This idea received a brief mention earlier in the offseason, but with spring training approaching and the depth chart behind the dish the same as it was in December, it's time to revisit one option that could suit the Astros well. Derek Norris, currently with the San Diego Padres and formerly with the Oakland Athletics, is a 27 year-old backstop with some thump in his bat. The Padres have three viable big league catchers on their roster at the moment, meaning that Norris could be on the move at some point as Ken Rosenthal mentioned just a couple of days ago.
Why Norris? Well, there aren't a lot of teams out there that have the depth at catcher that San Diego currently possesses, especially at the major league level, which is all that Houston should be considering with their "going for it all" mentality. We're going to take a look at the three-year averages for each catcher in a number of offensive categories, look at their splits against righties and southpaws and also some of their defensive metrics. While Norris would be taking the spot of Max Stassi, not Castro, if he were to be added to the roster, Norris would be playing more than a regular backup catcher.
Castro's numbers are inflated a bit because of his big 2013 campaign, where he posted a wRC+ of 129 and a WAR of 4.4. The last three years have seen his offensive production decrease each year while his strikeout rate is trending in the wrong direction, going from 26.5% in 2013 to 30.7% last year.
Norris played in just 98 games in 2013, and spent last year in the hitter's nightmare that is Petco Park, so all things considered those slight differences statistically could become a bit larger if Norris were to call Minute Maid Park home. Head-to-head, both players stack up nicely, but when we look at their splits, the real value of Norris becomes more clear.
|Castro Vs. RHP||233||.219||.299||.408||10||29||.707|
|Norris Vs. RHP||393||.237||.291||.387||11||52||.678|
|Castro Vs. LHP||104||.192||.243||.269||1||2||.512|
|Norris Vs. LHP||122||.295||.351||.459||3||10||.810|
Obviously a straight-up platoon wouldn't work just because the number of righthanded pitchers in the big leagues significantly outnumbers lefthanders, but the dramatic difference in their stat lines against lefties would at least give the Astros a chance in the bottom third of their order, instead of the gaping hole that Castro represents. The combination of the two players could roughly equal Brian McCann of the Yankees, who hit .232 with 26 homers and had an OPS of .756. McCann is due $17M in 2016 while Castro and Norris would combine to earn $8M. The home run total may be a little off of McCann's mark from last season, but the average should be a tick above the Yankees' backstop and the OPS could be spot-on.
Of course, there is more to catching than just what a player can do with the bat--there is still the actual catching to worry about. Norris, who allowed six stolen bases in the Athletics' Wild Card game loss to Kansas City in 2014, showed improvement defensively behind the plate with San Diego last season.
|DRS||rSB||CS%||Passed Balls||Wild Pitches||+Calls|
After the Royals exposed Norris' perceived weak arm in 2014 the entire National League attempted to run on him. Last season 128 baserunners attempted to swipe a bag, and Norris nailed 44 of them for a caught stealing percentage of 34%, six percent above league average. The +calls is the number of pitches that were deemed outside of the strike zone, yet due to the catcher's pitch framing were deemed strikes by the home plate umpire, according to StatCorner. The two backstops were fairly even last year, and among the game's best at pitch framing. Castro only had 66 runners attempt to steal on him, and even though his percentage was higher, the AL average was 32%.
Offensively Norris would provide a boost over the many options that the Astros farm system is providing at the moment, and defensively he is on the heels of Jason Castro, which is nice company to be in. Adding Norris would also provide the Astros with a catcher for an additional two years, as Norris isn't set to hit free agency until after the 2018 season.
The price tag to acquire Norris certainly wouldn't be as steep as the one to grab Jonathan Lucroy, so this is an option worth considering. The Padres are lacking third base depth, and the Astros have at least three players that could fill that void. Colin Moran or J.D. Davis could be mentioned in talks, along with a lower-level pitcher, possibly outside of the system's top 30. To acquire Norris, San Diego sent Jesse Hahn, a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter when healthy, and R.J. Alvarez, potentially a solid bullpen arm, to Oakland. The return is all speculative, but the Padres don't necessarily need to trade Norris at this time, so the price would have to be right for them to act.