It’s only been a couple of days since Derek Norris cleared release waivers and officially became a free agent, but the veteran backstop has received interest from “about a half-dozen teams,” per Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). Brown doesn’t list specific clubs, though both Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times and Buster Olney of ESPN.com linked the Rays to Norris earlier this week.
The Nationals were unable to trade Norris following their signing of Matt Wieters to a two-year contract, but that was due largely to the $4.2MM price tag that was attached to Norris. Now that he’s a free agent, he can be signed by any club for any amount. It’s probably fair to assume that some of the clubs that have expressed interest are hoping to land Norris on a minor league pact, though it’d hardly be a surprise to see the former American League All-Star land a guaranteed deal with a lower base salary than the $4.2MM he was set to receive from the Nats prior to his release. (That sum itself wasn’t fully guaranteed, as is the nature of most arbitration agreements, meaning Norris received about one-sixth of that figure, or $688K, upon being released.)
Norris was an above-average bat from 2013-15 with Oakland and San Diego, and although he tied a career-high with 14 home runs last season, his overall production cratered across the board. In 458 trips to the dish, Norris hit just .186/.255/.328 with a vastly elevated 30.3 percent strikeout rate. It may be of interest to some that there was a section of the 2016 campaign where Norris looked more like his typical self; the 28-year-old got off to an awful start and finished the season in similarly dreadful swoon, but from early May through mid-July, Norris was actually rather productive. Over a stretch of 199 plate appearances, Norris hit .249/.317/.486 with 11 of his 14 long balls. His strikeout rate, while still a lofty 27 percent, was slightly better in that stretch as well.
That’s of course just one fairly limited sample, but it does serve as a reminder that Norris is more than capable of providing above-average offense. As recently as 2015, he batted .250/.305/.404 — perfectly respectable output for a catcher — and a year prior he delivered an impressive .270/.361/.403 slash.
Norris has been inconsistent in terms of throwing out baserunners in his career, with his single-season caught-stealing rates ranging anywhere from 17 percent in 2014 to 34 percent in 2015. But in the aggregate, he’s caught potential thieves at a roughly league-average 26 percent clip, and more recently, he’s graded out as a quality pitch framer.
Given the fact that Norris was widely viewed as a potential trade asset as recently as one year ago, it’s not difficult to imagine a number of clubs expressing some level of interest. The Rockies just lost Tom Murphy to a hairline fracture in his forearm, for instance, though they do still have two catchers with MLB experience in the form of presumptive starter Tony Wolters and Dustin Garneau. The Brewers are set to trot out an inexperienced mix of catchers headlined by Jett Bandy and Andrew Susac. The Angels, meanwhile, are likely to deploy light-hitting Martin Maldonado and Carlos Perez as their two primary receivers in 2017. The White Sox, too, are lacking in depth options beyond veteran Geovany Soto and their own inexperienced young backstop, Omar Narvaez. And the Twins still aren’t one hundred percent certain who will back up offseason addition Jason Castro, for whom Norris would make a solid right-handed complement.
All of those names, of course, are speculative on my behalf. But, now that the price tag for Norris has dropped considerably from its previous level, there should be some degree of competition for his services despite the fact that his most recent season was the worst of his career.