Padres Sign Nick Hundley, Make Him Attractive Trade Bait

This afternoon, the Padres announced that they had agreed to a three year contract with catcher Nick Hundley. If you’re wondering why they would lock up their starting catcher now when they just traded for top prospect Yasmani Grandal over the winter, wait until you see the terms of the deal.

The deal is essentially a two year extension, since it leaves his already negotiated $2 million salary for 2012 in place. It simply adds a guaranteed $3 million salary for 2013, a $4 million salary for 2014, and a $5 million team option (with no buyout attached) for 2015, which would have been Hundley’s first year of free agent eligibility. So, in essence, Hundley converted his final two years of arbitration eligibility into guaranteed money, but did so at the price of taking minimal raises and pushing his first bite at free agency back a year.

This deal makes all the sense in the world for San Diego, but I’m not sure why Hundley agreed to this contract, to be honest. Over the last three years, Hundley has been a well above average player even while splitting time behind the plate – he’s hit .259/.323/.435 in 904 plate appearances, which is even more impressive when you consider that he’s been playing half his games in San Diego. From 2009 to 2011, his wRC+ is 109, putting him pretty much square in line with Miguel Montero. In fact, Montero is the best comp around for Hundley.

Montero became arbitration eligible for the first time after the 2009 season, so his 2007-2009 resume is what we should look at in comparison to Hundley’s 2009-2011 seasons. Here’s what Montero did in those three seasons:

921 PA, .267/.333/.447, 31 HR, 114 RBI

We’re using traditional markers because these are the numbers that determine arbitration payouts, and these are the criteria that Hundley would have been judged on over the next couple of seasons. Now, here’s Hundley’s last three seasons in comparison.

904 PA, .259/.323/.435, 25 HR, 102 RBI

Pretty darn similar – the small gap in HR/RBI can easily be explained away by park effects, and you don’t even have to quote wRC+ to help the arbitrators understand that Petco Park is a crazy good pitcher’s park. It should be no surprise, then, that Hundley settled for $2 million for 2012, the exact figure that Montero got in his first year of arbitration eligibility in 2010. Similar service time, similar playing time, similar performances, similar salaries. That’s how arbitration works.

So, looking at Montero’s salary progression should have set a pretty decent baseline for what Hundley could have expected. Montero battled injury issues in 2010 and regressed from his prior season performance, but still managed a raise to $3.2 million in his second trip through arbitration. Basically, as long as Hundley stays healthy and isn’t a total bust this year, he was in line for about a $1 million raise, and a strong performance could have garnered him quite a bit more. He basically settled for the minimum he would have gotten in 2013 just by staying healthy this season.

2014 is a little trickier, because Montero had an excellent season last year, and set himself up well for his final trip through arbitration. Not only did he hit exceptionally well, but he played in 140 games, letting him rack up the kinds of counting stats that arbitrators like. That resulted in a nearly 100% pay raise, as Montero’s final arbitration salary came in at $5.9 million. We probably can’t project Hundley to have that kind of season in 2013, so we’re probably best served estimating a $1.5 million raise rather than the $2.7 million that Montero managed. Still, if he would had gotten $3.5 million in 2013, that would still put him in line for something close to $5 million in 2014.

So, over the next two seasons, it’s probably fair to peg Hundley’s arbitration payouts in the $8-$9 million range assuming he continued to perform at a decent level but did not establish himself as a premier every day catcher. Settling for $7 million in order to get those payouts guaranteed ahead of time is reasonable, but giving up the club option for his first year of free agency just seems unnecessary. Hundley essentially agreed to become a free agent for the first time heading into his age 32 season, a time when he’s probably going to be unlikely to strike it rich with any kind of multi-year deal due to his age and position.

Assuming the club option for 2015 gets picked up by whoever trades for Hundley in the next 12-18 months, this deal may end up costing Hundley somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million over the next four seasons, based on an estimate of what Hundley might have been able to get as a 31-year-old free agent versus being under team control for $5 million with no buyout. Perhaps Hundley is content to make $12 million instead of $17 million from 2013-2015, but a 30% discount on future salaries for a small guarantee seems a bit steep to me.

