While most deadline buzz surrounding the Padres has involved Andrew Cashner and Melvin Upton, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link) reports that San Diego is also “pushing hard” to trade catcher Derek Norris.
Norris has been rumored as a trade candidate for months, thanks to the Padres’ rebuilding plans and the club’s desire to permanently promote top prospect Austin Hedges (who has crushed Triple-A pitching over the last two seasons). In his examination of the catching trade market, MLBTR’s Steve Adams described Norris as no less than “the likeliest player in all of baseball to get traded.”
The issue, however, is that Norris is on pace for the worst hitting season of his five-year MLB career. Norris is hitting just .204/.263/.379 with 12 homers over 312 plate appearances. His .247 BABIP indicates a bit of bad luck, though he also has a career-high with a career-high 28.8% strikeout rate. It seemed as if Norris had turned the corner by delivering an .824 OPS in June, though he has struggled again this month. On the plus side, Norris had traditionally been considered a poor defensive catcher but as per both Baseball Prospectus (FRAA) and Fangraphs (Defensive Runs Saved) metrics, Norris has been one of baseball’s better defenders behind the plate in 2016. He has also thrown out 16 of 55 baserunners trying to steal on him this season.
Despite the rough hitting numbers and now two straight years of a subpar on-base percentage, Norris should still garner some interest. He is only 27 and is controllable through the 2018 season, as he is earning $2.925MM this season in his first time through arbitration eligibility. It was only two years ago, of course, that Norris reached the All-Star Game as a member of the Athletics.
Jonathan Lucroy is unquestionably the top name among catchers available in trade talks, so it’s possible the Padres may not get any momentum towards a Norris deal until Lucroy is off the board. On the flip side, the Brewers are obviously asking for a lot in return for their star backstop, so teams unwilling or unable to meet Milwaukee’s price for Lucroy could turn to Norris as a cheaper alternative.
The Rangers and Indians have both been linked to Lucroy, though they’ve also been connected to other big-time targets — the Rangers for top starters like Chris Sale or several arms from the Rays’ rotation and the Tribe to Aroldis Chapman. If either club has to surrender a big prospect package to land one of those targets, they might not have the young talent necessary to get Lucroy, so Norris could be next up. Texas, notably, had interest in Norris in the offseason and even in April when Robinson Chirinos hit the DL. The Astros like Norris, SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo reports, though it isn’t clear whether Houston and San Diego are actively discussing a deal.