Astros: Derek Norris an option?
By Cody Poage
While the catcher position isn’t an immediate concern for the Astros, it could become a top priority in the offseason.
The duo of Jason Castro and Evan Gattis seem to be chugging along just fine as the two catchers on the Astros 25-man roster this season. Sure, each have their fair share of warts as players, but that combo has led to a stability at catcher since Gattis’ return from Corpus Christi earlier in the season.
All of that said though, this current catching platoon shouldn’t exclude the Astros from taking a thorough look at the market for catchers leading up to the trade deadline.
Per a recent report from SB Nation’s MLB Daily Dish, there have been rumblings that the Astros could take a glance towards a catcher or two as a potential trade target. And Derek Norris, currently of the San Diego Padres, could be a player of interest for the Astros.
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But does that make sense from the Astros perspective, and would the Padres be willing to make such a deal?
In a way, yes.
From the Astros point of view, there is very little certainty beyond this season at the catcher position. After all, Castro is scheduled to enter free agency for the first time of his career, and while the Astros will certainly entertain resigning him the fact remains that starting catchers are a hot commodity on the open market. And despite his offense being somewhere between inconsistent to serviceable, Castro’s defense and pitch receiving abilities are his calling card. His RAA of 11.1 and +Calls of 83 lend creditability to that notion. So it is possible that Castro may receive a contract offer that is out of the Astros comfort zone.
And while Gattis has experience as a catcher with the Braves and now the Astros, it would be doubtful to see the Astros turn over the starting catcher role to “El Oso Blanco”. Sure, his splits when he plays at catcher and designated hitter is certainly noticeable.
The current Astros backup catcher is more renowned for his bat than his work behind the plate. But offense isn’t the only factor to consider when examining a catcher’s overall worth. Defense and pitch receiving is also major part of the equation. For example, Gattis’ RAA of -0.5 is ranked below that of former Astros backup catcher, Erik Kratz, at -0.2.
Quite simply the Astros need an answer at catcher if the team fails to re-sign Castro this offseason. While it would be optimal to call up from within, i.e., Max Stassi, the front office in Houston may be willing to acquire more catching depth to cover their bases. So there reasonably could be a fit for the Astros if the organization feels strongly this summer that Castro won’t be back in 2017.
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And to be honest, Norris on paper would be a fit on multiple fronts. One is his ability to be a useful Major League starting catcher.
While it is true that Norris has struggled mightily this season (.208/.265/.396), he has a track record of past success as an All-Star in the AL West when he was a member of the Oakland Athletics (see 2014 WAR, 2.6). And his RAA is currently within the top ten of all catchers in Major League Baseball this season. For comparison sake, Castro is also in the top ten in the same category.
Norris also has two more years of arbitration eligibility following the 2016 season. That could be a major factor for a team like the Astros that desire payroll flexibility.
So how does this fit for the Padres?
Well, San Diego’s general manager A.J. Preller may be open to a plethora of trade ideas involving his roster. The Padres are a sinking ship this season with a 36-48 record in the Giants and Dodgers led NL West. It is hard to imagine any player being untouchable on the Padres roster, which make the possibility of Preller trading Norris even more favorable. And if the Astros offered a prospect or two then that may be enough to sway the Padres to part ways with the struggling catcher.
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Despite Norris being a potential fit for the Astros, it is rather doubtful that the front office will make a move for another catcher this season. For one, how would you rotate the trio of Castro, Gattis, and Norris if all three end up on the same major league roster? Sure, the Astros could trade Castro or Gattis to make room, but at the same time they may choose not to go that route. However, the idea of adding a former All-Star catcher with financial flexibility is surely tempting.
**Statistics provided by Fangraphs & StatCorner**