Rangers add catching depth with trade for Hedges

August 1st, 2023

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers finalized a trade with the Pirates on Tuesday that sent veteran catcher to Texas in exchange for international bonus pool money, the club announced ahead of Tuesday’s 5 p.m. CT Trade Deadline.

The Rangers were compelled to make the deal when All-Star catcher Jonah Heim landed on the injured list on Friday with a left wrist tendon strain. It’s expected that Mitch Garver and Sam Huff will continue to get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate, but the addition of Hedges provides roster and lineup flexibility until Heim returns.

“We feel like we want to carry three catchers, and I'm not going to call it an insurance policy, but it's a rotation between the three to cover while Jonah's out,” said general manager Chris Young. “We're very optimistic, and we'll have Jonah back at some point. I can't tell you when that'll be. 

“We also recognize that Sam is young, and we're going to be playing meaningful games. Mitch has had -- he's been banged up at times, and so we felt like getting Austin was a way to provide more protection at a very important position as we play meaningful games down the stretch.”

Hedges is, without question, a defense-first catcher. This season, he has accumulated eight defensive runs saved and ranks in the 96th percentile in pitch framing. Hedges has also drawn praise from the Pirates’ pitchers and coaching staff for his game-calling and intangibles.

The 30-year-old veteran of nine seasons does not, however, provide much value with his bat. This season, Hedges is hitting .180/.237/.230 with one home run. Among catchers with at least 150 plate appearances, Hedges’ 28 wRC+ ranks last.

“It's certainly something we value immensely,” Young said of Hedges’ defense. “We've been very fortunate that both Jonah and Mitch have been very good in that regard. Our catchers coach Bobby Wilson does a great job with these guys, and certainly, Austin will make us even better there. It's not the sole reason we targeted Austin. He's an experienced veteran player who's been in playoff environments and knows what it takes. He will add a level of leadership and comfort to a pitching staff that will hopefully serve him well.”

Hedges served as Pittsburgh’s starting catcher for most of this season, but he slid into a backup role when the team called up catching prospect Endy Rodríguez. Since Rodríguez made his Major League debut on July 17, Hedges has appeared in just four games.

Neither Garver nor Huff has the defensive prowess of Hedges and Heim, but both provide more on the offensive end. 

Garver won a Silver Slugger Award in 2019 with the Twins, but has struggled with injuries since then. Entering Tuesday, he was hitting .252/.341/.429 (111 OPS+) in 36 games between catcher and designated hitter this season.

Huff has spent most the year with Triple-A Round Rock, where he was hitting .298 with a .935 OPS, but he has struggled in limited opportunities at the big league level this season.

Heim, who last played on July 26, needs a few weeks of rest and will be re-evaluated in mid-August, but surgery remains an option.

“There's no specific timeline,” Young reiterated. “I think that we have a pretty good understanding of the injury. It's going to take a little bit of time, but our expectation is he will likely be able to hit from the left side before the right. I think all things considered, we're cautiously optimistic that he will be back in. Again, I don't want to commit to a timeline, but at this point, we expect him to resume baseball activities at some point in the coming weeks and hopefully, [he] will rejoin the team quickly.”