With all due respect to Wil Nieves, the San Diego Padres are in need of a back-up catcher to start the 2015 season. Tim Federowicz was scheduled to be the man, but he injured his right knee and had to have arthroscopic knee surgery. A complete tear of his lateral meniscus was his final diagnosis. Federowicz will be sidelined until the All-Star break, at the earliest. Tuesday morning Austin Hedges was demoted to the minor league camp by the Padres. It was pretty much a given, as he needs consistent at bats in order to gain much-needed experience. With Hedges in El Paso and Nieves really not cutting it, what can the Padres do?
What kind of potential back stops are available? A report from Mark Polishuk of MLB Trade Rumors has the Padres in early discussions with the New York Yankees on backup catcher Austin Romine. The catcher is currently out of options and John Murphy appears to be the favorite in earning the back up catcher job for the Bronx Bombers. Romine is 26 years old, and the son of former Boston Redsox utility infielder Kevin Romine. Austin Romine also has a brother in the major leagues, Andrew Romine of the Detroit Tigers. He obviously comes from a deep pedigree of ball players.
Austin Romine has only played in 76 career major league games in parts of three seasons. With a slash line of .204/.247/.281, he is no offensive force. His minor league numbers are not all that impressive either. His best year in the minors was 2009 in A-ball, where as a 20-year old Romine hit .280 with 13 home runs and 74 runs batted in. Romine possesses the ability to hit to all fields and projects as a slightly above average catcher in the major leagues. His defense is a work in progress so as a backup catcher, I am not sure if he is the right candidate for the Friars. Let’s explore some other possible catchers to keep an eye on.
The Toronto Blue Jays spent $82-million dollars to lure Russel Martin away from the Pittsburg Pirates. With that type of investment, the Blue Jays catcher from last year Dioner Navarro is currently available. Navarro had a career year last year when he hit .274 with 12 home runs and 69 runs batted in 139 games for the Blue Jays. The 139 games was easily his career best and at the age of 31, Navarro should still has some tread left on the tires. Navarro brings a switch hitting appeal to the Padres. Being that the lineup is extremely right-handed including starting catcher Derek Norris, a left-handed back-up only makes sense. Also being that he is Latino, he would work well with the Hispanic pitchers on the Padres roster.
Navarro is owed $5-million dollars in salary this year, his last year before free agency. He has reportedly already asked for a trade out of Toronto. The Blue Jays have Josh Thole on their roster too. Another left-handed catcher, who could potentially also interest the Padres. In other words the Blue Jays make a likely trade partner. Now what would the Blue Jays want? Obviously the Padres would love to move Carlos Quentin to them. If he and his $8-million dollar salary were sent to Toronto for Navarro, then the Padres lose three million off their books and gain a valuable roster spot (Tommy Medica). Also if anything were to happen to Norris, you want a catcher in your system who is capable of playing 3-4 games a week. We are getting down to the end of spring training, some tough decisions are on the horizon. The Padres are going to be very active.
There are other possibilities for a back-up to Derek Norris too. The Texas Rangers have a plethora of catchers with Robinson Chirinos, Carlos Corporan, and Chris Gimenez. Both Corporan and Gimenez were acquired in the off-season. Gimenez a free agent from the Oakland Athletics and Corporan a trade from the Houston Astros. Chirinos is the starting catcher, but in my eyes Corporan is a catcher the Padres missed out on when the Astros designated him for assignment in January. The Rangers promptly agreed on a deal with the Astros for him. Corporan is not a great offensive force, but he is a switch hitter and most importantly he is well-known for his solid defense. George Kottaras from the Chicago White Sox is a left-handed hitting catcher who is on the bubble for making the 25 man roster. He was originally drafted by the Padres, and could easily be attained.
With Derek Norris starting, the Padres should be looking for a left-handed defensive specialist for a backup catcher. The outline for a solid season is with the Padres presently, but A.J. Preller is sure to be looking for the missing pieces to the puzzle. A solid backup catcher is a position that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Spring cuts are coming, so I am sure the Padres will gain at least one veteran catcher on their roster. Time to fine tune the engine as the games will soon start to count for real.