Derek Norris greeted his return to the organization that drafted him in 2007 with excitement when he learned the Washington Nationals acquired him this winter.
“I look forward to taking this pitching staff to the highest level and working with them and getting to know them and driving in some runs and getting on base and winning some ballgames, and that’s ultimately my goal and I think we share that in common,” Norris told reporters in December.
He remained upbeat and practical when the Nationals signed Matt Wieters late last month.
“Personally, I think anyone that’s a competitor wants to be in there every single day,” Norris said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman:
“I’m always going to strive to better myself to help the team win. Whatever happens, happens. But as of right now, today, I’m going out and I want to start Opening Day and start every single day. Obviously that’s probably not going to be the way things pan out, but that’s the kind of player I am and always will be.”
As Washington Post writer Jorge Castillo, among others, noted after the Nats signed Wieters to a 1-year/$10.5M deal, manager Dusty Baker, “... strongly implied that the club [would] try to trade the 28-year-old Norris,” who avoided arbitration and agreed on a 1-year/$4.2M deal for 2017 after he came to the Nationals.
Finding a taker for the catcher, who’s coming off a .186/.255/.328, 17 double, 14 HR, -0.4 fWAR campaign with the San Diego Padres, is apparently not going to be easy, however.
“Not at $4 million,” a “rival exec” told FanRagSports.com’s Jon Heyman, as quoted in an article on Thursday about what the future holds for Norris.
“Since Norris’ $4-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, noting that major league teams, “... are allowed to release players with such non-guaranteed deals on March 15, and it costs them only 30 days termination pay.”
It would cost the Nationals $700K to part ways with the veteran backstop, according to Heyman, and while, “... some may look at it as a waste,” he added, Norris, “... gave them a hedge in case they didn’t sign Wieters,” and may have, “... aided their negotiation for Wieters.”
The Nationals have 23-year-old backstop Pedro Severino, described by GM Mike Rizzo as the “catcher of the future” this winter, veteran backup Jose Lobaton and prospect Raudy Read on the 40-Man Roster along with Wieters and Norris at this point, and 25-year-old catcher Spencer Kieboom in limbo at the moment after the Nationals DFA’d the 2012 Draft pick to make room on the roster for reliever Joe Blanton.
Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell argued for keeping both Wieters and Norris in a post-Wieters-signing chat with readers, suggesting you could effectively replace the production the Nationals got from Wilson Ramos and Lobaton last season (25 home runs and 88 RBIs) with the new duo.
“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.”
Will the Nationals pay Norris $4.2M to back up Wieters and provide insurance? Baker told reporters he didn’t think that would be fair to Norris.
“There’s a chance of [him staying]... and we urged him to work hard,” Baker told reporters, including the WaPost’s Castillo after Wieters signed.
“You don’t know. What if Wieters comes in and gets hurt right away? That’s a very volatile position. But you don’t want to have him waiting and as an insurance guy either, waiting around for him to get hurt because that’s not right. He’s a stand-up guy and knows that somebody is always watching you out there.”
Will they pay $700K to release Norris and let him catch on somewhere else if they can’t find even a prospect like Pedro Avila (the return the Nats sent to the Padres for Norris) in a deal for the catcher?