For the sake of Austin Hedges, the San Diego Padres should trade the catcher.
It’s no secret that the San Diego Padres want to move catcher Austin Hedges, and a trade would be in his best interest as well.
Renowned for his defensive skills as well as his handling of pitchers, Hedges’ bat has gone into the deep freeze. If the rest of the lineup had performed at the plate, his strengths might have trumped his weakness. Instead, Padres hitters as a group ranked at or near the bottom in a multitude of categories.
Besides, Hedges is not one of Preller’s guys, as he was drafted in 2011 by Jed Hoyer the year before the latter moved to Chicago. A Southern California kid, Hedges attended JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano and signed for $3 million despite his commitment to UCLA.
Ironically, rumors indicate that Hoyer’s Chicago Cubs may be shopping catcher Willson Contreras. Hedges’ 22 DRS dwarfs Contreras’ -1, but the latter batted .272/.355/.533 with 64 RBIs and 24 homers to Hedges’ .176/.252/.311, 36 RBIs and 11 homers. David Ross, a former catcher himself for multiple teams, including the Cubs, Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers, has taken over as manager.
Despite Ross’ rather feeble .229/.316/.423/.739 batting line, he played for 14 years. His history would indicate an openness to at least considering Hedges as a good fit for the Cubs.
Another former catcher, Joe Maddon, has been outspoken about his appreciation for the demands and unique qualities required of the position. After stints with the Tampa Bay Rays and Cubs, he has returned to his original team, the Los Angeles Angels. Under Maddon, the Cubs won their first World Series since 1908, defeating the Cleveland Indians in a seven-game thriller.
Maddon made his appreciation of defensive-minded catchers to the Los Angeles Times on December 10th:
The best catchers are the ones that can go 0-for-4 and catch a shutout and are absolutely thrilled. They’re more concerned about their guy than they are about their hitting… (A catcher has) To have a great mind. He’s got to have great recall. He’s got to be open-minded. He has to have creativity. He’s got to know when to go off-script.”
Angels’ general manager Billy Eppler indicated that “ the catchers that we’re talking to, there’s one common denominator – they’re defensive-oriented.” Both Maddon and Eppler would value Austin Hedges type skills, including his league-best 26.7 fielding runs above average and his framing runs, which rank second.
This year, the Angels had one of the worst pitchers ERA in the history of the franchise, and his skill at working with pitchers could turn that around. Also, thanks to the designated hitter in the American League, Hedges’ hitting would be less of an issue.
Other teams, like the Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds, and Atlanta Braves have indicated some interest in upgrading at catcher. However, the Detroit Tigers recently agreed to a deal with Austin Romine, who has backed up Gary Sanchez with the New York Yankees.
In many ways, Hedges’s tenure with the Padres has been rocky. Preller first promoted him in May 2015 to learn from primary catcher Derek Norris. Unfortunately, Norris turned out to be the least popular guy in the clubhouse, and he treated Hedges as his whipping boy.
The following year, Hedges began the season in El Paso. Then he broke his hamate bone, had surgery, and returned to Triple-A, playing only eight games with the big club. In 2017 he appeared in 120 games as the primary catcher. He missed several games after getting hit in the mask and later shaken up by Anthony Rizzo’s infamous slide into home plate.
Through his time with the Padres, Hedges certainly has not been helped by the revolving door of hitting coaches since his first callup. Every single year has featured a different voice and a different strategy.
Austin Hedges would benefit from having a fresh start with a team that values his defensive prowess. Who knows, that team might also unlock hidden potential at the plate. As an added bonus for Hedges, the talented backstop could escape from the wanton brutality of Padres’ Twittersphere.