Posted on March 15, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Washington Nationals have announced that catcher Derek Norris has been released. Norris was placed on waivers last week, but with the Nationals unable to find a trade partner willing to take Norris, they were forced to release him. The Nationals parting ways with Norris has been all but inevitable since the team agreed to sign Matt Wieters last month. Washington traded for Norris early in the offseason with the expectation that he would be their primary catcher this season. However, that plan changed when the Nationals were able to sign Wieters at a reasonable price.
Since the Nationals released Norris today, they will only be on the hook for a portion of his $4.2 million salary, saving the club roughly $3.5 million. Washington appeared to give little consideration to retaining Norris to serve as the backup to Wieters, believing that $4.2 million was too much to spend on a backup catcher who hit just .186 last season. Instead, the Nationals will rely on Jose Lobaton to serve as the backup catcher, with youngster Pedro Severino also an option.
Norris, meanwhile, is now tasked with finding another job. Despite struggling to hit for average last season, he’s hit 14 home runs in each of the past two seasons with the San Diego Padres. Prior to his struggles in 2016, Norris posted solid offensive numbers throughout his big league career, especially for a catcher who’s strong defensively. For what it’s worth, Norris is 6 for 17 with two home runs in spring training action this year.
On the surface, it may be difficult for Norris to find a major league club willing to commit to him at this point in the spring. The $3.5 million salary attached to him won’t help; much like the Nationals, few teams will be interested in Norris unless he’s their primary catcher. That being said, there are a few potential suitors for him.
The Tampa Bay Rays appear to be at the top of the list, as they’ve already expressed interest in Norris, although not enough to work out a trade with the Nationals. The Rays signed former Washington catcher Wilson Ramos over the winter, but because of an ACL injury, he won’t play until this summer, and it’s still unclear when he’ll be able to resume his duties behind the plate. Norris could fill the void behind the plate for the Rays, at least until Ramos is ready. At the moment, Luke Maile and Curt Casali are expected to be Tampa Bay’s catchers, although neither is an established big league regular.
The Colorado Rockies could also be in the mix for Norris after the injury to Tom Murphy, who will sit the next four to six weeks because of a hairline fracture in his forearm. The Rockies were already taking a chance by having Murphy and Tony Wolters, both young backstops, share the duties behind the plate this year. Signing Norris could help solidify the catching situation for the Rockies, especially with such a young pitching staff.
The Milwaukee Brewers could also get involved, as they have three young catchers battling for playing time this spring and could benefit from a veteran like Norris taking the reigns. The Kansas City Royals are another possibility in the event the injury Salvador Perez suffered in the WBC is worse than initially thought.
At the moment, the Rays appear to be the most likely destination for Norris, although a few other teams are still on the table. He was caught in an unfortunate situation once the Nationals signed Wieters, but there’s no reason to think that Norris won’t catch on with another team before the start of the 2017 season.