Back in 2009, after Washington signed veteran catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez to a 2-year/$6M free agent deal.
General Manager Mike Rizzo talked about Rodriguez providing a bridge to their next generation of backstops.
"We thought we needed a veteran presence behind the plate, with the young pitching staff and a young prospect catcher in Jesus Flores,” Rizzo explained in an interview on Sirius/XM radio, as quoted by D.C. Sports Bog writer Dan Steinberg.
“We thought that we needed some veteran leadership, a guy who could mentor a staff.
“And to get him on a two-year deal kind of gives us a timetable to get our other catching prospect, Derek Norris, into the big leagues.”
Two years later, in July of 2011, in the midst of what ended up being a .210/.367/.446, 17 double, 20 home run campaign for Norris at Double-A Harrisburg in Washington’s system, former Director of Player Development and current Nationals’ Assistant GM and VP of Player Personnel Doug Harris talked to Sirius/XM host Grant Paulsen about the catcher and the Nats’ ‘07 4th Round pick’s development behind the plate.
"I think he's made significant strides this year,” Harris told Paulsen. "One, his body is in tremendous shape. His athleticism is very good for the position.
“He's received extremely well and he's done a really nice job calling and managing games."
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked that winter, as the catcher played in the Arizona Fall League for the second time, about Norris's offensive production in Double-A, and specifically about that .210 AVG the catcher posted over 104 games and 423 plate appearances.
"A [.210] batting average raised some eyebrows and was a concern to us, we're just trying to figure out why?" Rizzo said.
"We've spoken to our hitting coordinators, our hitting coaches and that type of thing," he continued.
"It was one of those things that I think he got into a real rut,” Rizzo said, explaining that Norris, then 22, might have been trying too hard to swing his way out of it.
"He kind of got into a hole and couldn't climb his way out and tried to go 5 for 5 with every at bat and kind of dug a deeper hole for him.
“But his other peripherals were good, his power was as good as we've ever seen it, and again, his catch and throw skills have dramatically improved. It's a testament to our player development, Doug Harris, and specifically Bob Boone and Pat Corrales have worked diligently with this guy on his defensive side of the game."
"We know [Norris] can hit," Rizzo continued. "We know he's got power, he's a high on-base percentage guy. He's got a short compact stroke. We know he can hit. Package that with a plus arm, and now his feet are working, he's blocking pitches and pitchers love throwing to him. That's a really exciting package for us going into next season."
A month later, however, Rizzo dealt Norris, along with right-handers A.J. Cole and Brad Peacock and left-hander Tommy Milone to the Oakland A’s in the trade that brought lefty Gio Gonzalez (and RHP Robert Gilliam) to the nation’s capital.
Trading the prospect package wasn’t easy, Rizzo explained at the time, saying that he gave up, “...four players that are near and dear to our hearts because we scouted them, drafted them, signed them and developed them and they were long-standing members of our organization, and they'll be sorely missed."
Norris debuted in the majors with the A’s in 2012, and put up a .246/.336/.392 line with 43 doubles and 26 home runs in 285 games and 982 plate appearances in Oakland.
In 2014, the backstop got his first opportunity to play against the team that drafted and developed him, and he went 4 for 9 with two three-run home runs off the pitcher he was traded for in the three-game set. He talked before the series about wanting to show the Nationals what they gave up.
Norris: "You wanna show them, this is what you’re missing. Not in a drastic, blatant manner, but showing them this is what you coulda had."— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) May 10, 2014
He was dealt to San Diego in December of 2014, after a .270/.361/.403, 19 double, 10 home run season with the A’s.
Over two seasons, 272 games and 1,015 PAs with the Padres in 2015-16, Norris had a .222/.283/.370 line, 50 doubles and 28 home runs, finishing the 2016 campaign with a .186/.255/.328 line, 17 doubles and 14 home runs in 125 games and 458 PAs.
Last night, the Nationals reacquired the right-handed hitting and throwing catcher in a trade that sent minor league righty Pedro Avila to the Padres.
Norris talked to Washington Post reporters Chelsea Janes and Jorge Castillo about his offensive struggles in 2016 after the trade was announced.
“I’m not a huge excuse maker,” Norris said. “It was just one of those unfortunate years. The ball bounces here a certain way, the ball bounces there a certain way.
At the end of the day when you get off to a bad start and you don’t do what you’re capable of doing, you start to try to get six hits a night to make up for it and then you’ve dug yourself a bigger hole.”
Norris said he spoke to Rizzo after the deal was announced, but not about what role he will fill in 2017, though he was headed to Spring Training with the intention of claiming the starting job.
Will the coaches in the Nats’ system who drafted and developed him help Norris improve defensively?
He’s struggled with passed balls and throwing out runners in the majors, though the Nationals did point to his pitch-framing abilities in a press release on the deal, noting that, “[a]ccording to Baseball Prospectus, Norris ranked 10th in Major League Baseball in framing runs above average (9.2).”
Norris joins Jose Lobaton, Pedro Severino, Spencer Kieboom and Raudy Read as the five catchers on the Nationals’ 40-Man Roster.