The Red Sox won’t be surprised if Will Middlebrooks regains his health and rediscovers the swing that made him such a promising player only a few years ago. But when presented with an opportunity to improve their roster on Friday, they took it.
Middlebrooks was traded to the San Diego Padres for catcher Ryan Hanigan, a reliable veteran who can help mentor Christian Vazquez.
The deal marks a homecoming for Hanigan. The 34-year-old played at Andover High before attending Rollins College in Florida. He was not drafted out of college and signed with the Cincinnati Reds as a free agent after playing well in the Cape Cod League in 2002.
Hanigan has since played eight seasons in the majors, hitting .256. He has limited power but an above-average .353 on-base percentage and well-regarded defensive skills.
Hanigan was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays before last season and hit only .218 over 84 games thanks in part to two stints on the disabled list. The Rays traded Hanigan to the Padres as part of a three-team, 11-player deal that was announced earlier Friday. Then came a swift turnaround that sent him to Boston.
Hanigan has thrown out 34 percent of base-stealers in his career. Among catchers with at least 500 games, that ranks third behind Yadier Molina (41 percent) and David Ross (34 percent). Hanigan has committed only two errors in the last two seasons.
The Sox had been considering bringing back Ross, who spent the last two seasons with the team. But he agreed to a two-year, $5 million deal with the Chicago Cubs on Friday.
The Red Sox see Vazquez as their primary catcher, but Hanigan has the skills to play more than the average backup if needed.
Hanigan also comes at a higher price than the usual backup. He is under contract for $3.5 million for 2015, $3.7 million for 2016, and has a $3.7 million team option for 2017 or an $800,000 buyout.
Salary aside, the short-term deal benefits the Red Sox in that it doesn’t block promising catching prospect Blake Swihart, who is expected to start the season in Triple A.
The deal also gives the Red Sox some protection should they elect to trade Swihart.
For Middlebrooks, 26, the Padres represent a chance to resurrect his career. He was the Opening Day starter at third base the last two seasons but lost his spot both times because of injuries and underperformance. After a strong rookie season in 2012, Middlebrooks has hit .213 with a .629 OPS since and last season had two home runs in 215 at-bats.
Middlebrooks hit 15 home runs and drove in 54 runs in only 75 games as a rookie. That he would ultimately be traded for a backup catcher isn’t what anybody had in mind. But once the Red Sox signed third baseman Pablo Sandoval to a five-year, $98 million contract, Middlebrooks became a spare part. That allowed the Red Sox to use him as trade chip to fill one of their roster needs.
Without the trade, Middlebrooks appeared headed back to Triple A. In San Diego, the only other third baseman on the roster is Yangervis Solarte, a .260 hitter last season as a rookie.
“I’d like to stay in Boston because I love it there. I love playing there. But if I don’t fit, I don’t fit,” Middlebrooks said this month. “I think I’m a big leaguer. I know I can help the team. But I know the business side of it.”Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.