The top priority for the Boston Red Sox right now should be acquiring/signing a catcher. In the process, they should steer clear of anyone who will demand a long-term contract.
That means avoiding Brian McCann, who could very well receive a five-year contract, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who could very well receive a four-year deal now that Carlos Ruiz has agreed to re-sign with the Phillies at three years, $26 million.
Boston’s best option might actually be to trade for Andover High graduate Ryan Hanigan, who the Reds appear to be shopping after they signed catcher Brayan Pena to back up Devin Mesoraco.
The Red Sox have been rumored to have interest in McCann, Saltalamacchia, Dioner Navarro and Ruiz (before he re-signed with Philadelphia).
But Hanigan seems like a better fit than all of them because he is a strong defender, can provide some offense (.359 career on-base percentage) and can be used as a stopgap until prospect Christian Vazquez is ready for the big leagues.
Why should the Red Sox sign McCann or Saltalamacchia to a contract of four or more years when they have three minor league catchers (Vazquez, Blake Swihart and even Jon Denney) all with high ceilings?
Hanigan could be that one-year stopgap to Vazquez. He is eligible for free agency after the 2014 season.
The catcher struggled offensively this past season, batting just .198 but he suffered through a sprained wrist and oblique injury.
The 33-year-old doesn’t hit for power, averaging just 23 extra-base hits over a 162-game average. That is 32 fewer extra-base hits than Saltalamacchia averages and 36 fewer than McCann averages.
But Hanigan’s .359 career on-base percentage is 49 points higher than Saltalamacchia’s and nine points better than McCann’s. And Hanigan is a much better defensive catcher than Saltalamacchia and has a better arm than the defensively-sound McCann.
Hanigan led the National League with a 48-percent caught stealing rate in 2012 and a 45-percent caught stealing rate in 2013.
The only question mark is if Hanigan and David Ross, also a fine defender that doesn’t offer much with the bat, could handle the 162-game load together.
Ross, who will be 37 in March, played in just 36 regular season games in 2013 because he suffered two concussions.
Hanigan did play in 112 games in 2012 while Ross played 62 games that same year.
If one of the two did spend some time on the DL, the Red Sox have three other catchers (Vazquez, Ryan Lavarnway and Dan Butler) on the 40-man roster.
Hanigan and Ross certainly would make one heck of a terrific defensive tandem.
Can Kemp shoulder load?
Reports surfaced a couple days ago that the Red Sox have inquired about trading for Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp, who played in only 73 games last year because of a shoulder and ankle injury. He also was limited to 106 games in 2012 because of a left hamstring strain.
Kemp underwent a left shoulder clean-up on his acromioclavicular joint Oct. 8 and had left ankle surgery Oct. 21.
He also underwent shoulder surgery in October 2012 that was similar to Adrian Gonzalez’s shoulder surgery just months before Gonzalez was traded to Boston.
Shoulder injuries — like wrist injuries — are red flags.
Gonzalez’s power numbers dropped in his first year with Boston and even more during his second season here before being traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
For that reason, the Red Sox should think twice about Kemp because his power numbers dropped significantly last year in the limited time he played following his offseason shoulder surgery.
Kemp, a right-handed hitter, posted only a .723 OPS and six homers in his 290 plate appearances in 2013.
Before his shoulder problems started, he finished second for the NL MVP in 2011, recording a .986 OPS and leading the NL with 39 homers and 126 RBIs.
The Boston Red Sox acquired 30-year-old right-handed reliever Burke Badenhop from the Milwaukee Brewers for minor league lefty Luis Ortega on Friday.
Here are some interesting stats for Badenhop, who pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2012:
Has posted a 2.59 ERA in 43 career appearances against AL East opponents.
Recorded a 3.47 ERA in 63 relief outings in 2013 and had a 2.05 ERA over his final 21 games.
Threw his fastball 67.7 percent of the time at an average of 89.1 mph this past season. Also threw 27.1 percent sliders at an 80.6 mph average and 5.2 percent changeups at an 83.3 mph average.
Held right-handed batters to a .229 batting average in ‘13 and just a .234 over the past two seasons.
Ranked seventh among qualified NL relievers in fewest walks per nine innings pitched (1.7) in 2013.
Has induced 16 double plays over the past two seasons, ranking him 10th among relievers.
The Red Sox bullpen dominated during the postseason, but GM Ben Cherington needed to add a reliable right-hander. He thinks he did just that in Badenhop.
Those who argue that free agent Mike Napoli is easy for the Red Sox to replace point to how the first baseman hit just 23 homers in 2013.
Sure, Boston would be able to find someone else who can hit 23 or more homers for a cheaper price. One option is Corey Hart, who didn’t play last year because of surgeries on both knees.
But look beyond the 23 home runs.
Napoli was sixth among all major league first baseman with 63 extra-base this past season. His. 360 on-base percentage ranked fifth among AL first baseman and his .842 OPS ranked sixth among AL first baseman.
Napoli also saw more pitches per plate appearance (4.59) than any other major league hitter in ‘13.
Those numbers are hard to replace.
Statistician Bill James is projecting Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks will hit .266 with 32 homers, 104 RBIs, a .310 OBP, 490 slugging percentage and .800 OPS in 2014.
Those numbers seem a bit optimistic considering Middlebrooks’ season-long struggles in 2013 (.227/.271/.425/.696 in 374 plate appearances).
But those numbers are possible. Middlebrooks’ 162-game average numbers over his first 169 major league games are 31 homers, 99 RBIs, a .254 batting average, .294 on-base percentage, .462 slugging percentage and .756 OPS.
That said, Middlebrooks isn’t the grind-it-out, prototypical Red Sox hitter. He swings at too many pitches out of the strike zone and his on-base percentage will continue to suffer if he doesn’t fix that.
The Red Sox should have a backup plan in place if Middlebrooks struggles in April 2014 like he did this past year.
Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB