The Guardians and catcher Austin Hedges are reportedly in agreement on a contract worth $4MM, according to Jon Heyman of the New York Post. As noted by MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, the pact is a one-year deal.
A second-round pick by the Padres in the 2011 draft, Hedges made his MLB debut with San Diego back in 2015. After spending the first two seasons of his big league career in a reserve role, Hedges as the Padres’ primary catcher from 2017 to 2019, slashing just .208/.265/.380 but earning excellent marks for his defense behind the plate. Hedges started the shortened 2020 campaign in San Diego but was shipped to Cleveland in a nine-player deal that brought Mike Clevinger to San Diego. Hedges made just six appearances throughout the remainder of the season following the trade, but became the regular catcher in Cleveland during the 2021 and 2022 seasons. It was more of the same for Hedges during his time in Cleveland, as he batted a paltry .168/.228/.274 while posting elite defensive numbers.
In his first trip to the open market last season, Hedges landed with the Pirates on a one-year, $5MM deal before being dealt to the Rangers at the Trade Deadline, with whom he won the World Series as part of a catching corps that also featured Jonah Heim and Mitch Garver. The 30-year-old’s characteristic mix of anemic offense and strong defense continued last season. In 212 trips to the plate, Hedges posted a career-worst slash line of .184/.234/.327. While that 27 wRC+ is a whopping 73% worse than league average, Statcast’s Fielding Run Value metric put him in the 99th percentile among all MLB players last season. Hedges ranked in the 98th percentile with +13 framing runs while also posting a 90th percentile +8 blocks above average.
Those defensive chops earned him another shot in Cleveland, where the Guardians surely hope he can act as a mentor to young catcher Bo Naylor behind the plate. Naylor impressed in 67 games last season with a slash line of .237/.337/.470 (124 wRC+), but his defensive metrics left something to be desired as he was only slightly better than league average in terms of framing and below average in terms of blocking and controlling the running game. Hedges should be able to guide Naylor in each of those areas while also helping him stay rested throughout the season. His strong defense and game-calling ability should also be an asset for the Guardians’ many young pitchers, including Tanner Bibee and Gavin Williams.