The Boston Red Sox seemed like they were more than all set at the catching position heading into the 2015 season. Then before the season even began, the backstop depth chart was hit with injuries. Lisa Carney details the twisty fate of Ryan Hanigan.
Baseball careers live and die by the twists of fate. One player’s injury is another’s opportunity. One man’s failure is another’s promotion. This is the story of how the successes and failures of other players have tangled the strings of Ryan Hanigan’s fate.
As the 2015 season rolled into early June, it became increasingly ridiculous to think the Red Sox would come out of the All-Star break with any hope for a competitive second half. On June 23 they sat 9 1/2 games out of first and had displayed massive dysfunction in game after game. Yet somehow they did manage to turn it around. Finally, after weeks of waiting, the offense and pitching clicked, and the team went on a 11-7 run. They knocked three games off their deficit and took a newfound momentum into the All-Star break.
Ryan Hanigan’s return from the DL on July 2 played a role in the renewed playoff hopes. He combined with Sandy Leon to handle the catching duties through the All-Star break and while Hanigan’s offense was sluggish coming off his hand injury, nobody cared. Pitchers were ecstatic to see him back behind the plate. Hanigan brought a sense of calm to the staff and while he couldn’t help Justin Masterson rediscover the life on his fastball, Joe Kelly, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello (most likely the future core of the Red Sox starting five) saw their ERAs drop and their peripherals improve.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, the pre-All-Star game excitement was immediately vanquished when the unofficial second half of the season began. The problems that dogged them in May and early June proved to be the true colors of the team, and another seven-game losing streak began. In the 13 games immediately following the break, the Red Sox went 2-11, solidifying their spot in the AL East cellar in a ghastly manner. Radical changes ensued. Larry Lucchino and Ben Cherington – gone. Hello Dave Dombrowski! John Farrell left the team for health reasons and Torey Lovullo slid into the manager’s seat. Alongside the managerial changes, the Red Sox season officially slid into a prospect-watching affair.
A rested Blake Swihart returned on July 20 and through September 2 he went on an offensive tear, batting .348, .412 OBP, with a SLG of .478. The expectations for Swihart’s offense had always been high but it was a sweet gift that they came around so quickly. The irony of course, is that if Hanigan hadn’t gotten injured in May, Swihart wouldn’t have come up at all until later in the season. He most likely wouldn’t have had time to fully adjust and it’s questionable whether or not he would have performed to the level he’s reached, and so keeping Hanigan through 2016 to allow Swihart a gentler introduction to the majors would have made perfect sense. With Swihart now established, the chances Hanigan’s fate lies on the trading block increases.
But now, as the Red Sox season winds down, there are two facts to be considered: Blake Swihart grew up quickly and Christian Vazquez will be back. Where does this leave Ryan Hanigan? Originally acquired to be Swihart’s placeholder, fate pulled a switcheroo and they ended up mates behind the plate.
A lesser person may have balked at that arrangement. It’s painful to stare your replacement in the eye day after day. Throw in that Hanigan was also asked to show the kid the ropes and now he has to help Swihart be great so he can take Hanigan’s job. But Hanigan, fortunately, isn’t just a competent backstop who hits at a decent clip for his trade. He’s also a true professional who can wrap his head around the big picture. Doesn’t that just make you love him more?
Hanigan is under contract in 2016 for $3.7 million and the Red Sox hold a $3.75 million club option for 2017. That’s a tradeable contract and in an offseason where the Red Sox will be rebuilding their bullpen, he could bring back an interesting piece.
But what if Hanigan is traded and Vazquez’s recovery is slower than anticipated? Perhaps Swihart and Leon would be plenty to hold down the fort while Vazquez gets up to speed. But then the Sox are potentially one injury away from a backstop duo of Sandy Leon and Humberto Quintero. The 2015 season taught a lot of lessons – one of the earliest being that catchers can get hurt quickly. The Red Sox do not want a catching duo of Sandy Leon and Humberto Quintero.
We know Blake Swihart isn’t going anywhere. Catchers are heavily evaluated by what they do behind the plate. As long as they don’t embarrass themselves in the batter’s’ box, they can hang on and have a solid career. Blake Swihart is putting up great numbers and there is plenty of room left in his ceiling. That’s built-in excitement for years to come.
Christian Vazquez is recovering from Tommy John surgery, so right now the only way he gets traded is if the Red Sox are running low on vendor items and they’d be happy getting peanuts on the dollar back for him.
The probable scenario is that the Red Sox keep all three and see how things shake out in Spring Training. If Vazquez is back to his super smooth, stylin’ self and all that challenges him for playing time is Swihart’s line-drive ways, it might just be a fine time to trade Hanigan.
After all, Spring Training injuries happen to catchers all the time – and one player’s injury is another’s opportunity. It appears the strands will continue to twist and turn, and Ryan Hanigan’s fate is far from determined.