The Padres tried to take a page from successful mid-market clubs like the Cleveland Indians in the mid-nineties, by targeting young players for extensions. The thought is that the team could control the players for several years at a reasonable price, while building a competitive team each year. This year, the Padres targeted Cameron Maybin, Cory Luebke, and Nick Hundley.
On the surface, the Hundley extension made a lot of sense. First, the contract was not what I would call lucrative-a 3-year, $9 million deal will not be prohibitive for the Padres budgets of the future. Secondly, Hundley was solid in 2011, posting an OPS of .824, and threw out 36% of baserunners, which was 4th in the National League. Hundley battled injuries in 2011, but he seemed to firmly establish himself as the Padres catcher of the present, and the future.
In 2012, however, Hundley has struggled mightily at the plate. He got off to a horrid start in 2012, going hitless in his first 21 at-bats. Hundley shook off that bad start, and got hot, raising his average to .254 on April 27th-after a four-hit game. It seemed like Hundo was back, and could be rolling to an All-Star berth. Since then, Hundley has been brutal at the plate-going 5 for his last 58. For those of you non-math majors, Hundley is hitting just .086 over the last month of play, and John Baker has seen a slight increase to his playing time.
In normal situations, Hundley would just ride out this cold streak, as the Padres are not going to bench a player with a multi-year contract. However for Hundley, he does have one reason to be concerned; the presence of Yasmani Grandal.
Grandal was a key component in the Mat Latos deal, and has played well at AAA Tucson, despite spending some time on the disabled list. Grandal has put up a rock-solid line of .295/.417/.494, with 3 homers in 78 at-bats. Grandal is close to big-league ready, and could be a factor for a roster spot by the All-Star break. The Padres have already committed to youth in the middle infield, and it would not be surprising to see the Padres commit playing time to Grandal.
I am a Hundley fan, and believe the Padres should stick with him. He has played solid defense, and helped the pitching staff stay afloat, despite the unprecedented amount of injuries the pitching staff has endured. Hundley seems to be a leader on this team, and I would not be ready to deal him away, or bench him. Grandal is an intriguing prospect, but he still might be a full year away from making a contribution. Until then, Hundley must step up his performance, before the organization questions their investment in Hundo.