Earlier Wednesday, it was announced that Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal would be suspended 50 games for testing positive for testosterone. In the event that you don’t believe me for some reason, here’s Ken Rosenthal, and you probably believe Ken Rosenthal:
#Padres’ Grandal gets 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone. Not good for a team that needs all offense it can get.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 7, 2012
See? Literally the exact same thing. Previously the day had belonged to Jason Bay and Mark McGwire, but Grandal grabbed headlines like few Padres ever do.
The direct consequences are clear. The most direct consequence is that Grandal will be suspended for 50 games, instead of serving as the Padres’ regular catcher right out of the gate. That’s a full third of a season, for an important young player, and that could have a meaningful impact on the Padres’ final totals of wins and losses. Additionally, the Padres now have to wonder about what they might have in Grandal. Though he batted .297 last year in his first exposure to the majors with an .863 OPS, this positive test introduces question marks. Just as Melky Cabrera will have to prove himself all over again, Grandal will have to prove himself all over again.
But this isn’t just about the direct consequences. If you like, you can think of Yasmani Grandal as a butterfly. For as long as Grandal is out, the Padres will need to lean on their other catchers. The Padres’ other catchers are Nick Hundley and John Baker. Just last March, the Padres thought highly enough of Hundley to sign him to a three-year contract with an option. There was some thought that, with Grandal somewhat established, the Padres would be open to dealing Hundley over this offseason. Now that course of action looks less likely.
It’s a thin catcher market. Maybe you’ve heard that before, and there’s a reason Russell Martin looks like he’ll be in high demand. There are contenders who could use help behind the plate, there are non-contenders who could take a flier on someone behind the plate, and Hundley had particular appeal. He was all but out of a regular job, he’s not old, he’s signed to a cheap guaranteed contract, he’s been successful in the past, and he was unsuccessful in 2012. Hundley looked like a potential buy-low candidate with offensive upside.
Between 2009-2011, over more than 900 plate appearances, Hundley was a catcher with a 110 wRC+. He wasn’t awesome at anything, but he was good enough at lots of things, and even though he wasn’t known for his defense, catchers who can hit don’t need to be so good at the defense. Then in 2012, Hundley posted a 29 wRC+. That is terrible! He hit an empty .157. When you see something like that, you want to find a reason. There might be a reason.
Padres catcher Nick Hundley will have surgery Wednesday morning to repair a tear in the meniscus of his right knee.
Hundley said he suffered the injury at Colorado in April. After an 0-for-21 start to the season, Hundley was on a 7-for-15 run with his first homer when he said he injured the knee when he got tied up with the plate umpire while pursuing a pitch in the dirt.
Hundley played through that knee injury for a while. Through the April Colorado series, he had a .646 OPS over very limited time. The rest of the way, he posted a .421 OPS, with two home runs. That doesn’t establish causation, but that is suggestive of a problem, and it’s easy to see how knee discomfort might alter a guy’s swing and drain a lot of his strength. So anyway, yeah, Hundley was a buy-low candidate.
Now the Padres are going to be less inclined to trade him. They won’t make him completely off-limits, of course, but the odds of Nick Hundley getting traded over the offseason have to be lower. The Padres will want to have that starter in place at the beginning of 2013, the Padres haven’t given up on the idea of contending in 2013, and it’s worth having Hundley around as insurance as the Padres figure out who Yasmani Grandal actually is when he’s back. The guy who projected to take Hundley’s job is now swimming in a lagoon of uncertainty.
Let’s say the Padres’ previous odds of dealing Hundley were X%. Now they’re more like (X-Y)%, where Hundley might be dealt after Grandal is back, but probably not sooner than that. Grandal won’t be back until the end of next May. Teams who want catching help are going to be less likely to be able to get Nick Hundley, so they’ll be more likely to end up with other guys, whoever those guys might be. There are only so many available, desirable catchers.
The Rays, for example, might have been interested in Hundley. They might still be interested in Hundley, but Hundley will now be somewhat less obtainable, so the Rays will be somewhat less willing to pay the cost. So if the Rays land a catcher, it’ll presumably be in the person of someone else. Nick Hundley’s presumed unavailability changes a thin catcher market, and it might change the way the catcher market plays out. If you take two parallel realities, one in which Grandal is suspended and one in which he is not, things could look rather different come February or March.
From the looks of things, Yasmani Grandal broke the rules. Odds are that, if Grandal did indeed break the rules, he probably knew what he was doing. He might have had in mind the potential consequences for himself. The consequences could be much more far-reaching than just one guy on one team. Everything, everything, is connected. Major League Baseball encounters countless forks as it moves forward, and this is just another one. Down the other path, we’ll never know what there might be.