On the eve of the MLB Winter Meetings, the Washington Nationals — quasi-hosts of the affair at the Gaylord National at National Harbor — made a splash (though not the big one, yet), acquiring former all-star catcher Derek Norris from the San Diego Padres in exchange for minor league pitcher Pedro Avila.
Notice I didn’t refer to Avila as “prospect?”
Avila, 19, signed as a non-drafted free agent out of Venezuela in 2014 and spent the 2016 campaign at Low-A Hagerstown, with a 7-7 record in 20 starts with a 3.48 ERA, a 4.27 FIP, 38 walks (3.68 BB/9) and 92 Ks (8.90 K/9) in 93 innings pitched.
So let’s get that out of the way early -- the Nats gave up next to nothing to acquire Norris.
Norris admittedly had a sub-par season in ’16, hitting .186/.255/.328 with 17 doubles and 14 homers (-0.4 fWAR). In his 2014 all-star campaign, Norris hit .270/.361/.403 in Oakland. The past two years in the cavern for right-handed hitters that is Petco Park, Norris’ numbers have been depressed. Perhaps a change of scenery to a more fair ballpark will be enough to jump-start his offensive game.
On the defensive side, Norris is no Wilson Ramos, but not many are.
Norris is a big target and a decent receiver. He’s slightly above-average in framing and possesses an okay throwing arm. He’s a passable defensive starting MLB catcher.
That’s a drop from what the Nats have had the past several seasons, but fans were going to have to come to grips with that regardless.
Almost anyone they acquired would have been inferior defensively.
The other thing is the money. Norris made $2.925 million last season and is due roughly $4 million in arbitration this year, and has one more year of arbitration-eligibility after that. He’s in his prime and controllable for two more seasons.
Buying low on a controllable former All-Star who was once in your system is a total Rizzo thing to do.
As for Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino...
Lobaton is what’s known as a “Sunday catcher,” a guy that plays once a week to give the workhorse starter a day off his feet, generally playing the day game following a night game. It’s what he is, and that’s not a knock, because that’s still a valuable commodity in the Majors and the reason why the Nats acquired him.
Despite his impressive offensive numbers in his brief trial late last season, Severino doesn’t really have the pedigree to start in the Majors either.
He’s a lifetime .243/.294/.338 hitter in six minor league seasons. That doesn’t scream “everyday big league player” regardless how good a defensive catcher he is.
The Nats needed an everyday starting catcher. They acquired one almost for free.
It’s a low-risk, medium-reward deal that doesn’t impact any other moves the Nats want to make this weekend, this off-season, or the next two years.