With their strong finish to the 2012 season, the San Diego Padres were thought to be a potential underdog contender for next season. Those hopes took a significant hit on Wednesday, when Major League Baseball announced that starting catcher Yasmani Grandal has been suspended for 50 games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Grandal reportedly tested positive for high levels of testosterone.
Grandal, a former first round pick (2010) who came to the Padres in last off-season’s Mat Latos blockbuster deal, with the Cincinnati Reds, took the National League by storm after a mid-season call-up last season, hitting .297/.394/.469 in 60 games. The hot start firmly entrenched himself as the starter behind the plate for the Padres entering the 2013 season.
That duty, at least for the first 50 games, will now fall back to last year’s starter Nick Hundley, who struggled and was eventually replaced by Grandal as the every day starter. Hundley hit just .157 in 58 games in 2012 after posting an .824 OPS in 2011.
The bigger question, outside of the 50 games Grandal will miss, is what this holds for his future. Grandal has a strong offensive track record in the minor leagues, where drug testing is as strong if not stronger than it is in the majors, but his suspension brings into question the validity of his performance in the major leagues.
After a breakout major league debut, Grandal will now have to prove himself all over again at the major league level, and remain clean so we know that the performance, this time, is legitimate.
It also means that the Padres have to hold onto Hundley, who was thought to be one of their few viable trade chips this off-season. Despite his struggles, Hundley is still a strong catcher with a track record of decent offensive production (outside of 2012), and there would have been some teams interested in his services. Now, the Padres are forced to hold on to Hundley to be their starting catcher, at least for the first 50 games of the season.
But the real damage is to the reputation of Grandal, who was on the verge of becoming one of the game’s young stars. Certainly he’s been passing tests cleanly for years while in the major leagues, but the question still remains as to what kind of player he will be when clean, and how much of his production was tied to performance-enhancing drugs.