For the past few years, San Diego Padres fans have eagerly anticipated the arrival of their newest star: catching prospect Austin Hedges. Ranking among Baseball Prospectus' top 20 prospects for each of the past two seasons, the 22-year-old backstop is arguably the best catcher in the minor leagues right now.
With Hedges' MLB debut right around the corner -- he spent all of 2014 at Double-A San Antonio -- the Padres have "gotten more aggressive" in shopping current starter Yasmani Grandal for a trade. MLB Trade Rumors opines that the Padres are comfortable with Rene Rivera shouldering the load until Hedges is ready to take over, making the 26-year-old Grandal expendable.
Normally, this would not raise any eyebrows. However, Grandal is under club control for four more seasons, while Alex Avila is in his final year of arbitration. The Tigers have already explored other catching options, including a call to Houston earlier this offseason. With the Padres seemingly intent on moving Grandal, could they team up with the Tigers for a deal?
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
Grandal is a Cuban-born switch-hitting catcher who attended the University of Miami (FL). He was drafted with the 12th overall pick of the 2010 draft by the Cincinnati Reds, but was flipped to the Padres just over a year later in the Mat Latos deal. Grandal burst onto the scene in 2012, hitting .297/.394/.469 with eight home runs and 36 RBI in 226 plate appearances at the MLB level. Shortly after the season, he was hit with a 50 game suspension for PED use. The suspension and an ACL tear limited him to just 108 plate appearances in 2013. He finally got a full season's worth of at-bats in 2014, hitting .225/.327/.401 with 15 home runs and 49 RBI.
Why should we care?
While his success in 2012 may be clouded by the PED suspension, Grandal was excellent in the second-half of 2014. He hit .250/.360/.440 with nine home runs and 32 RBI in 261 plate appearances from July 1 to the end of the season. This improved his season-long OPS by a full 100 points. Grandal's 111 wRC+ ranked eighth among all MLB catchers with at least 400 plate appearances, while his 13.1 percent walk-rate was second only to Alex Avila.
The most impressive thing about these offensive numbers are that Grandal was able to achieve them while playing his home games in Petco Park. Like Chase Headley before him, Grandal's numbers have been suppressed by Petco's expansive dimensions. Grandal hit .239/.327/.431 away from home in 2014, and has hit .260/.358/.443 outside of Petco for his career. He has also shown favorable splits against right-handed hitters in his career, hitting for a .780 OPS. If we combine these two splits, we see that Grandal is a .272/.365/.473 hitter against righties outside of Petco Park. It's a sample of just 282 plate appearances, but wow.
Why should we stay away?
The biggest knock on Grandal is that he doesn't look to be a very good defender, no matter the metric used. Fangraphs gave him a negative defensive rating in 2014. He only threw out 13 percent of base-stealers. He led the National League with 12 passed balls. Need we say more? The Tigers have prided themselves on employing good defensive backstops over the years, and Grandal looks to be a major step down in that regard. Even if his bat plays up, there is nowhere else to put him with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez entrenched at first base and designated hitter, respectively.
Cost will also be a factor in any potential deal. The Padres may be shopping him aggressively, but that doesn't mean that they will trade him at a discounted rate. Grandal's bat is his biggest asset, and his combination of youth, splits, and contract should drive his price up in an offense-starved market. The Padres themselves would be wise to continue experimenting with him at first base if a suitable trade offer isn't found.
Will he end up in Detroit?
As tempting as it is to point at non-tender candidate Everth Cabrera and throw Eugenio Suarez's name into this discussion, the Padres already have Cabrera's replacement in place. Shortstop prospect Jace Peterson eliminates just about any trade value Suarez has in this scenario, making it even more difficult to envision any way that Grandal becomes a Tiger. It's possible that Dave Dombrowski works some magic, but with the Padres "aggressively looking for hitters" while toting Grandal as their biggest trade chip, it doesn't seem like the two sides would be a match.