Posted on March 2, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
When the Washington Nationals signed catcher Matt Wieters earlier this month, it created a logjam for them behind the plate, with four viable backstops on the roster. It now appears, as many suspected, that Derek Norris will be the odd man out, despite the Nationals trading for him early in the offseason with the intention of making him their primary catcher. MLB insider Jon Heyman is reporting that the Nationals are now attempting to trade Norris, but could end up releasing him later this month if they can’t find a trade partner.
In theory, Norris would make a great backup to Wieters, especially coming off a season in which he hit just .186. However, Norris is set to make $4.2 million this season, which is a lot to pay a backup catcher. Washington also has a couple other catchers who are perfectly suited to be the backup in Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino. Lobaton has served as the backup the past three seasons, and so he is a known commodity for the Nationals. Meanwhile, the team is quite high on the 23-year old Severino, who excels on the defensive side of the ball.
This points to Norris being traded, but that may not be so easy. With his $4.2 million salary, teams are unlikely to trade for Norris unless he’s a lock to be their starting catcher. At this point in spring training, the only teams with uncertainty at the catching position are rebuilding teams who are likely to have a losing record in 2017 regardless of whether they have Norris and his $4.2 million salary on their roster. It doesn’t help that Norris had such a disappointing season offensively in 2016.
If there’s an exception, it could be the Chicago White Sox. The Nationals and White Sox worked out a trade for Adam Eaton earlier this winter and they’ve had discussions regarding closer David Robertson in recent weeks. It would obviously take a lot more than Norris to land Robertson, but he could be shipped to Chicago as part of the package that gives the Nationals Robertson. However, the White Sox appear far more interested in Severino, who the Nationals would be reluctant to give up. It’s also unclear if the Nationals are still in the market for a closer after signing Joe Blanton earlier this week.
The Tampa Bay Rays are another team that could theoretically be interested in Norris, as they reportedly made an offer to Wieters before he signed with Washington. The Rays are lacking quality a bonafide starter behind the plate until former Washington catcher Wilson Ramos returns from the knee injury he suffered last September. Norris could help fill the void until Ramos comes back, although the Rays may not be willing to give up much for him in a trade and then pay his $4.2 million salary.
If the Nationals can’t find a taker for Norris, they seem to be learning towards releasing him. Since Norris agreed to terms with the Nationals before going to arbitration, his contract is not yet guaranteed. If the club releases him before March 15, they will only have to pay one-sixth of his salary, which is roughly $700,000.
That doesn’t sound like the ideal resolution for a player who was an all-star as recently as 2014. However, the Nationals would be saving more than $3 million and solving their logjam behind the plate, allowing Lobaton, or possibly Severino, to serve as the backup catcher. It could be looked at as wasteful, especially after the Nats went out of their way to trade for Norris a few months ago, but at this point, Norris getting released within the next two weeks may be the most likely scenario.