As FanRag.com’s Jon Heyman reported earlier this month, the Washington Nationals have a decision to make over the next twenty-four hours.
If the Nationals release Derek Norris, the team will only have to pay one-sixth of the $4.2M salary ($700K) the veteran catcher agreed to earlier this winter, when the two sides avoided arbitration after Washington acquired the backstop from the San Diego Padres.
Though they acquired Norris, the Nationals still ended up signing Matt Wieters to a 1-year/$10.5M free agent deal when the veteran catcher’s price came down this Spring.
“Since Norris’ $[4.2-million] salary is a non-guaranteed settlement before arbitration, it may be more likely he is released at one-sixth pay, and hooks on elsewhere as a free agent,” Heyman wrote, adding that MLB teams, “... are allowed to release players with such non-guaranteed deals on March 15, and it costs them only 30 days termination pay.”
While, “... some may look at it as a waste,” Heyman continued, Norris, “... gave [the Nationals] a hedge in case they didn’t sign Wieters,” and may have, “... aided their negotiation for Wieters.”
The Nationals were reportedly trying to trade Norris over the last few weeks, but as a “rival exec” told Heyman, some teams may have interest, but, “not at $4M.”
Last week, Heyman reported that the Nationals placed Norris on waivers, likely as a prelude to releasing the 28-year-old catcher.
“There is no likelihood anyone would claim [Norris] and take his $4.2-million salary at this stage,” Heyman wrote, adding that the, “... Nats are believed only responsible for 30 days termination pay (around $700K) if, as expected, they wind up releasing him.”
Norris is coming off a .186/.255/.328, 17 double, 14 HR, -0.4 fWAR campaign with the Padres in which he played in 125 games and made 458 plate appearances.
ESPN.com’s Buster Olney wrote on Twitter on Monday night that the Tampa Bay Rays, “...continue to have conversations about adding catcher Derek Norris, who was placed on waivers by [Washington] the other day.”:
“The Rays are having a good camp and have catchers experienced in working with [Tampa Bay’s] pitchers, and are wary of interrupting that relationship.
The Nationals offered Norris around, with offers to pay down some of his salary, before placing him on waivers. [Washington is] on the hook for 1/6 of Norris's $4.2m salary.”
The National have Jose Lobaton under contract through 2017, and backstop prospect Pedro Severino, described this winter as the Nats’ “catcher of the future” by Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo, as depth behind the plate should they decided to part ways with Norris in the next twenty-four hours.
Or they could keep him as Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell suggested in a chat with readers after the Nationals signed Wieters, arguing that Wieters and Norris could approximate the production the Nationals got from Wilson Ramos and Lobaton in 2016 (25 home runs and 88 RBIs).
“The biggest thing, perhaps,” Boswell wrote, “is that you won’t have 25, 35 or 45 games a season when your backup catcher starts, bats eighth and you figure you’ll get almost nothing out of him.”
And if Wieters were to struggle or get hurt?
Will they release Norris, an ‘07 Nationals’ 4th Round pick, to give him a chance to catch and potentially start in another organization?
Do the Nationals trust Lobaton or Severino to step in if Wieters goes down like Wilson Ramos did late last season?