The chances it happens are as close to zero as it can get without actually being zero, but when Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reported the San Diego Padres are talking trade with clubs about multiple players including Derek Norris, I couldn’t help it.
It, in this instance, is when I hear a player’s name I spend 11.7 seconds checking my own gathered notes, the player’s age, contract status and recent production, including what the defensive metrics say about him. So, I did that with Norris, and just as I remembered, just as I suspected, Norris is a perfect fit for the Seattle Mariners. Again, highly, highly unlikely the Mariners will get involved here or could even afford to trade cost to land Norris, but it’s an interesting thought. Stay with me.
We’ve talked, seemingly ad nauseam, about who the heck is going to be the backup first baseman and take the at-bats from Adam Lind when a left-handed starter is the opponent. For the record, my stance remains the same; if that player is purely a bat without the ability to play anywhere else on the field, it makes no sense to clog the roster’s flexibility and carry him. They’re better off going with a mix of more versatile defenders who can make contact and run. But Norris is a different story, starting with the fact that he can catch.
Norris has about 120 innings of experience at first base, too, and he hits left-handed pitching very well. He’s a better first-base option than anyone else being discussed for the role. Steve Clevenger is slated to be Chris Iannetta‘s backup, but it’s difficult to see him warranting more than 30-40 starts, anyway, based both off his ability to do it defensively as well as his track record of struggles versus left-handed pitching, not unlike Lind, just in a much smaller sample.
Why not carry Iannetta, Clevenger and Norris?
No catcher should carry the load over 115 games or so, including Salvador Perez, if a club can void it. And if you have two quality options the time can be shared even further, keeping them both healthier and ready to produce into October. Norris can gather some at-bats at first base and designated hitter when he’s not starting behind the dish and Clevenger can be used when the matchup suggests so. The chances Iannetta and Clevenger both stay healthy all year are not high, either, and as of right now the Mariners’ No. 3 catcher is probably Steven Lerud, a 31-year-old minor league journeyman who has nine games of experience in the big leagues, including just 15 plate appearances.
It’s not perfect, and we’ll get to that in a minute, but it’s a significantly better scenario than any presently facing the Mariners as they prepare for the 2016 season. Norris’ experience at first base is indeed limited, but 120 innings is 120 innings more than Seth Smith, Nelson Cruz and Stefen Romero have combined. Dae-ho Lee, another option if you want to call him that, is a bad defender and nobody is sure he’ll hit big-league pitching just yet, despite his time overseas as a prolific slugger.
The issues, aside from the Mariners likely not having the kind of trade inventory to acquire such a player, include Norris and Iannetta certainly preferring to catch 100-plus games each, and the last time I checked (about June, 1979), there are but 162 games in a season of Major League Baseball. In case you’re wondering, Iannetta has very limited experience at first base, totaling 19 innings and just five since 2011.
Norris’ presence could completely change the Mariners’ dynamic offensively. Versus lefties, he’s is a career .293/.368/.479 hitter and posted a .295/.351/.459 slash line versus southpaws a year ago playing at Petco Park. Not to mention he’d serve as the future catcher for the club, with Iannetta only under contract for 2016 and nothing near a guarantee Mike Zunino figures things out sooner than later.
Norris, 27 this weekend, has two more years of arbitration after settling year one with a $2.925 million deal with the San Diego Padres last month. If you’re the Padres here, you want some semblance of a youth infusion in return for three control years of Norris, perhaps including pitching and/or a shortstop prospect, or you’re keeping him. The M’s don’t have any of that, really, unless GM A.J. Preller is OK with acquiring talent two or more years from contribution maturity. Numerous clubs will inquire about Norris and nearly all of them will have more to offer than Seattle.
But despite the match not being there, this is the kind of resolution that one can file in the ‘perfect’ folder for the Mariners in 2016; adds offense, flexibility defensively (three that can catch), hides a weakness (Lind vs. LHP) and offers a legit regular catching option for 2017 and 2018 with a player under 30 years of age, buying Jerry Dipoto and company more time to find the future at the position. Such an addition might be the difference between staying the race through July and fading like 2015, too. And even if Zunino ends up the answer, the next time a club has too much catching will be the first.
Jason A. Churchill
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