The St. Louis Cardinals always want Yadier Molina behind the plate but the past couple seasons have shown he needs a quality back-up for insurance.
The St. Louis Cardinals currently have Eric Fryer and Carson Kelly in spring training camp to compete for the back-up catching position behind prized starter Yadier Molina. However, Fryer isn’t on a contract yet and Carson Kelly could use more development in the minors.
The Washington Nationals just granted catcher Derek Norris his unconditional release after they acquired him via trade with the San Diego Padres. The Nationals traded for Norris but then signed Matt Wieters to a two-year deal which ended up pushing Norris to be the odd man out.
At this point, Norris is looking at any options for a job. He could likely find a starting job for 1-year on a team like the Cincinnati Reds or a temporary starting position for the Tampa Bay Rays until Wilson Ramos is healthy, but what if he felt comfortable being a backup? The St. Louis Cardinals could likely rely on him for pinch hits as well as depth at catcher and first base.
If Norris is being considered, he would be signed likely to a 1-year deal in hopes that Norris can rebuild his own value after a pretty poor offensive season in 2016. However, he would also need to be compared to Fryer for the back up position.
Looking at this chart we see that Fryer clearly had a better offensive 2016 season. However, Norris had his career-worst offensive season but many in the industry believe that Norris will rebound considering his .238 BABIP was well below his career BABIP of .291. Norris experienced a spike in his strikeout rate that was above 30% while his contact rate dropped to 75.1%.
Here, we begin to see some differences. At first glance the slash-line seems in favor of Fryer but when comparing the amount of Plate Attempts we see that Derek Norris has an absolutely huge advantage 1997 to 291. Furthermore, Norris provides a lot more power and home run potential. Norris’s power and experience could be extremely valuable for a team looking to return to the playoffs.
However, Norris’s offensive numbers aren’t enough to convince many fans that he is that much of an upgrade over Fryer but his defense may sway fans to be in his corner.
Defensive Statistics (2016)
Framing Runs (BaseballProspectus)
According to Baseball Prospectus, Derek Norris was in the top 10 for framing runs. Fryer’s was significantly lower and Norris would be a clear upgrade defensively if Yadier Molina is not in the game. He would help the pitching staff perform better and be better at limiting and preventing runs.
When comparing their DRS, both were above average with Norris being 2 runs better. So overall, Norris may not be a clear offensive upgrade over Fryer, but he is a better all around player. He offers more power which could be valuable for pinch hitting, and he is a better catcher and defensive player which fits perfectly into John Mozeliak’s plans of improving defense.
In the end, if Yadier Molina is given rest or suffers an injury the St. Louis Cardinals will need someone they can rely on behind the plate. Derek Norris is a free agent and could help the Cardinals improve their depth and chances at making the playoffs. The question is…would Derek Norris take a back-up job with the hopes of winning or will he prefer to start somewhere for a team not in contention?