With the youth movement around Major League Baseball, it is nice to see the recognition of veteran talent and its important role in supporting the future. The Boston Red Sox not only acquired Ryan Hanigan to be their backup catcher, they also brought in a steadying influence for some of the young men on the mound.
In the deal that sent Will Middlebrooks to the San Diego Padres, the Red Sox gave up another youth for an eight-year veteran. Hanigan, who spent high school in Andover, Massachusetts, played with the Tampa Bay Rays last season, but is overjoyed to help his present team. MLB.com’s Quinn Roberts reported the excitement in Hanigan’s words:
"“I’m pumped. It’s been a little crazy with so many friends and family calling me … I feel a comfort here. It is home. I want to try and bring a ring back for the team.”"
Hanigan’s contract lasts until the option in 2017, costing just over $3 million a season. With highly-touted prospect catcher Blake Swihart waiting in the cradling arms of the minor leagues, Hanigan will want to help the Red Sox to strike while the iron is hot and win a championship. That achievement comes from leadership as well as talent. Hanigan said, “I’m ready to play in whatever role they need me” (Roberts).
Clearly ready to help the team, Hanigan will be most useful to give starting catcher Christian Vazquez, who is only 24, a rest. Yet, that will not be Hanigan’s only job. Many of the Red Sox starting pitchers are coming off of some pretty brutal performances, whether with Boston or with their previous clubs. Joe Kelly is still young, and his 4.11 ERA would be only one of a number of doubts floating through his mind. Clay Buchholz, even as a veteran himself, needs some damage control, after a 5.34 ERA in 28 starts for one of the most historical teams in American history. If that needs a checkup, then Justin Masterson might need a hypnotist, judging by his 7.04 ERA in six starts for the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards picked him up to help their playoff stretch, but he stretched out his welcome, instead. Who wants to be told by a much younger player, just out of the minors the year before, how to correct your mistakes? Who is going to trust, unconditionally, that their young catcher can help fix them at the peak of theirs careers?
That is not a knock on Vazquez, but that is the reality. The bullpen and young prospect pitchers will need the same kind of help, as well. A number of the Red Sox pitching staff are younger than 25, and some like Anthony Varvaro and Wade Miley are used to pitching in the National League, needing a bit of time to adjust to their current surroundings.
Hanigan would know what that feels like. After moving to Tampa from the Cincinnati Reds, last season, Hanigan had to continue overcoming numerous injuries, including a strained hamstring. He hit .279 for his first six seasons with the Reds, before the injuries hampered him to a .198, before hitting .218 in 84 games for the Rays. Hanigan now believes that he has finally overcome his nagging problems and is ready to get started helping the Red Sox with their own woes.
When something as traumatic as physical failure or mental doubts start to plague you, it feels great to know that the person standing next to you understands your concerns. In this case, the Red Sox pitchers have a man standing across from them, about 60 feet away behind the plate. But, it does not end there. Hanigan will be in the clubhouse, in the locker room, in the bullpen, steadying everyone with his presence, experience, and motivation. With all of the big signings and trades this off-season, this one may have been the most important, in terms of the intangibles.