CINCINNATI -- The Reds' offseason shopping list includes adding catching depth behind Devin Mesoraco and Tucker Barnhart. But for that spot to be filled, a potential third catcher might have to take a leap of faith and have a willingness to be flexible.
That's because the playing time any new catcher will receive is unknown heading into Spring Training. The X-factor is Mesoraco, who has been limited to catching 18 games over the past two seasons because of injuries. The 28-year-old had labrum surgery on each of his hips and another on his non-throwing shoulder in that span.
Mesoraco and Reds officials believe he can come back 100 percent after his rehabilitation. He is slated to resume catching drills later this month, but his readiness for the upcoming season remains unclear. Even if he passes every test with flying colors, he likely won't get a 130-game workload and will split time with Barnhart, who filled in very well in 2016.
Having a third catcher would give manager Bryan Price flexibility to use one of his catchers as a pinch-hitter without being strapped defensively, and the addition of an unselfish veteran willing to catch once a week -- like David Ross with the Cubs the past two years -- could also help the other catchers and pitching staff improve.
Cincinnati added Stuart Turner as a Rule 5 selection in December, but that is no guarantee he will stay on the 25-man roster the whole season. If general manager Dick Williams goes the free-agent route, here are some options among available catchers:
Once a promising catcher for the Mets, the 30-year-old Thole lacks offense, as he hit .200/.275/.248 over his last four seasons with the Blue Jays. But among the remaining bargain free-agent catchers, he was the best pitch framer last season, with 4.8 framing runs saved, according to Baseball Prospectus. According to Statcast™, Thole also had 8.47 percent of out-of-zone pitches called strikes in 2016, the second-best rate among this list of available catchers (min. 500 out-of-zone pitches caught). His 2.8 percent of in-zone pitches called balls was also the lowest percentage in the group (min. 500 in-zone pitches).
A former National League Rookie of the Year with the Cubs in 2008, Soto has become well-traveled, making stops with four clubs over the past three seasons. The 33-year-old also suffered from knee issues, including one surgery, which limited him to 26 games last season for the Angels. Although he's a .246 career hitter, he can get on base (.331 career OBP), and he can steal a strike. According to Statcast™, he was the best among the bargain free agents with 8.96 percent of out-of-zone pitches called strikes in 2016.
This former Red is now 36 and served as a backup in Boston for the past two seasons, though he was limited to 35 games for the Red Sox in 2016, in part due to injuries. Getting on base was once a strength, but Hanigan's offensive production has waned since leaving Cincinnati: He hit .219/.298/.294 with 30 RBIs in 89 games over the past two years. Hanigan was regarded as a strong defensive catcher for the Reds, and he was a favorite of former pitcher Bronson Arroyo. His pitch framing runs stat dipped to negative 4.5 last season, but he had 7.9 percent of out-of-zone pitches called strikes.
According to Baseball Prospectus, the 33-year-old Iannetta went from being strong at pitch framing in 2015 (plus 14.4) to weak (minus 14.4) in 2016. He is a career .229 hitter, but he is capable of hitting for power, especially at Great American Ball Park, where he has five homers in 53 career at-bats.
Hundley, 33, hit .301 two seasons ago for the Rockies, and he knocked 10 homers in each of the last two seasons, but he is not viewed as strong defensively. He has negative pitch framing numbers for much of his career.
Now 40, Pierzynski has experience with rebuilding after spending the past two seasons in Atlanta. He hit .300/.339/.430 in 113 games in 2015, but those numbers fell to .219/.243/.304 last season. Defensively, 7.87 percent of out-of-zone pitches he caught were called strikes in 2016, and 2.88 percent of in-zone pitches were called balls. Pierzynski, who won a World Series with the White Sox in 2005, isn't afraid to speak his mind, and he is known for irritating opponents with his fiery style on the field.
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.