With the deadline to tender contracts looming this afternoon, the San Diego Padres traded Derek Norris to the Washington Nationals in exchange for Single-A righty Pedro Avila.They then opted not to tender contracts to six players, most notably Tyson Ross.
"Steve Lyons, one of our pro scouts, had seen Avila and had a good report on him," said A.J. Preller, the Padres' General Manager at the evening press conference. "He has a good clean delivery, three quality pitches and a chance to become a big league starter. We like how we are continuing to build quality and depth in our farm system."
The group of players who won't return on big league contracts includes shortstop Alexi Amarista, injured pitchers Jon Edwards and Erik Johnson, catcher Hector Sanchez and minor league utility man Jose Pirela
With Austin Hedges ready to assume the job as starting catcher, a departure by Norris was widely anticipated. Many of the other moves rank as genuine surprises.
"Both Andy and I had a talk with Austin earlier in the day," said Preller. "We are really happy with the progress he made this year but we emphasized that starting jobs are not given in the major leagues, they are earned."
Ross missed all but the first game of the 2016 season and ultimately underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome after the end of the campaign.
"He's been working very hard - and we certainly have not shut the door on him and communicated that to him and his agent. The next few days and weeks we should have an idea of he, and possibly some of the other guys are going to come back with us or seek other opportunities."
Unlike Ross, it is certainly possible that the club might look to bring both of the other pitchers back on minor league contracts. Johnson, half of the return from the White Sox for James Shields, had Tommy John Surgery late in the season and will likely not pitch in 2017. Edwards has been rehabbing injuries since spring training as well.
Norris, originally acquired in a flurry of trades by general manager AJ Preller in December, 2014, saw his offense trend down in his two years with the Padres, culminating in a painful .186/.255/.328 line over 458 plate appearances this season. While he did offset that downturn with some improvements in his defensive performance, the writing has been on the wall for Hedges to take over behind the plate for quite some time.
In Avila, Preller opted to exchange a big leaguer for a single pitcher from the low minors for the fourth time this year. The 19-year-old Venezuelan pitched in the Low-A South Atlantic League in 2016, throwing 93 innings of 3.48 ERA ball. He will join a massive group of young pitchers vying for spots on the rosters at Lake Elsinore and Fort Wayne. Nearly 20 pitchers with legitimate shots at big league careers are likely to open the 2017 season with one of the Padres' single-A affiliates.
Among that group will be fellow righties J.C. Cosme and Hansel Rodriguez, both of whom were acquired as teenagers straight-up for big league assets, as well as the much higher profile Anderson Espinoza. Of note is that Espinoza was acquired for Drew Pomeranz, who himself was acquired a year ago when Preller chose to swap a pair of players (Yonder Alonso and Mark Rzepczynski) rather than non-tender them.null