“Dana, I’m what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man, and I’ve failed much more than I’ve succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, “Where are we going?” And it starts to get better.” – Calvin Traeger, Sports Night
Towards the end of the second and last season of the great, short-lived Aaron Sorkin dramedy Sports Night, fictional sports network CSC is bought out by a holding company named Quo Vadimus, owned by the character quoted above. Quo Vadimus is Latin for “where are we going?” a question Padres fans should be asking themselves as they start looking ahead toward the 2014 season. In a series of posts, I am asking that question and hoping to provide some answers. I’ve already discussed the outfield, infield, and starting pitching. This installment will focus on who should stay, go, and be added to the Padres at catcher.
The Current State Of The Padres At Catcher
What you might be wondering right now is why I would dedicate an entire post to a position that only takes up two roster spots at any given time. Truthfully, I kinda sorta forgot to include the position when I did my post on the infield, and by the time I realized, I decided that catcher would take up too much space to be shoe-horned in. So now it gets its own post.
All that isn’t to say that there isn’t drama and intrigue involved here. The Padres have a catcher coming back from ACL surgery, a veteran entering the final year of his contract, and a top prospect at the position who continues to impress wherever he plays and could possibly be an 80 grade defender on the 20-80 scouting scale.
Things could not have gone much worse for Yasmani Grandal in 2013. First, he’s suspended for 50 games to start the season for testing positive to performance enhancing drugs. When he came back, he didn’t exactly prove the inevitable doubters wrong, hitting .216/.352/.341 in just 28 games before tearing his ACL in early July in a play at the plate. The injury comes with a 9-12 month recovery timeline, which means it could carry over into the season in 2014.
Nick Hundley, on the other hand, stayed healthy for the first time in his career in 2013, playing in 114 games and coming to the plate 100 times more than any other year of his career. A year after attempting to play through a torn meniscus and failing miserably, he was handed a golden opportunity to prove he was a legitimate starting catcher. Unfortunately for him, he hit .233/.290/.389 and did not exactly garner much attention for comeback player of the year.
Down on the farm, top prospect Austin Hedges continued his quick rise through the system, finishing his 2nd full season in AA San Antonio after starting the year in High-A Lake Elsinore. As a hitter, he remains a work in progress and struggled in his 20 games at AA. As a defender, he continues to cement his status as an elite catching prospect. He’s currently playing in the Arizona Fall League.
Where Are We Going?
Yasmani Grandal believes he will be able to come back fully healthy in time to start the season. While not impossible, I’m guessing Mid-May is a more likely target for his return to the majors.
Nick Hundley is entering the last guaranteed year of the extension he signed right before the 2012 season. He’ll earn $4 million in 2014, and will likely continue to split time with Grandal.
The Padres used replacement level backups John Baker and Rene Rivera in 2013 when Grandal was out. While this could be an area where they could seek greater depth going into 2014, I’m guessing the team feels comfortable with Rivera, who seems to at least be an excellent receiver.
As for Hedges, he’s likely still at least a full year away from his major league debut. While most catchers need extra time to develop their defense, Hedges needs more time to develop his bat. If he can be just an average hitter, he could be an all-star, but he needs to show that he can hit upper level pitching before the team should even consider promoting him to the major league squad.
What Would An Aggressive Franchise Do?
I base most of my predictions on what I think a Josh Byrnes run franchise would do, which is generally very little. But what would a more aggressive GM do in his position?
The least a more aggressive GM would do is bring in a veteran to compete for a roster spot if Grandal needs more recovery time than he thinks. The Padres are lacking in quality depth options all around the diamond, but especially at catcher, where they will certainly need a third option.
Another somewhat opposing thought would be shopping Hundley, especially if Grandal is coming along ahead of schedule. If the Padres could save $3.5 million and get something decent in return, it would give them some payroll flexibility to add talent in other areas. Hundley is a perfectly average major league catcher, who could start or back up, and who is on a cheap enough contract to not bother anyone if he’s only a part-time player. With Grandal here and Hedges on the way, an aggressive GM could see the value in moving Hundley now to a team more likely to compete in 2014.
Who Is On The 2014 Roster?
Yasmani Grandal (Pre-Arb)
Nick Hundley $4 million
Rene Rivera (Pre-Arb)
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