Derek Norris: The Catcher of the Future (But What About Now?)


The 2012 season was another year of transition at a key position for the Athletics.  It was the season that saw Kurt Suzuki make his departure from Oakland after holding down the catcher position since 2007 when Jason Kendall was moved to the Chicago Cubs.  Kurt had struggled, and another young catcher by the name of Derek Norris was called up to Oakland to try and give the A’s some production from behind the dish.  After a hot start though, Norris struggled badly.  He did seem to have a knack for big hits, while they were few and far between, they did pack a punch.  Norris ultimately posted a .201/.276/.349 line over 60 games and 232 plate appearances.

August 23, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Oakland Athletics catcher Derek Norris (36) against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

While it wasn’t at all unreasonable for a young catcher like Norris to struggle at the big league level initially, it also came at an inopportune time for the A’s as the rest of their young talented players really gelled.  It remains to be seen whether or not the A’s view the Norris situation like many observers do, that he needs more seasoning in the minor leagues before permanently becoming a Major League starting catcher.  If they do see it that way, there are some potential options the A’s can look to for a stop gap measure.

With such a young pitching staff it may behoove the A’s to pursue a short term veteran catcher to help guide these young pitchers as they continue their own growth process.  On the free agent market, a few catchers might fit the bill.  A.J. Pierzynski, Rod Barajas, Miguel Olivo, and Yorvit Torrealba headline the list of players I wouldn’t mind the A’s considering.  Everyone else on the market is probably without a job at the moment for a reason, and I’d prefer if the A’s didn’t help to change that situation.

The possibility also exists that a trade could be made, and that could come as a result of the massive trade last week between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins.  The trade has given the Blue Jays 3 MLB caliber catchers with the addition of John Buck alongside J.P. Arencibia and Travis d’Arnaud.  The most likely scenario would be for the A’s to pursue Buck, as he would come relatively cheaply in terms of players.  He does cost more than the other two though, so finances must be considered especially when we’re dealing with the Oakland Athletics.

Buck will not light up the stat sheet with impressive all around numbers, he hit .192/.297/.347 with 12 home runs last year in Miami.  He has reached double digits in home runs in 7 of his 9 seasons, and hit 20 home runs in 2009 with Toronto.  He signed a 3 year contract that following offseason with the Marlins, and is entering the final year of that deal.  If the Blue Jays are willing to pick up a portion of the $6 million he’ll make in 2013, Buck just might be the perfect option for the A’s.

Taking another look at the free agents, A.J. Pierzynski is easily the most polarizing of the lot.  Just about everyone has a strong opinion on the guy personality wise, but his ability cannot be denied.  He had a very strong 2012 season, but that .278/.326/.501 line is not likely to be duplicated in the future.  The .501 slugging percentage for example was a career high, for a 35 year old catcher.  It seems hard to believe that even with that kind of production last year that anyone outside of perhaps the White Sox themselves (for sentimental reasons) would offer more than a 1 year contract.  It would make sense for Billy Beane to at least check in on A.J., he and Josh Reddick could be wrestling pals as well.

The other 3 catchers I mentioned before probably would fall under the same “bottom feeder” category that was discussed regarding the A’s shortstop search.  None of them would probably have much of an impact on the A’s except for the fact that they’d be placeholders until Norris were deemed ready.

While the waters have been relatively calm recently, with little in the way of rumors to discuss, and the Tyson Ross trade coming out of nowhere, it’s difficult to get a read on the thought process of the Athletics at this point.  But there were some clearly defined weaknesses with the team that need to be addressed, perhaps Billy Beane and co. are just waiting for the perfect opportunity to make their move.  There is little doubt that Derek Norris is the catcher of the future for the Athletics, but it remains to be seen if he’s the catcher of the present.