Padres sign Nick Hundley long term, block prospect Yasmani Grandal’s path to the majors

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Nick Hundley and the Padres have agreed to a multi-year contract that covers 2013 and 2014 while including a team option for 2015.

Hundley was already signed for $2 million this season and under team control through 2014 via the arbitration process, so the Padres will pre-pay for two seasons of arbitration eligibility in exchange for some cost certainty and the option of buying out his first year of free agency.

Hundley has had trouble staying healthy, playing fewer than 90 games in each of his four seasons, but the 28-year-old hit .288 with a .347 on-base percentage and .477 slugging percentage in 82 games last season and has thrown out 28 percent of steal attempts for his career.

Prior to last season’s .824 OPS his career mark was just .699, so committing to Hundley rather than going year-to-year via arbitration is certainly a risk. However, he’s a rare player who actually thrives in the majors’ most pitcher-friendly ballpark, as Hundley has hit .271 with an .818 OPS at Petco Park compared to .240 with a .657 OPS on the road. Those splits are tough to explain and probably aren’t sustainable, but either way he’s a solid-hitting catcher with decent defensive chops and the Padres now have him locked up through age 31.

Now that Hundley is signed long term it’ll be interesting to see what the Padres do with catching prospect Yasmani Grandal, who was acquired from the Reds in the Mat Latos trade and ranks as the No. 53 prospect in the majors according Baseball America. Grandal is 23 years old and figures to begin this season at Triple-A, so he’ll be MLB-ready long before Hundley’s deal expires.

UPDATE: Corey Brock of MLB.com has the breakdown of Hundley’s deal. He’ll get $3 million in 2013 and $4 million in 2014, and the 2015 option is for $5 million. Cheap enough that he could be traded or perhaps even move into a backup role once Grandal arrives, maybe.

Mariners sign Ichiro to a minor league deal

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USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that the Mariners will sign Ichiro Suzuki to a minor-league deal. If he makes the roster he’ll make $750,000. At least until he retires.

I say that because it seems quite clear that the idea here, telegraphed since last season, is to activate Ichiro for the Mariners’ series against the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo on March 20-21 and for hoopla surrounding it all. The Mariners and A’s will have a 28-man roster for that series, which is officially part of the regular season schedule, but it will be pared back down to 25 once games begin in the United States.

Suzuki, 45, hit .205/.255/.205 in 47 plate appearances through May 2 last season, at which point he agreed to be deactivated to join the Mariners’ front office. Many assumed Ichiro would announce his retirement later that season or during the offseason, but the Japan Series soon crystalized as an obvious way for him to offer his final farewell to both his American and his Japanese fans.

Unless of course he goes 6-10 with three doubles in that series, at which point everyone will be tempted to keep him on the roster past Japan. Which, given the Mariners’ rebuild and likely poor performance this coming season, wouldn’t exactly be hurting anyone, would it?