Padres Editorial: The Situation at Catcher


The Padres have two good catchers. Derek Norris, an All-Star in Oakland in 2014, this year led all major league backstops in runners caught stealing, while hiting well enough in the middle of the lineup to earn playing time at first base when not catching. Austin Hedges has been one of the top catching prospects in baseball for the past several years, and showed off some of his defensive prowess in his first year in the majors, as Friars on Base writer Keegan Tatum discusses here. Unfortunately, Hedges’ offense lagged far behind his defense, as he managed only 23 hits in 152 plate appearances with the big league squad.

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On the surface, this doesn’t look like a bad situation. The Padres can continue to start Norris, an effective defensive player with moderate major league hitting skills, while resting him periodically with another effective defensive backstop while Hedges learns to hit at the major league level. If Hedges starts to hit, in a year or two we might have two catchers with the pedigree to be starters, and one can make for a useful trade piece.

But do the Padres have that luxury? Or will the demands of trying to put a winner on the field in 2016 force that timeline to change?

General Manager A.J. Preller has a bit more pressure on him now than he did a year ago. He gambled heavily on the Padres making the 2015 postseason, and lost his shirt, as well as most of the prospects in the farm system. Neither Preller nor the Padres have started to discuss 2016 in much detail yet, with the exception of saying the obvious – looking for an upgrade at shortstop, getting a lefthanded power bat, improving the pitching – but Preller came in last year talking about putting a consistent playoff contender on the field. Assuming that’s still the goal, he’s got his work cut out for him this winter. As he plans for how to construct the 2016 team, with a depleted minor league system and a limited budget to spend on free agents, the current major league roster becomes one of the few resources Preller will have at his disposal to try to piece together a playoff team.

And that might mean saying goodbye to Norris or Hedges.

Norris is a gamer, a tough-as-nails 26-year old who brings attitude, a strong throwing arm, improved pitch framing, and increasing power at the plate. He would be a great piece on a playoff contending team, and could bring back some real value in a trade. Hedges brings elite defense skills, and if can manage to improve to merely below-average on offense, can become a cornerstone of the future for a rebuilding team. He’s the kind of catcher that makes a pitching staff better. And while the Padres would certainly love to have that kind of catcher for their future, the needs of the present might end up carrying more weight.

Both have value in the trade market. Norris may be the better option to retain if the Padres really think they can contend next season, as Hedges hasn’t yet shown he can hit major league pitching. Hedges might be the better option if the team is looking to compete in the long run, but until he can hit even .200, he’s still a risk. But his upside is enormous.

This decision won’t be the first one made this offseason. The front office will first address the obvious needs. But once the 2016 roster starts to take shape, and Preller looks to find the balance between the present and the future, they will need to decide if trading one of their good young catchers is the right move to make.

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