Middlebrooks dealt for Ryan Hanigan

ByGordon Edes ESPN logo
Saturday, December 20, 2014

Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who earlier this month acknowledged there was no apparent fit for him on the Boston Red Sox after the club signed free agent Pablo Sandoval, will have a chance to restart his career in San Diego.

Middlebrooks is headed to the Padres in a deal for catcher Ryan Hanigan, whom the Padres had just acquired in a multiple-player trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Hanigan's acquisition closes the door on free agent David Ross returning to the Red Sox. Ross texted word Friday that he had signed with the Cubs, where he will join pitcherJon Lester, who threw to him in 18 of his 21 starts for Boston last season before being traded to Oakland. Ross agreed to a two-year deal for $5 million, a source confirmed to Jesse Rogers ofESPNChicago.com. CBSSports.com had reported earlier that Ross was signing with San Diego, before retracting that and saying he was deciding between the Cubs and Padres.

The Red Sox and Padres announced the Middlebrooks-Hanigan trade Friday night.

The Red Sox have now lost 14 of the 25 players that were on their Opening Day roster in 2014, a dramatic turnover from a team that won a World Series just 14 months ago.

Middlebrooks, who made an auspicious big league debut in 2012, hitting 15 home runs in just 267 at-bats before he fractured his hand when hit by a pitch by Cleveland's Esmil Rogers, never came close to matching that production in the ensuing two seasons, when he was either hurt or did not perform up to expectations. With the Padres, who are in the midst of a major transformation under new general manager A.J. Preller, Middlebrooks is expected to compete with former Yankees farmhand Yangervis Solarte for playing time.

The Padres this winter have added big right-handed bats in trades for Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton, and the 26-year-old Middlebrooks gives them a low-cost addition who could represent a high return if he returns to form.

Middlebrooks is going from Fenway Park, where right-handed batters hit 68 home runs last season, to Petco Park, where right-handed batters hit just 49 home runs. The home run index for right-handed hitters at Petco was 76, meaning it was 24 percent lower than average, even after moving in the fences; the index at Fenway for right-handed batters was 103.

The development of 23-year-old Garin Cecchini, who is expected to open the season in Triple-A Pawtucket but gives the Red Sox some depth at third base behind Sandoval, also made Middlebrooks expendable.

Hanigan is being traded for the third time in just over a year. He went to Tampa Bay from Cincinnati, where he was originally drafted in 2002 and spent parts of seven seasons in the big leagues, as part of a three-team deal with Arizona last December. He then went to the Padres as part of a three-team, 11-player deal with the Nationals. That deal was officially announced earlier Friday.

This will represent a homecoming for Hanigan, who graduated from Andover (Mass.) High School in 1999 before being drafted three years later out of Rollins (Fla.) College. At 34, Hanigan is almost four years younger than Ross, who will be 38 in March, shares a similar defensive profile, and earlier in his career was more productive offensively. Oblique and hamstring injuries resulted in two stints on the disabled list for Hanigan in 2014, which contributed to his .218 average and five home runs in 84 games. He also was on the DL twice in 2013 for the Reds with oblique and wrist injuries and batted a career-low .198 in 75 games.

For his career, the right-handed hitting Hanigan has a .353 on-base percentage, with little power. His isolated power average, which is total bases minus hits divided by at-bats, is just .085 for his career.

But Hanigan's work behind the plate is exemplary. He has a caught stealing rate of 38 percent for his career, made just two errors (both on throws) in 151 games catching over the past two years and excels at blocking pitches in the dirt. While at Cincinnati, he was Bronson Arroyo's personal catcher and in his final two seasons with the Reds caught all but two starts by ace Johnny Cueto, who has been mentioned as a Boston trade target and is eligible for free agency after next season.

Hanigan is signed through the 2016 season for a total of $7.2 million ($3.5 million in 2015, $3.7 million in 2016). There is a club option for 2017 of $3.75 million, with an $800,000 buyout. He gives the Sox a veteran backup to Christian Vazquez and protection in case the Sox decide to trade top prospect Blake Swihart, who is highly coveted by the Philadelphia Phillies in a potential deal for left-hander Cole Hamels. The Red Sox have thus far expressed an unwillingness to trade Swihart.

Ross played a significant role in the Red Sox's run to their World Series title in 2013, coming back from multiple concussions to start seven games in the postseason, including the final three of the World Series. He played an important role in the transformation of the clubhouse culture but batted .184 last season while throwing out just 20 percent of attempted base stealers.

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