Quarterback Controversy: Catcher Edition?

It’s the day after Easter, and our cup runneth over. For me, that means loads and loads of Easter candy. I may be in my 30’s, but I never lost my sweet tooth. Jelly beans happen to be my favorite, and for a jelly bean fanatic, there’s no better holiday. The Padres’ cup, on the other hand, runneth over with catchers, and luckily, at least so far, ┬ánone of them have been runneth over by baserunners.

The Padres have now been carrying three catchers on their active roster for three weeks, and each one of them is showing his value to the team. Yasmani Grandal, getting about half the Padres’ catching playing time, has been one of the team’s top offensive performers so far, already worth half a win above replacement. Rene Rivera has been handed the role of catching both of the team’s stud starters, Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross, to great success so far. Nick Hundley, with his home run Sunday, just boosted his wRC+ to 149.

Then, of course, there’s Austin Hedges, the team’s top prospect. Hedges has struggled at the plate to start his season in AA San Antonio, but after a four hit day Sunday, including his first home run of the season, he’s now hitting .271 with a much more respectable .696 OPS. These are not numbers of an offensive juggernaut, but there had been concerns about his slow start, and one big day can make a big difference in April.

Each catcher has his own merits. Grandal is a bit of the total package: he’s a solid backstop with good pitch-framing skills and he can hit and get on base. Rivera isn’t much of a hitter, but watching him call a game and frame pitches is kind of like watching catching porn. Nick Hundley doesn’t do anything great, and he’s a bit clumsy as a defender, but he’s a solid catcher who over a full season can be about major league average in value for the position. Then there’s Hedges, who at just 21 has been tested by some of the fastest base runners in the minors, and he keeps mowing them down. He’s caught 42% of would be basestealers in 2014.

Having this much catching talent on the team isn’t a problem, it’s an asset. However, people are already trying to figure out not only what to do to avoid carrying three catchers in the long-term, but what’s going to happen when Hedges is ready to be called up. It’s a quarterback controversy.

Thankfully, the Padres don’t seem to be in as big a hurry as the fan base is to settle the dispute. With both Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin remaining on the disabled list and neither’s return to the active roster imminently approaching, there’s no real rush to decide who the top two catchers are.

When Maybin returns, it’s likely that will mean a demotion for 1B/OF Tommy Medica (who, ironically, started his major league career as a catcher), so the Padres won’t have to make a real catching decision until Carlos Quentin’s balky knees are well enough to limp around left field a few days a week again*. Quentin will be heading off to Arizona to continue his rehab during the team’s upcoming road trip, and after that, who knows?

*Even then, the Padres could simply designate Xavier Nady for assignment to make room for Quentin, carrying 3 catchers indefinitely. I don’t think that’s likely, but it’s certainly possible.

Eventually, the Padres will have to make a decision, but it seems apparent that Nick Hundley will have to go. He’s only caught in 4 of the team’s 19 games, compared to 9 games for Grandal and 7 for Rivera. He’s out of minor league options and making $4 million this year in the last year of a 3 year extension. That’s not an unreasonable amount of money for a backup catcher, and catchers are always in need somewhere. The Padres should be able to net something of value in return for him. What they don’t need to do is rush into a decision, make a move now, and then be short-handed for no good reason if someone gets hurt.

As for what to do when Austin Hedges is ready to be called up, everybody just needs to cool their jets a little bit. Watching Hedges develop is great, but barring something extreme happening, he won’t be catching for the Padres in 2014, and if the team wants to keep him around longest, it could choose to keep him in the minors until next summer, avoiding the possibility of Hedges becoming a super 2 and enjoying four arbitration seasons. The good news about that is that it gives Hedges a chance to really polish his tools in the minors and come up as a nearly finished product, and he’ll still only be 22 years old.

I don’t generally believe that things will work themselves out, but I also don’t think there’s any reason to rush into decisions when your hand hasn’t been forced. Rushing and forcing decisions are both bad ways to make decisions. There’s a sweet spot in the middle, where you aren’t rushed and you aren’t forced, and that’s where the best decisions are made. It’s okay to be curious about what may happen down the line, but let’s not go creating controversies that don’t exist.

My name is VM Nate, and I’m addicted to sugar. The Vocal Minority posts on Mondays. The Silent Majority has yet to post, because they are jerks. Follow me on Twitter, because I feel inadequate about how many followers I have.

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  • DaveP

    When Headley was unable to play 3b last week, Alonso got a little time there. However, it was Grandal getting some grounders at 3b that was more intriguing. Grandal’s hitting potential, strong arm and athleticism make it appear that he could make a Biggio like transition to the infield/outfield. Bud Black could have Grandal and Hedges in the game without having to carry another catcher.

    • VM David

      The problem there is that Biggio was a second baseman who converted to catcher in college out of necessity, where Grandal is a catcher going back as far as we can track.

  • Billy Lybarger

    No worries for Hundley. Bud Black was quoted he thinks Hundley can get some ABs while playing LF.