If there is one thing you can be sure of when discussing A.J. Preller is the fact he does things his own way. Just when you think you have him figured out, he does the complete opposite of your thoughts. For example last year when Craig Kimbrel, Ian Kennedy and Justin Upton were supposed to be traded at the deadline, they were not. All of the national media predicted a flurry of moves but nothing was done. A.J. held strong this year to Derek Norris, Brandon Maurer, Brad Hand and Ryan Buchter. All players who had been rumored to be on the move.
Norris in particular was deemed a “Near Lock” to be traded. The emergence of Austin Hedges at the Triple-A level has made that seem like a reality, but for now, Norris will remain as the teams starting catcher. Not a horrible decision if Preller was not getting what he was looking for on the open market. Norris is having a down offensive year, but he has three years of team control and is a very serviceable catcher. Preller was very wise not to just give him away.
Yes Hedges could be playing now and gaining experience, but there are some factors to why it would be better to just leave him in Triple-A at this point; First off he cannot eclipse 17 days of service time this year on the major league roster or the Padres will lose one year of control of him when it comes to his contract. That is a big factor when planning the eventual success of this franchise. It is something the team has reportedly had many internal discussions about. With no acceptable offer for Norris, Hedges will remain in Triple-A.
Another factor and the reason why Carlos Asuaje, Manuel Margot, Hedges and Hunter Renfroe are still in Triple-A, is the Chihuahuas are in a playoff race. They should play post season games in El Paso and that in itself can be beneficial for a young team and young players. Renfroe, Hedges, Asuaje and Margot will gain much experience in remaining together and playing out the year. The Padres should not rob them of that exposure, there is plenty of time for these players to gain experience at the major league level.
Derek Norris was supposed to be traded, but now he will remain with the team. A surprise by most accounts but as I stated it is not a bad thing. Norris will surely improve on his offensive numbers as there is no way a catcher of his caliber should be hitting under .200 this far into the season. I suspect a much more comfortable and relaxed Norris will hit somewhere around .300 the rest of the season to average out his numbers. A productive Norris will be coveted by major league teams.
The way Austin Hedges is hitting, he is clearly the catcher of the future for the Padres. With a .348/.391/.672 batting line and 17 home runs with 62 RBI in 198 at bats, he has grown offensively. He has truly taken his game to the next level and you can expect him to carry these offensive numbers into the major leagues to some degree. He may not be a .300 career hitter when it is all said and done, but he does look like he will have a long career. The Padres are counting on it.
The catching depth om the Padres is really strong right now. Not only does the team have Norris and Hedges, but Christian Bethancourt has emerged since being acquired from the Braves early in the Spring for RHP Casey Kelly. Also in Triple-A, Hector Sanchez has been absolutely killing it. The 26-year-old switch hitting catcher has a batting line of .400/.495/.835 with 10 home runs and 25 RBI in 85 at bats. He cleared waivers by some unknown reason after spending 14 games with the Padres earlier in the season. Sanchez looks to be a decent option for the team eventually in a backup role and most certainly adds to the Padres depth at the position.
With Norris, Hedges, Bethancourt and Sanchez, the Padres have four catchers that could easily be playing in the major leagues. The team must make a move eventually. The smart money is on Derek Norris. The smart money said he would be moved prior to the MLB trade deadline. That did not happen. In the past I would be surprised, down right shocked even as the writing seemed to be on the wall for a Norris trade. However A.J. Preller moves to the beat of his own drum. I like that. He does what he believes to be the correct thing and does not let outside forces sway him. That type of mentality will take this franchise a long ways. Ignore the haters, with no vision. Ignore their tired old complaints about the history of this franchise. Do your thing A.J.