The Padres were wise to get this deal done now, even with Grandal on the way. Hundley’s trade value is going to go up with this deal, as any suitor is now going to know that it won’t cost them money down the road to make him a full time player and see if he can prove that his bat is legitimate. If Grandal is playing well in the minors during the first half of the season, don’t be surprised if Hundley is one of the hot names on the market at the trade deadline. The Padres have set themselves up well to be marketing a highly coveted asset in July.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

23 Responses to “Padres Sign Nick Hundley, Make Him Attractive Trade Bait”

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  1. Shane says:

    San Diego has become perhaps “SMAHTAH” in such situations than their low payroll buddies up the coast (BEANO-BALL). They have done quite well in every deal they have made since at least the Adrian Gonzalez deal.

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  2. vivalajeter says:

    I agree that San Diego made out on this – but it seems like every time someone strikes a deal like this, the authors ignore the enormous security blanket of having life-changing money.

    Hundley has never caught more than 76 games in a season, he missed part of last season due to injury, and he was a ~710 OPS hitter coming into 2011 – solid for a catcher, but not nearly in line with his rate stats for last year. He’s made about $1.2MM in his career, with another $2MM coming this year. Maybe he was just happy with a minimum of $10MM career earnings, and that security was enough for him to give a discount.

    Can you imagine having Major League caliber skills, but getting injured right before you can cash in? Going out and getting another job? Well, Hundley won’t have to worry about that.

    Ideally, he’d have negotiated a buyout in the option year. But if his only options were to sign that deal or go year to year, I can’t really blame him for the choice.

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    • batpig says:

      that’s all true……. but did he have to give up the FA year so readily with no buyout? that’s the part that seems excessive to me.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        I don’t know. I wasn’t involved in the negotiations. But I can only assume that his agent tried to get some sort of buyout or tried to sign a similar deal without the FA year.

        If he had the same offer on the table but without the FA year, and he declined that offer, then he’s a moron.

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      • jim says:

        maybe he’s just not a really greedy person, ever think of that?

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    • Shane says:

      Totally agree. These “team friendly” deals that we jump all over players for accepting are always millions of dollars which if invested wisely will set these guys up for life on one level or another. I mean these deals are worth considerably more than the majority of us will make in a lifetime. We all blog in this fantasy land of 5 million dollars/WAR and every time Longoria’s contract comes up we think idiot! Yet I think Evan longoria is gonna be just fine for life if he is smart. Boras and his year to year thing have worked out very well for many clients but some of them have gotten burned and left to dry after blowing out a knee or something. Remember that 4 year 60 million dollar deal Nomar Garciapparra turned down from the Red Sox? He looked at what AROD and Jeter got and said no thanks, I’l take my chances a year from now. I bet he wishes he would have. Not many things in life are guarunteed but MLB contracts are. Nick Hundley is not the next coming and he could fall off the planet this season as far as baseball goes. Totally a smart deal for young Mr. Hundley.

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      • Bill says:

        Certainly we are talking about life changing money, but all he needs to do is bet that he will improve this year and will not get hurt and he could double his money. If life changing money is good, twice life changing money is better.

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      • Hurtlockertwo says:

        I agree with Shane, this is real world money. Every athelete is a knee injury away from being done in sports, so getting the money now may be more attractive to a player that is rasing a family.

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  3. David R says:

    This may be a stretch, but do you think it’s possible that a player like Hundley on a team like the Padres could sign a team friendly deal KNOWING it will make him great trade bait? It seems to me if one was stuck on a bad team and wanted to contend that a decent strategy could be to sign for a little less than you should really be paid and make yourself an attractive option for a contending team. For example, the Red Sox would have to be interested in a player like him if Saltalamacchia underwhelms or something.

    That’s kind of a random theory but it came to mind when I read this.

