincinnati had no margin for error; the organization has little-to-no depth. I suppose you can blame budget constraints—or the demands of an owner who wanted to showcase his club during All-Star weekend—for this problem, but the fact is that Walt Jocketty has been entirely unable to put together a roster that could compete unless everything went exactly as planned.

Guess what? Everything has not gone as planned. Homer Bailey will undergo Tommy John surgery and is out for the year. Zack Cozart and Manny Parra have suffered injuries. No one will say whether Tony Cingrani was hurt earlier this year, but he went nearly two weeks without stepping onto a mound. That meant that, yes, the Reds were playing two players short for a while. That’s almost inconceivable. It’s like playing with one hand tied behind your back, and yet it has become clear over the years that Jocketty is comfortable handling his roster in this fashion.

The Reds have certainly been unlucky this season, with injuries threatening to derail a team that, at its best, has the potential to be a competitor in the National League. Unfortunately, the ongoing Devin Mesoraco saga appears to be evidence that Walt Jocketty may not be up to the task before him. From the peanut gallery, it looks like he’s bungled* this situation.

*I really want to make a Bengals joke here. Can Andy Dalton play catcher?

Until we have more information, however, all we can do is hope that Mesoraco heals up rapidly. Because, though it’s still early, I can’t envision any scenario under which this Reds team can remain competitive in the 2015 pennant race without Mes playing a lot of games behind the plate.

Chad Dotson is a Nuxhall Way contributor. He is also the founder of Redleg Nation and a contributor to ESPN’s SweetSpot blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @dotsonc.

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