What Should Padres Do with Four Catchers?

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Derek Norris, Austin Hedges, Christian Bethancourt, and Josmil Pinto – four catchers on the 40-man roster. With Wil Myers conceivably securing first base, Norris is likely not much of an option there. So, which two catchers should make the Opening Day roster? What should be done with the other two?

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Let’s start with the overviews. Josmil Pinto was claimed off of waivers from the Minnesota Twins. Pinto hit fabulously in his 21 games in 2013 – his first taste at the majors – but struggled in his 57 games in 2014. Pinto did not play in The Show this last season, in part, due to a concussion.

Pinto has compiled a .257/.339/.445/.784 with a 118 OPS+. Granted, most of that damage came in his limited 2013 action. He was seen as the catcher of the future for Minnesota. But when his struggles at the plate began, his limited defensive capabilities only hastened his trip down to the minors.

He will enter his age 27 season in 2016.

Pinto is out of options, but is the least likely to make the team.

The Padres traded away pitcher Casey Kelly for a fellow disappointing prospect in Christian Bethancourt. The former-Brave was also seen as the catcher of the future for his respective team. Last season, Bethancourt hit just .200/.225/.290/.515 in 48 games. He fared little better in 2014. And while he has a rifle of an arm, Bethancourt has suffered through defensive lapses.

Next year will be only Bethancourt’s age 24 season. He, too, is out of options.

Onto future catcher of the franchise who has struggled to live up to expectations (particularly with the bat) number three. Austin Hedges showed off just how good he is behind the plate. He was, despite limited time, marvelous with framing pitches and received better marks for managing the pitching staff than did Derek Norris. Hedges also threw out 33-percent of runners – a pretty good margin. Hedges is on track to compete for being the best defensive catcher in baseball.

The problem with the soon-to-be 24 year old is his bat. Every time Hedges gets promoted, he hits pitifully in his first season at the new level. The next year, he hits at about the league average. But this is the majors. Who can say that trend will continue. His .168/.215/.248/.463 batting line is worse than Bethancourt’s.

Hedges has all of his options remaining.

General Manager A.J. Preller traded for Derek Norris after three seasons of increasing productivity. Norris went backwards in 2015, due perhaps to being overplayed in the first half. He finished with a pedestrian .250/.305/.404/.709 slashline and a 99 OPS+.

While Norris’s offense regressed, his defense bettered. In 2014, he was one of the worse catchers in baseball at pitch framing. He was better than average in 2015, which is a major improvement. Norris threw out 34-percent of would-be base stealers as well.

The first obvious move is to demote Josmil Pinto. If the Padres have to risk losing someone it should be Pinto. Catcher ought to be a defense-first position. Pinto is an offense-first player.

Bethancourt was traded for. Reasonably one could assume that Preller intends either to trade him or to put Bethancourt on the Opening Day roster. Without any options, let us say Bethancourt is indeed on the club.

Hedges can, in fact, be sent down. This is clearly the best move. The young catcher can go down to AAA to work on his hitting. The thought of trading him has been floated around. First off, after such a dreadful season at the plate, Preller would be selling low. Really low. Like worse than Casey Kelly and a minor leaguer kind of low. There really should be no motivation to move Hedges.

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Norris is also a sell-low player. He is coming off of a down year. He is entering his age 27 season – the time at which most baseball players begin their prime. Granted, Norris, like any of the other three catchers, could not get better. He could basically play at the same level he did in 2015. However! Preller should stand pat on Norris. He will cost the Padres only about $3.5 million, according to Baseball-Reference.com, in arbitration. Not much. Let Hedges get reps in the minors. If the Padres fail to compete in 2016, trade Norris during the season.

But, let’s say that Preller doesn’t want to risk losing either Pinto or Bethancourt by trying to send them down. Norris or Hedges? Despite being a sell-low player, Norris is the answer. He will get back more value. Teams are likely looking at him as a guy who had a down year in 2015 offensively but improved defensively. Hedges is just a question mark at the plate with no evidence he can hit in the majors. Norris might get San Diego a shortstop.

So whom should the Padres trade in anyone? Whom would you like to see on the roster for 2016?

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