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How dire is the Padres catching depth?

With Tim Federowicz out indefinitely, the Padres have a sudden opening at backup catcher. Should the club go with internal options or bring in outside talent to back up All-Star Derek Norris?

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Knee injuries are all essentially varying degrees of catastrophic for professional athletes.  When new Padre Tim Federowicz tore his meniscus amidst a buddingly impressive spring it elicited a collective whince from the Padres fanbase and catchers everywhere.  With no current timetable for his return and a primary catcher who has never started more than 93 games, the Padres must find ways to fill out the catching position before the season starts.

Internal Options

Journeyman minor league free agent Wil Nieves actually caught Trevor Hoffman while with the Padres in 2002.  While this really makes me want to press his mitt gently against my face and breathe in the lingering changeup molecules, it doesn't speak too highly of his prospects for contributing at the big league level.  The 12-year veteran actually did see emergency action in 36 games for the Phillies last season and he wasn't THAT bad (if you choose not to look at his bb%.... seriously don't look unless you are Brian Giles).  Nieves shares a profile with many career AAA vets - extremely iffy bat, but a good reputation for defense and pitcher-handling.  In a sense he is living the life of alternate-reality Rene Rivera who never had a breakout season.  Word out of the front office is that GM AJ Preller is currently exploring a way to go back in time and give Wil a 2015 sports almanac and experimental plate discipline-inducing drugs.

Let me say the name I know you're thinking.  Let me whisper it seductively.  Austin Hedges.  You know his story.  Defensive demi-god.  Offensive demi-Wiki Gonzalez.  At just 22 years old, his once-promising bat has lost some of its prospect shine, but still has some untapped potential.  Unfortunately, he is still hitting just .225 in the upper minors for his career.  While it is tempting to plug Hedges onto the 25-man roster as the defensive foil to Derek Norris' offensive potency, it threatens to stunt Hedges' development against hopelessly advanced pitching.  With Hedgemaster still a possible centerpiece in the Padres' future plans it would seem shortsighted to force Hedges into an MLB role before he has made good on his potential.

Because I love wildcards, I'd like to toss one borderline meaningless name in here - Cody Decker.  The former UCLA catcher has never been much of a prospect (or much of a catcher), but he has performed admirably all through his minor league career in the Padres system.  He tried strapping on the gear again last season in order to improve his viability as a big leaguer, but time will tell if that transition will "take." Decker's one meaningful tool is power.  He has abused minor league pitching in his pro career (more minor league home runs than any Padres farmhand ever), but his power is tied to strikeout rates that would make Ruben Rivera shake his head solemnly.  As we know, minor league strikeout rates, like purely physical relationships, get worse a lot more often than they get better.

The list for Fed-X's replacement is relatively short.  Looking back to the offseason, Federowicz was probably plan-B for the backup gig after David Ross spurned the Padres to be with his bro Jon Lester in Chicago.  GM AJ Preller also briefly held onto veteran grit-master Ryan Hanigan, but sent him to Boston in exchange for Will Middlebrooks.  With Federowicz down, the Padres are likely down to their plan-C or D for internally filling the important backup-catcher position.

External Possiblities

Officially, the two remaining free agents with recent MLB experience are offensive disaster Jeff Mathis and defensive cataclysm Ryan "No-mitt" Doumit.  With his skillset, Mathis doesn't seem to provide any upgrade over incumbent Wil Nieves.  Doumit is a bit more intriguing since he is left-handed and has more of a history of success at the plate - particularly against right-handed pitching (career .266/.326/.447 line).  However, he offers 0 defensive value and caught just two games amidst a painful offensive season in 2014.  Plugging him in as a regular backup might be a little optimistic, but the front office has shown willingness to think outside the box.  Note to front office: consider auditioning bloggers.

Steve Adams of MLBTR opines that the Padres could explore out-of-options catchers on the trade and upcoming minor league free agent market.  He suggests names like Austin Romine, Steve Clevenger, or one of the six (!) catchers in White Sox camp.  The possibilities are seemingly endless, perhaps even a reunion with the team's longtime emergency catcher.