Nick Hundley, former starting catcher for both the Padres and Rockies, has agreed to a one-year, $2 million deal to be the Giants’ backup catcher. Unless there’s going to be a spring competition for the starting job, that is. Maybe this is classic “burying the lede.”
The Giants had spent their offseason quietly hedging their bets when it came to the backup catcher. Pitchers reportedly liked throwing to Trevor Brown, but he wasn’t likely to provide nearly enough offense for a player who could start 30 or 40 games. So the front office signed Tim Federowicz and Josmil Pinto, catchers with a track record of hitting in Triple-A, just in case. Hundley offers the same potential of bench power, except he’s actually done it reliably in the majors. The Giants just paid a premium for a little more offensive certainty.
Hundley hit .260/.320/.439 last season, which sounds good until you realize it was with the Rockies. Still, that’s good for an 88 OPS+, which means that by backup-catcher standards, he’s still an above-average hitter. In seven seasons with the Padres, he had ups (.288/.347/.477 in 82 games in 2011) and downs (.157/.219/.245 in 58 games in 2012), and it’s all evened out to roughly the player he was last year. He’ll offer more power than your typical catcher, even if he’s not well-suited to be a starter.
Hundley is a right-handed batter, but he’s actually shown reverse platoon splits over his career, which makes him a decent complement to Buster Posey. Of course, Posey tends to play first base a lot versus lefties, so Hundley will likely see extensive time against left-handed pitching, too.
The Giants will need to make a 40-man roster move for Hundley, which means someone will have to be exposed to waivers. It’s a cold, cruel world, but considering the other moves the team has made this offseason, there’s a pretty strong chance that Brown will be designated for assignment and exposed to waivers. That doesn’t mean that he’s gone, but it might be a while before we see him again, at the very least.
Edit: Brown is safe!
Giants DFA'd Ehire Adrianza to clear spot for Hundley.— Alex Pavlovic (@AlexPavlovic) January 24, 2017
How much does this mean? Here’s how many at-bats the Giants’ primary backup catcher has received over the last few years, with 2011 not included for obvious reasons:
2016 - 173 at-bats
2015 - 133
2014 - 163
2013 - 129
2012 - 218
2010 - 126
2009 - 127
2008 - 93
Before that was Mike Matheny’s concussion season, so that doesn’t count either. You get the idea. It’s not as big of an idea as we think, especially when the difference is likely to be just a few doubles here and a couple homers there.
Those can all add up to an extra win, though, and that’s what the Giants are chasing: every last scrap of win-meat possible. They’re doing it on a budget, too, with their stated desire to pay as little of the salary-cap tax as possible.
What this might signify, though, is a desire to rest Posey more often. Not just play-him-at-first rest, but actual rest rest. The conventional wisdom is that Posey was exhausted last year, and that his offense suffered as a result. Sometimes those conventions come up with some pretty good ideas. Having Hundley will make it easier for Bruce Bochy to fill out a lineup card without him feeling like he’s punting a spot. While I enjoyed Brown’s personality and ability to look suspiciously like Tim Lincecum, he really was like a second pitcher in the lineup after the first week of the season.
Edit: Maybe I should stop writing these things before the Giants and Bobby Evans actually, you know, talk about them. Hundley’s signing shouldn’t affect Posey’s playing time at all.
Hundley should be better. He’s either surprisingly expensive for a backup catcher in January, or he’s surprisingly inexpensive for a power bat at a position the Giants were looking to fill. If you were expecting a spring battle for the catcher’s gig, though, you can stop now. The position has been filled, and it’s been filled with someone we’ve heard of.