    Either way, it’s a total win for the Padres. Even if it’s a total bust, and Hundley breaks a leg and never plays again it won’t set them too far back.

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    • Bill says:

      But, there are much worse teams to be a part of than the Padres. He could get traded to Baltimore, Houston, or Chicago (either one).

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    • Shane says:

      If I’m the Sox Hundley is nowhere on my radar. I’d rather have Salty going forward.

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  4. Resolution says:

    pretty disappointed when I opened this post and found the words ‘trade bait’ at the end of the title.

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  5. Shane says:

    “he’s hit .259/.323/.435 in 904 plate appearances, which is even more impressive when you consider that he’s been playing half his games in San Diego.’

    You guys are getting lazy over here. Yeah that would be impressive except Hundley rakes at home and fizzles on the road. I know you never looked at his career splits or you never would of wrote about how impressive his stats are despite playing half his games in San Diego. Over the course of his 4 year career, all with the Padres, he has an .818 OPS in 540 plate appearances at home and a .657 OPS in 580 plate appearances on the road. Do your research guys. Don’t just assume.

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    • juan pierres mustache says:

      home/road splits are a lot less predictive than you seem to think

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      • Shane says:

        I know that, I’m not the one who wrote that Hudley’s stats were more impressive due to the fact that he plays in Petco.

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        They are. That he’s hit poorly on the road does not make his performance at home any less impressive. San Diego is a very hard place to hit. Hundley has hit well there. That’s impressive.

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      • Shane says:

        It is impressive the numbers he has put up at home yet nonetheless the road splits are somewhat concerning. I know large studies of many players have dispelled the notion that players perform signifcantly better in their home enviornent, at least to that degree. But I have to wonder lf Nick Hundley performs better in front of the home crowd. I wonder if they are able to provide him with a needed positive boost or perhaps he shrinks when being rooted against on the road. In any regard the numbers he has put up at home in roughly one full season for a full time catcher are excellent.

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  6. Marver says:

    He’s never caught in more than 76 games in any season, and the Padres have two legitimate catching prospects in the pipeline that could steal playing time in the near future (Grandal) and long-term (Hedges). Between potentially getting hurt prior to free agency and the threat of not having a sizable amount of at bats (and therefore the counting statistics) to use at arbitration hearings, I am not remotely surprised he took guaranteed money.

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  7. Joe says:

    Perhaps Hundley is an advanced stat guy and realizes his BABIP of.362 last year may not exactly be sustainable and he can quickly regress back to a 1 WAR player.

    The Montero comparison is interesting until you look at how much Hundley’s #’s are dependent on what looks like a bit of an outlier season last year. Even in the minors he never topped .310 with the exception of 200AB’s in A+ ball. Even the arbitration analysis is questionable as it assumes he will be able to sustain his offensive #’s; if he regresses, the offensive output will match Montero’s in his pre Arb 2 and pre-Arb 3 years.

    Seems like a fair decision to take the money; even with the option year. If he regresses back to a 700-710 OPS, is he getting much more than 5mil on the FA market? Is he getting Montero’s Arb 2 and Arb 3 arbitration salaries?

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  8. Steven says:

    Miguel Montero will get way too expensive for the Dbacks this off-season and I still think Towers still has a man crush on him. It would surprise me if the Dbacks didn’t pick him up.

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  9. Mack Daddy says:

    I would not assume that Nick Hundley performs better in front of the home crowd it is because he needs the home crowd to provide him with a “positive boost” or because he “shrinks when being rooted against on the road.”

    Maybe he just feels more comfortable when he is in the city he spends most of the year…maybe he likes the home cooking…or maybe he just has a hot piece of San Diego ass that helps his performance.

    Definitely can’t assume he needs the home crowd or wilts at the visiting stadiums.

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  10. Ryan says:

    I got to know Nick in Alexandria, MN. Great guy, and good for him to make 10M minimum for a career. He is an example of how guys probably should think and it’s okay to be satisfied.

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