When the MLB offseason began, the Washington Nationals faced a few questions. One of those questions revolved around what the club would do behind the plate. Catcher Wilson Ramos had suffered a torn ACL late in the season and was set to become a free agent. Ramos has since signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.
To help fill their catching void, the Nationals went out and traded for Derek Norris from the San Diego Padres. Norris is a former top prospect with the Nationals but was traded away early in his professional career in the deal that saw Gio Gonzalez come to the Nation’s Capital. Norris would end up in Oakland, where he spent three seasons before two with the Padres.
Norris is coming off a down season, as strikeouts have become a major issue for the young catcher. He batted a brutal .186, struck out 139 times over the course of 415 at bats but did manage to hit 14 homers. He will be entering the prime age of 28 this coming season, and given the 33 doubles and 14 homers he hit back in 2015, there is certainly hope he could turn things back around. Norris did battle through a handful of minor injuries last season, dealing with elbow, quad and shoulder issues at various points during the 2016 season.
So despite the poor overall batting line in 2016, there is certainly hope for Norris in the coming year. Given the team’s current roster, he would hand down be their opening day starter behind the plate. But there is a chance that does not happen. According to MLBTradeRumors.com, there is a sense among some officials in the game that the Nationals may end up signing Matt Wieters, who has yet to see his market develop.
Given the lack of buzz surrounding Wieters, it seems the Nationals may see an opportunity to grab the signal caller at a rate cheaper than initially expected at the open of the offseason. If the club does land Wieters to be their catcher in 2017 and beyond, they would be expected to flip Norris. If that were to happen, Norris would be yet to play a game in a Nationals uniform, despite being on the club twice in his career.
But I have to ask, why are the Nationals even considering Wieters? With Norris in the fold, pursuing a catcher who is three years his elder for what would be a higher annual cost for fairly similar stats if both men played to their potential, is a puzzling move to this writer.
Norris is under contract for two more seasons, both of which are years of arbitration. He is projected to make roughly four million this coming season. Assuming he does not have a monster season in 2017, I would say a project of roughly six million is a fair guess for 2018. Wieters, even if he comes at a discount, will likely land a deal worth at least six and a half million a year, and more likely in the range of seven or seven and a half million. Two years are a safe bet for him as well, probably with an option or a guaranteed third year.
So overall, the contracts would be pretty similar, but still, Wieters would cost more. Given Norris is the one entering his prime, and Wieters is now over the age of 30, it is pretty safe to say Norris has the higher ceiling of the two if they were to both have a breakout year, which Norris is also more likely to do.
At this point in his career, we pretty much know what we are getting with Wieters. He has dealt with his handful of injuries throughout his career, so he is never a good bet to play a fully healthy season. He will provide you with solid power, hitting over 20 homers in his prime for three straight seasons. But that was back in 2011-2013, and his 17 last year was his highest total since then thanks to injury-plagued years in 2014 and 2015.
So the bottom line is Wieters has never proven to be anything special, despite the high expectations that were placed on him when he was drafted in the first round by the Orioles back in 2007. The Nationals drafted Norris in the fourth round of that same draft, and he too has yet to fully live up to the full expectations from when he was a prospect. But the key difference is that three year age difference between the two.
So why not just give Norris a shot? Pursuing Wieters seems to have little upside for a Nationals club that is expected to compete for the World Series in 2017. Their priority should be on bringing in a new closer after the departure of Mark Melancon and failed pursuits of Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. Bringing in Wieters offers no value at this point in time for the Nats.