Padres current catching situation is complicated

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Thanks to the recent addition of Jorge Alfaro, the San Diego Padres now have four catchers on the 40-man roster.

In early December, A.J. Preller, president of baseball operations and general manager for the San Diego Padres, sent cash or a player to be named later to the Miami Marlins for Jorge Alfaro in an attempt to improve the offensive performance behind the plate from a .223 batting average and .616 OPS.  Alfaro joins Austin Nola, Victor Caratini, and Luis Campusano as the Padres continue their never-ending search for a regular backstop under Preller.

Catchers arguably have the most important and difficult job on the diamond. The job takes a toll on the body, especially the knees and various bruised body parts. The mental aspects of the job rival the physical as the best catchers excel at game awareness, guiding the pitcher, and directing the defense.

From 2008 through 2013, Nick Hundley caught the majority of games (510 over seven years) for the Padres. Under Preller, though, members of the catching corps have come and gone with increasing frequency.  When the Padres hired Preller in August 2014, Rene Rivera (103 games) shared time with Yasmani Grandal (128 games) behind the plate.

In mid-November of that year, Preller extolled Grandal’s virtues to Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune: “You’ve got a catcher who swings the bat from the left side, takes walks, can hit the ball out of the ballpark. Not too many of those guys in the game.”

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Less than a month later, the Padres traded Grandal to the Dodgers for Matt Kemp, an ex-superstar who would never regain past glory. The trade worked out well for the Dodgers and Grandal for four years, not so much for the Padres, who were on the hook for $75 million of Kemp’s $107 million four-year contract. The trade included catcher Tim Federowicz, but he tore the meniscus in his right knee in spring training and lost the entire season.

Here’s the breakdown of catcher stats during Preller’s tenure, according to Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs determination of DRS (defensive runs saved) and WAR:

Year    Catcher                   Games   OPS+   DRS   WAR

2014    Yasmani Grandal      28              111          -2         2.5

2014   Rene Rivera                103             116         15        5.2

2014   Nick Hundley             33                22         -2        0.0

2014   Adam Moore               9                  86         0         -0.1


2015    Derek Norris              147               97        6          3.8

2015    Austin Hedges            56                 30        5          0.5

2015    Rocky Gale                 11                   -44       0         -0.1


2016    Derek Norris               125               58        14        0.6

2016   Christian Bethancourt 73                70        0          -0.2

2016    Hector Sanchez           26                  134      -3         NA

2016    Austin Hedges            8                     -12       -1         -0.3


2017    Austin Hedges            120                 73        21        1.8

2017    Hector Sanchez           26                   134      -5         NA

2017     Rocky Gale                 3                       24        0          -0.1

2017    Luis Torrens               56                    220      -8         -1.3


2018    Austin Hedges            91                    95        10        2.3

2018    A.J. Ellis                     66                    104      -11       -0.1

2018   Rafael Lopez               37                    54        NA      NA

2018   Francisco Mejia          20                    72        -1         0.6


2019    Austin Hedges            102                  50        20        1.5

2019   Francisco Mejia          79                    99        -1         0.6

2019    Austin Allen               34                     51        0          -0.3

2019   Luis Torrens               7                      63        0          0.0


2020    Austin Hedges            29                 63        0          -0.1

2020   Austin Nola                 19                    96        -2         1.7

2020   Francisco Mejia          17                   -11       0          -0.4

2020   Jason Castro                9                     61        NA       NA

2020  Luis Torrens                7                      95        -7         -0.2


2021    Victor Caratini           116                 78        -6         -0.7

2021    Austin Nola                 56                    101      -1         1.0

2021   Webster Rivas             24                    79        0          0.1

2021  Luis Campusano         11                    -20       -1         -0.6


According to FanGraphs WAR for the 2021 season, the following catchers ranked in the top ten:

Buster Posey (4.9 WAR San Francisco Giants)

Will Smith (4.6 WAR Los Angeles Dodgers)

Mike Zunino (4.5 WAR Tampa Bay Rays)

J.T. Realmuto (4.4 WAR Philadelphia Phillies)

Yasmani Grandal 3.7 WAR Chicago White Sox)

Salvador Perez 3.4 WAR Kansas City Royals)

Sean Murphy (3.3 WAR Oakland A’s)

Max Stassi (2.9 Los Angeles Angels)

Omar Narvaez (2.8 Milwaukee Brewers)

Jacob Stallings (2.6 Pittsburgh Pirates)

For the Padres, only Nola, who ranks 30th with 1.0 WAR, made the list of the top 50 catchers.

No doubt spurred by Nola’s injury history and the relative mediocrity of the 2021 catcher corps, it’s no surprise that the Padres felt the need to add an additional catcher.

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Alfaro (rated the sixth rank catching prospect at the time) signed as an international free agent with the Texas Rangers in 2010 when Preller worked for the organization. The front office valued his defensive skills and power at the plate. He has played in 396 games split between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Miami Marlins. In Florida last year, he produced a batting line of  .244/.290/.342, WAR 0.4, OPS+ 70 -.2 DRS. In 92 games, he struck out 99 times.

In short, the highly-rated prospect, valued for his defense and power, hasn’t lived up to the hype so far. Perhaps the exit velocity of 90.5 MPH attracted the Padres as he’s a tick above the likes of Freddy Freeman (90.4) and Mookie Betts (90.3).

Unfortunately, the Padres will not have a chance to check out Jorge Alfaro’s skills until the players and owners agree on a new agreement. Every day that passes brings the beginning of spring training on February 26, 2022 closer. One of the many decisions that will have to be made when the Major League Baseball season gets underway will be the makeup of the catcher corps.

Even more important, though, is the need for the management of the San Diego Padres to develop a coherent approach to roster construction, especially at the crucial position of catcher. The constant turnover behind to plate has adversely affected the team–especially the pitchers.

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