As we’ve approached the trade deadline, Derek Norris has been one of the foci of the Padres’ trade scenarios. The former All-Star catcher has been hot and cold for the Padres since he was acquired a year and a half ago, but it’s been more cold than hot. With Austin Hedges absolutely destroying AAA and Christian Bethancourt proving himself to be a capable backup catcher (as well as a bench bat, an outfielder in a pinch, and a surprisingly effective relief pitcher), it appears that the Padres are in a position of depth at a premium position. So why wouldn’t they want to trade Derek Norris to make room for wunderkind Hedges?
- Norris’ value is at an all-time low right now. Yeah, he has disproved the defensive concerns, but the offensive game has been slackin’. An early slump dug a big hole for Derek, and he recovered nicely for a while, but then he fell back in that hole. Now he’s below the Mendoza line, so he’s not seen as much of an upgrade over whatever AAAA catcher potential trade partners are relying upon.
- The trade partners just aren’t there right now. When Yan Gomes went down a couple of weeks ago, the Indians appeared to be a prime trade candidate. Now they seem happy to move on with their in-house options unless Jonathan Lucroy can be had for a fair price. The Mets and Texas are the only other teams in contention who might be in the market, but they’re in the same spot. Because of #1 above, they don’t see Norris as much of an upgrade over those guys.
- Norris is still affordable and could become more valuable. 2017 will be his first year of arbitration, and he isn’t due to hit free agency until 2019, so there’s a perceived value in his club control. If Hedges was brought up into some kind of timeshare with Norris, they could use Norris against lefty starters which would make his rate numbers look much much better. A couple of months of platooning, showing he can mash lefties would restore some of his value while keeping everyone’s legs fresh.
- Christian Bethancourt might also increase in value. In his first year with the Padres, he’s shown the “loud tools” that drew Preller’s interest. The cannon arm and power bat are legit, and he’s shown improvement with his defense. Another offseason of coaching could get him closer to being the defensive asset that he was touted to be coming up. On top of that, he’s thrived in part-time roles as pinch-hitter/DH, hitting a combined 10-for-22 with four walks and a homer. A case could be made to carry a third catcher if Norris and Bethancourt were used as options at 1B, LF, and as bench bats.
- This is the most important one from ownership’s standpoint. Austin Hedges currently has 154 days of service time. MLB considers one year of service time as 172 days. If Hedges logs 18 days of service time before the end of the season (including September roster expansion), his arbitration clock is advanced by a whole year. To reiterate: if the Padres can hold off until mid-August to call Hedges up, they could get an extra year of team control over their catcher of the future. With the Chihuahuas leading their division, they might opt to leave Hedges with the team through a championship run, and they could even keep him down for at least the first couple of months of next season. For this reason, if a need appeared on the MLB roster, I think Hector Sanchez gets recalled first.
Therefore, the Padres should not only hold off on trading Norris for less than he’s worth, but they have incentive to hold on to Norris until he can re-establish his value next season. By platooning him, he can put up better rate numbers. Between positional versatility, platoon splits, and selective battery matchups, they can make Norris and Bethancourt both appear more valuable by the time Hedges’ service time concerns are over, and they might even be able to use all three for the first half of the season to fluff up numbers while easing workloads on all three.