The Padres overhauled their catching mix at the August 31 trade deadline, acquiring Austin Nola and Jason Castro in separate trades with the Mariners and Angels, while Luis Torrens went to Seattle as part of the Nola trade and Austin Hedges was sent to the Indians as part of the trade return for Mike Clevinger.
The end result was that Francisco Mejia was the only catcher who entered and exited deadline season in a Padres uniform, though he wasn’t on the active roster. Mejia was on the injured list due to a thumb contusion and, once activated, he played in only one more MLB game before being sent to the Padres’ alternate training site. As we get deeper into the offseason, it’s fair to wonder whether that one September game (a pinch-hit appearance on Sept. 16) might also mark Mejia’s final outing as a Padre.
Nola is still the projected starter, but recent reports from Yadier Molina himself have connected San Diego to Molina’s free agent market. Star catching prospect Luis Campusano also made his big league debut in 2020 and, perhaps tellingly, was included on the Padres’ postseason roster over Mejia as the third catcher. However, Campusano’s status is currently up in the air following an October arrest for felony marijuana possession.
Given the uncertainty over Campusano and the chances that Molina could sign elsewhere, it’s quite possible that the Friars could simply hang onto Mejia and use him as Nola’s backup. (If not Molina, another veteran catcher could be signed as further depth, perhaps to a minor league deal rather than the MLB contract Molina will demand.) If the Padres did sign Molina or another noted veteran catcher, however, Mejia could suddenly be expendable.
It was back in July 2018 that Mejia was a much more prominent trade chip, as he was sent from the Indians to the Padres in exchange for both Brad Hand and Adam Cimber. At the time, Mejia was widely considered one of baseball’s top minor leaguers, ranked as high as fifth in Baseball Prospectus’ top-100 prospect ranking prior to the 2018 season. Over an even 2200 career plate appearances at the minor league level, Mejia has hit .295/.349/.462 with 58 home runs and looked all the world like a player ready for the Show.
Even in 2019, Mejia performed well enough in his first extended taste of Major League action that he seemed to be living up to the prospect hype. Despite two separate IL stints due to a knee sprain and an oblique strain, Mejia still hit a respectable .265/.316/.438 over 244 PA in 2019. Unfortunately, Mejia couldn’t come close to this form last season, hitting just .077/.143/.179 in 42 PA — with Hedges posting equally dismal numbers, it isn’t surprising that San Diego chose to shake up their catching corps at the deadline.
Mejia only turned 25 last month and is still close enough to his blue-chip prospect days that he would certainly generate some interest on the trade market. Any number of teams would like to upgrade their catching situation, ranging both from rebuilding clubs to would-be contenders. The Yankees, Phillies, Nationals, Mets, Braves, Marlins, Rays, Brewers, Reds, Angels, or Cardinals are some of the names in the latter group, and the two New York teams, St. Louis, and Anaheim have also been linked to Molina.
While lots of teams need catching, one of the outstanding questions about Mejia is whether or not he’ll ultimately stick at catcher over the long term. Mejia saw some action as a corner outfielder when he was in Cleveland’s farm system, and he also played four MLB games as a left fielder for the Padres in 2019. Obviously Mejia’s bat carries more value at catcher than at any other position, though showing an ability to at least passably play on the grass might not hurt Mejia’s trade value all that much, given how multi-positional versatility is so prized by modern front offices.
The Padres’ interest in Molina shows that the club has at least some inclination to alter its catching mix yet again, so this might be the position to watch since San Diego is otherwise pretty set elsewhere around the diamond. Rather than again deal from their deep farm system, the Padres could prefer to move an MLB-ready player like Mejia who might be in need of a change of scenery.