I’ve always said catchers have the most important job on the field. They must call the game, position the defense, check the runners, block the plate, stop terrible pitches from passing them by, and gun down potential base-stealers. They do the most and are the most over-looked. Not here though. We appreciate and love the catcher. We know he’s number 2 on the scorecard for a reason. The Padres have, by all looks, made Nick Hundley their catcher of the future. The question is whether he can catch a full season or not.
Hundley has performed very well in his time with the Padres. Last season he posted career-highs in almost every offensive category. His line looked quite admirable at .288/.347/.477. His OPS+ of 132 was also very promising. Hundley has improved in each of his four years in the league, but has yet to play in more than 85 games. Part of it was platooning. The other part was durability.
Hundley just turned 28 in September and has a lot of miles still left in the tank. His legs have held up relatively well. He’s managed to improve without playing full seasons. He’s becoming a team leader. There is a lot to look forward to in Hundley. However, the questions linger. If Hundley can’t catch somewhere around 100 games a season, the Padres need to seriously look for a competent back-up. They don’t need to spend a lot of cash, but they have to fill the void. The combination of Rob Johnson, Kyle Phillips, and Luis Martinez combined for a slash-line of .188/.299/.290. That amounts to an OPS of .777. Pretty pathetic, and by no means the numbers a team wishing to win ball games can continue to put up.
So let’s see what’s available. Ramon Hernandez, another former Padres, could rejoin the club and could join Mark Kotsay in the Padres re-tread department. Hernandez is coming off a year in which he hit .282/.341/.446. He’s put together a respectable career with total WAR a shade over 22. Hernandez is another Scott Boras client, but his contract should not be cost-prohibitive. He made $3 million with the Reds last season. He probably earned it and will command something similar on his next contract. $3 million on a back-up catcher may be a tough pill to swallow for the Padres, but he could provide a little offense, a little leadership, and knows how the Padres work. At 35 years old, he may not be worth more than a one-year deal, but that could give the club enough time to evaluate Hundley for the long-term.
Another Ramon on the radar is Ramon Castro. In 2011 with the White Sox, Castro hit .235/.307/.456. Clearly, that slugging percentage would come down a lot at Petco, but Castro may be available for cheap. His last contract was for 2 years, $2 million. He is also 35 years old and would likely accept a similar contract. A 2 year deal for somewhere around $2 million may be worth the slightly above average OPS he brings to the table.
Dioner Navaro, while putting up pretty anemic numbers in 2011, may be a solid back-up option. His 2011 contract paid him a meager $1 million. He hit only .193/.276/.324 in 2011, but played in only 64 games. If he can get used to a back-up role, he may be able to put up better numbers. He’s not the best player on this list, but at 27, he is the youngest and has the best chance of bouncing back with a better 2012.
Finding a back-up catcher is a much better problem to have than finding your starting catcher. If Hundley can stay healthy, hit both lefties and righties consistently, and play more games, the Padres won’t have to concern themselves with the catcher position. However, hitting on all three may be unlikely. The above players may not be on anyone’s short list of great catchers. They may not be on anyone’s long list for that matter. But they are serviceable. They can log the innings for cheap, and give the occasional offensive benefit.
Hundley’s talent behind the plate may be underrated. He may develop into a star. But for now, the Padres need to explore their options at back-up.