The Rays could use help on offense any way they can get it, but perhaps no other position is in as much of a need for an offensive upgrade than behind home plate. There have been some bright spots, such as Dioner Navarro in 2008 (.295/.349/.407) and John Jaso in 2010 (.263/.372/.378), but finding offense from the catcher position has been an ongoing battle for the Rays.
Late last week, SB Nation's Chris Cotillo reported that, while the Rays are considering dealing away short-term contracts, the team remains in the market for another catcher before this week's trade deadline.
The most exciting trade target is probably Jonathan Lucroy. The former MVP candidate brings offense, defense, and a few years of very friendly team control. However, he also carries a very hefty price tag that might not be the best choice for a team looking to straddle the line of buying and selling.
However, there is another catcher that might be available in the Rays price range, a player already traded twice in his career playing for a team that is actively selling: Derek Norris.
Nor-Cal to So-Cal
Derek Norris was sent to Oakland from Washington as a piece in the Gio Gonzalez trade, and quickly started to showcase some legit power (.151 career ISO) and on-base ability (9.6% career). 2014 proved to be his breakout season.
The then 25-year-old catcher grew into an All-Star, ending the year with a line of .270/.361/.403, including 10 HRs and 19 2Bs. In that year he also achieved career highs with a .341 wOBA and a 122 wRC+ (good for a 3.0 fWAR season).
This past off season San Diego built themselves a brand new team, adding Norris as their new backstop. For Norris, much like most of San Diego's off season promise, 2015 has been a bit of a disappointment.
Norris is walking less (5.2% vs 12.2% in 2014), striking out more (24.2% vs 19.5%), hitting less line-drives (13.0% vs 18.7%), and swinging at more pitches outside the zone (28.0% vs career 23.1%). This has lead to career worsts in both wOBA (.292) and wRC+ (89).
While Norris has underwhelmed in many aspects at the plate, it's worth noting he is also hitting for more power (ISO .164 vs .132) and already has a career high 11 HRs, eight of which have been hit through the marine layer of San Diego.
Compared to his 2014 season (below), Norris has generated more deep fly-balls and line drives to the opposite field this season (above).
If Norris can continue to improve his power to all fields, and avoid slipping back into the heavy pull hitter he was in Oakland, he could generate even greater numbers in the future.
Mix in some better luck (current BABIP of .275 vs prior two seasons in Oakland of .294) and a return to his more patient approach at the plate, and Norris should see some positive regression going forward.
Norris the Catcher
On the positive side, Derek Norris' 2015 season has been far and away his statistically best as a defender.
Accoding to Fangraphs' Defense (Def) rating, Norris is currently sitting at 7.2, tied for the sixth best score along side our very own Rene Rivera. Only two players have a score higher than seven, with Yadier Molina at 8.7, and Salvador Perez at 9.3. Adding to that score, Norris also has a respectable caught stealing rate of 35.6% (compared to Rivera's 40.4%, topped by Yadier at 42.1%.
However, even in his best year as a defender, Norris still shows that he is not a very polished catcher. He has 9 passed balls (Rivera - 4), second most behind only Russell Martin's 16 PBs, and that dude has to catch R.A. Dickey. In a tale of two stats, Norris has thrown out the most base-runners (31) but has allowed the 2nd most stolen bases (56!).
Photo credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Norris also rates fairly poor as a pitch framer for his career, though 2015 has shown some statistical improvement.
In terms of oStr% (the number of called strikes caught outside the strike zone) Norris (8.5%) ranks above current starter Rene Rivera (7.3%), and top trade candidate Jonathan Lucroy (7.8%). In calls per game Norris is averaging 0.64, which also ranks above Rivera (0.51) and Lucroy (0.48). However, Norris still ranks far below league leaders this season, with the player at the very top of the list just so happens to be his teammate (and potential replacement) Austin Hedges (12.1 oStr%, and averaging 3.10 per game).
Showing flexibility, Norris has also played a little bit at 1B this year (just 23 innings). Whether or not he could be used for any extended amount of time at 1B remains to be seen. Still, that bat should play. With his defensive shortcomings behind the plate, Norris profiles best as a back-up catcher and DH platoon.
With Norris's down year at the plate, lack of DH opportunities in the National League, and with a former top prospect at his position pushing him aside in Hedges, the Padres could decide to move on from Norris for some young help to retool their team at the deadline.
Having recently acquired him, this past off-season's trade should set the price pretty well: Derek Norris and SP Seth Streich (mlb.com ranked 19th in the Padres organization) for SP Jessie Hahn and RP R.J. Alvarez (mlb.com ranked 11th in A's organization).
A starting point for the Rays could be a middle of the rotation candidate similar to what Hahn offered Oakland, plus an exchange of top 20 organization prospects. But with Norris taking a step back statistically, and with a year knocked off his contract, the price could come down a hair.
Norris is set to enter his first year of arbitration this off season, and will not be a free agent until 2019. He provides a young power bat at a position in desperate need of some offensive life.
There's still a chance that with coaching and time, Norris could increase his value by improving a bit as a defender, but even if his glove never improves, Norris still offers an intriguing option for the next few years.