The Padres may be looking to deal Austin Hedges, and several teams could use his defensive prowess.
Padres catcher Austin Hedges has been a hot topic in the last year or so among fans, ever since the acquisition of Francisco Mejia in the summer of 2018.
Padres fans and brass seem split on what to do with Hedges, given the fact that his defensive skills are nearly irreplaceable, but his bat is almost nonexistent.
Hedges does have some trade value as one of, if not the best defensive catcher in the game. There are teams out there who would jump at the chance to improve their catching defense dramatically, and no one would do it quicker than Hedges and his 22 Defensive Runs Saved and +161 calls received (via StatCorner), both a Major League-best.
Let’s take a look at some teams who could use Hedges behind the plate and what they offer in return.
The Rangers and Padres have been connected more than once with the Padres’ possible interest in lefty outfielder Nomar Mazara.
Texas ranked dead last in the league in Defensive Runs Saved by a catcher with -113. Their primary catchers were 36-year-old Jeff Mathis and Jose Trevino, who has just 43 games of big league experience behind him. Mathis is under contract for one more year, but given his dreadful offensive numbers last season (.158 average, .433 OPS, 11 OPS+), there is no guarantee they want him back.
Mathis turned in -1 Defensive Runs Saved while none of his backups could break even either. The Rangers would benefit from adding Hedges as their pitching staff is led by two veterans, Mike Minor and Lance Lynn. Their numbers should only improve with a catcher like Hedges.
Plus, the Rangers will not have to rely on Hedges’ bat like the Padres do since they have the luxury of the designated hitter, so there are eight other capable hitters besides Hedges in the American League instead of seven with San Diego.
Perhaps a deal can be struck that involves Hedges as well as Wil Myers and that big contract heading to Texas with a prospect for 24-year-old outfielder Nomar Mazara.
Another American League team that could use Hedges’ defensive wizardry is Detroit. Tigers catchers combined for -3.3 WAR (FanGraphs), second-worst in baseball, and their defensive rating via FanGraphs ranked 27th. The Tigers never really established an everyday catcher in 2019, with no catcher playing more than 58 games. Grayson Greiner led the bunch but only batted .202 with -0.7 WAR (worse than Hedges) and -1 Defensive Runs Saved (23 runs worse than Hedges).
Detroit was the worst team in baseball with 114 losses, and a lot of that was due to their being 27th in the league in team Defensive Runs Saved. Adding Hedges would improve that and help on the pitching side. Plus, Detroit is much friendlier to hitters than Petco Park, so Hedges may see a natural increase in production at the plate.
What the Tigers could offer is 26-year-old lefty starter, Daniel Norris. He has two more seasons of control and can be used in the rotation or the bullpen. His numbers are not stellar, with a 4.49 ERA and 4.61 FIP, but his 107 ERA+ would have been second only to Chris Paddack in San Diego’s 2019 rotation. Additionally, one would think a move to a more pitcher-friendly ballpark would only improve those numbers.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels were 27th in catcher WAR in 2019, and they released two-time All-Star Jonathan Lucroy in August. Kevan Smith is the returning catcher that played the most last year, and he is 31 years old who posted -6 Defensive Runs Saved. Max Stassi would be Hedges’s biggest competition, as he is 28 years old and is serviceable with the glove, with 3 Defensive Runs Saved in 46 games behind the plate.
Hedges is far superior defensively than any option the Angels have. They also do not have a single catcher in their organization’s Top 30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. Hedges and his three more years of control would offer stability for the Angels behind the plate.
Outfielder Brian Goodwin would be an excellent player to get in a package for Hedges. He is a lefty that can play any outfield spot, including centerfield where he had three Defensive Runs Saved in 39 games for the Angels last year. He had 2.1 WAR and a 109 OPS+ for LA in 2019 and would be a respectable bat in San Diego’s lineup.
Elias Diaz caught 101 games for Pittsburgh in 2019 and posted a dreadful -23 Defensive Runs Saved behind the dish, which is 45 runs worse than Hedges. He also had -1.3 WAR, over half of a win worse than Hedges. With two home runs and a .603 OPS, he offers little more than what Hedges does at the plate.
His backup, Jacob Stallings, might be the only reason the Pirates would not trade for Hedges. In 71 games, Stallings had a 1.5 WAR with 13 Defensive Runs Saved. However, his sample size is rather small, with just 83 major league games at catcher in his career. Hedges has a much more extensive track record of success defensively.
Hedges would get a chance to revitalize the career of two-time All-Star Chris Archer, who has not panned out in Pittsburgh since the enormous trade that brought him from Tampa.
Starling Marte is garnering plenty of trade interest, and the Padres would do well to jump in on him too. He hit .295 with 23 home runs, a 120 OPS+, and 2.9 WAR for Pittsburgh last year while playing nearly every day in centerfield. He has plenty of experience in left field as well and is a left-handed power bat San Diego would love to plug into that lineup.
With Marte being a former All-Star and two-time Gold Glover, the Pirates would undoubtedly ask for more than just Hedges in exchange for Marte, but he could be a defensive strength for Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future.
The Padres certainly do not have to trade Hedges, but with his offense not getting, the clock is ticking for him in San Diego.