The Tampa Bay Rays may have had their second stroke of luck on the open market in their catcher search this off-season. After previously signing the top catching free agent Wilson Ramos to a two-year deal, the Rays have come to terms with Derek Norris on a one-year contract. The deal does not include any options for 2018 or beyond, but the 28-year old Derek Norris remains arbitration eligible through the 2018 season, as he has not yet fulfilled his rookie contract obligations. Terms of his 2017 contract have not been released yet.
Norris was acquired by the Washington Nationals from the San Diego Padres this off-season (to replace Ramos, as it were). However, Norris was released after the Nationals’ surprise signing of Matt Wieters to a long-term deal; Norris cleared waivers, making him a free agent.
Our previous writing on Derek Norris indicates exactly why the Rays would be interested in a last minute addition of Norris.
Over the last two seasons Derek Norris has graded well with a +7 DRS over 244 games and 2,023.2 innings behind the plate. Last season saw his Caught Stealing rate dropped to 20.8% from 34.3% in 2015, but that may return to form.
Most importantly, though, Derek Norris has been among the better pitch framers in baseball since moving to the Padres in 2015.
Over the past two seasons, Norris has contributed +21.3 runs behind the plate, according to Baseball Prospectus’ Framing Runs. Baseball Prospectus’ FRAA (runs above average) credits Norris with +11.8 and +8.5 runs in each of the last two years.
Norris had a down year offensively last season, but as pointed out in the article above, had previously posted a 110 wRC+ from 2013-2015. Perhaps there was something behind his decline to his 55 wRC+ in 2016:
Once again, Derek Norris didn't get old overnight or forget how to hit, it's pretty obvious he got hurt. Question is if he's still that way? pic.twitter.com/zaoYuIGUHq— Sandy Kazmir (@SandyKazmir) March 15, 2017
But even if there isn’t a good reason, and this career low is the new Norris, the Rays have never shied away from poor hitting catcher in the past, even if that seemed to change with the Ramos signing.
Wilson Ramos is certainly an exciting addition for the club — don’t get me wrong — but the Rays could use a glove forward man to cover the time Ramos will certainly miss from behind the plate while he finishes his recover from knee surgery.
Derek Norris will sign with Tampa Bay. Chose Rays over 4 others for purposes of playing time.— Tim Brown (@TBrownYahoo) March 24, 2017
Ramos may be eligible to DH just a few weeks into the season, but isn’t expected to suit up until after the All-Star Break. Meanwhile, the leading candidate to take over behind the mask on Opening Day was the Mariner’s No. 4 catcher last season Jesus Sucre. As fun as that story might have been, Norris is a better addition.