Padres, Hundley agree to contract extension
Deal good through 2014 season, with option for 2015
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Nearing the end of his meeting with reporters on Tuesday to discuss his new contract extension with the Padres, Nick Hundley motioned to a print of Petco Park hung on the wall.
"Look at that ballpark," Hundley said. "If you don't want to play there, you're nuts."
Completing a contract extension that dates back to talks in September with then-general manager Jed Hoyer, the Padres locked up the 28-year-old catcher to a club-friendly contract that guarantees him $9 million between now and 2014.
Hundley will make the $2 million he was set to make in 2012, $3 million in '13 and $4 million in '14, thus buying out all his arbitration years. The Padres hold a $5 million option for '15 with no buyout.
"I took the process as it went. It was the first time I've gone through it. At times, it was exciting, at times, it was stressful," Hundley said. "But in the end, it got done. I think that it's something I'm really excited about. I'm excited to be a Padre."
A member of the Padres organization recently said that Hundley was considered by his peers as the captain of the team, even though there's no official designation. That title, as is often the case, goes to a player who has more Major League service time than Hundley, who has appeared in 305 games.
"I think that I haven't done what my ultimate goals are in this game," Hundley said. "My goals are to win and to be one of the best catchers in the game. That's something I haven't accomplished yet."
Hundley, who debuted with the Padres in 2008, said he's willing to accept a leadership role and pass on some of the things others have done for him. He considers that part of his job.
"I think it [leadership] starts in your daily preparation. I've watched guys go about their daily business, guys like Chris Young and David Eckstein. I've watched [manager] Bud Black, the way he's consistent every single day," Hundley said. "It's really easy to follow guys like that. It really makes it easy to follow that lead."
Last season, Hundley missed 31 games with a right oblique strain. He later missed 32 games with a right elbow strain that eventually led to minor surgery. He returned on Aug. 12 and hit .367 the rest of the way -- an average that ranked fourth among all Major League players in the second half. His .844 OPS ranked tops in the National League.
Hundley, who threw out 32 of 57 would-be basestealers, has earned high marks from his manager, a former pitcher who said he's as critical of catchers as anyone on the field.
"I think it's great. He's at a spot in his career where he can feel good about where his career is headed," Black said. "Experience is the best teacher, and at that position, it really holds true. Nick is one of those players that when he walks through the clubhouse doors, other guys feel better."
Hundley has caught 76 games in each of the past two seasons, but he and the team feel that he can far surpass that figure in 2012.
"It's tough to put numbers on it. But if you pin me down on what number of games I want to catch, I'd say 120, 130," Hundley said.
Only three Padres catchers since 1999 have caught more than 100 games in a single season -- Ben Davis (135 games, 2001), Josh Bard (108 games, 2007) and Ramon Hernandez (108 games, 2004).
Hundley's contract falls in line with the kind of deal general manager Josh Byrnes made with center fielder Cameron Maybin this spring (five years and $25 million), a deal which benefits both team and player. Byrnes also made a handful of similar moves when he was the GM in Arizona. It's a model that Byrnes saw work when he was in John Hart's front office in Cleveland in the 1990s.
Hundley currently sits atop the organizational depth chart for catchers, with John Baker slated to be his backup this season. Not far off, though, is Yasmani Grandal, who was obtained in December from the Reds. Grandal is expected to open the season with Triple-A Tucson.
"To the extent we have too much catching, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Byrnes said. "It seems like teams that have that on paper, but a lot of things happen where it never turns out that way.
"I don't view it as an overcrowded situation. It might be that one day, but at this point, no."
A rising star in the system is 19-year-old Austin Hedges, who was selected in the second round of June's First-Year Player Draft and turned down UCLA. Hedges, who has plus defensive skills, that belie his age, will likely open the season with low Class A Fort Wayne.
For now, the job belongs to Hundley. Homegrown and drafted by the Padres in the second round of the 2005 Draft out of Arizona, Hundley is the son of a college football coach who has had numerous stops in his career. But for Hundley, there's satisfaction in knowing he's going to be a Padre for a while.
"For them to make a commitment to me before that's happened ... I look at that as a huge sign from them that they want me here. I appreciate that a lot," Hundley said.