The Rangers are “surveying the market for a possible catching addition,” three sources tell Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. While the Rangers have had interest in Jonathan Lucroy all offseason, Grant cites another source in reporting that the Padres’ Derek Norris is a likelier target at this stage.
Norris, 27, is more affordable for the 2016 season ($2.9MM versus Lucroy’s $4MM), and he’s under control through the 2018 season, whereas Lucroy is controlled only through the 2017 campaign (by virtue of a club option following the upcoming season). While the $1.1MM difference between their 2016 seasons appears largely trivial relative to big league payrolls, Grant notes that the Rangers have already exceeded their projected payroll by $7MM (in large part due to their late signing of Ian Desmond).
Though he had somewhat of a down season at the plate last year, hitting .250/.305/.404, Norris has plenty of bat for the position and has amassed a .256/.333/.405 slash line dating back to 2013 despite playing his home games in the pitcher-friendly confines of Oakland’s O.Co Coliseum and San Diego’s Petco Park. He’s caught 27 percent of opposing base-stealers in the Majors, including a career-best 34 percent with the Padres in 2015. And, he delivered quality framing numbers last season in the eyes of Baseball Prospectus.
From the Padres’ vantage point, catching is a position of depth. Not only does the club have an experienced option in Norris, the club also has a pair of young backstops in the form of Austin Hedges and Christian Bethancourt. Each player has rated among the game’s top 100 prospects as recently as last offseason, though both did struggle in the Majors in 2015. The 23-year-old Hedges, considered one of the best defensive catching prospects in baseball, tallied 152 plate appearances in 2015 but batted a mere .168/.215/.248 in that stretch. Hedges tallied just enough plate appearances to surpass his rookie status, thus making him ineligible for prospect lists, but his defensive prowess and solid production in limited time at Triple-A in 2015 would’ve likely kept him ranked near the top of the Padres’ list of farmhands.
Bethancourt, like Hedges, has eclipsed rookie status despite struggles in the Majors. Acquired in an offseason swap with the Braves, the 24-year-old has hit just .219/.245/.283 in 278 big league plate appearances across the past few seasons with Atlanta. However, Bethancourt hit .327/.359/.480 in 218 Triple-A plate appearances last year and has received grades of 70 to 80 for his arm behind the plate (on the 20-80 scale). However, passed ball issues that some scouts believed he’d eventually correct never improved, resulting in an alarming 14 passed balls in just 73 games last season. Because he’s out of minor league options, Bethancourt will have to be placed on the Padres’ 25-man roster at the end of Spring Training or be exposed to waivers.
This won’t be the first time that Norris’ name has surfaced in trade talks. The Padres reportedly shopped both Norris and Hedges around a bit at the Winter Meetings, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported back in November. More recently (in February, to be exact), Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports said that the Padres were still exploring deals for Norris in Matt Kemp. If the Rangers add Norris, Grant writes, it would allow them to lessen the workload of Robinson Chirinos, perhaps starting him in 70 to 80 games with Norris taking on a slightly larger workload. Internal options for the Rangers would include Michael McKenry, Bobby Wilson and Chris Gimenez. Tigers backstop Bryan Holaday has also seen his name surface in trade rumors recently, as he looks to be third on the Detroit depth chart and is out of minor league options.