WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Derek Norris knew what was up when a group of reporters approached him at his locker following today’s workout at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
“No comment!” the 28-year-old catcher barked, before quickly revealing he was joking and inviting the group to move closer to ask him about the subject on everyone’s mind: Matt Wieters.
Norris learned of the Nationals’ plan to sign Wieters earlier in the morning when manager Dusty Baker summoned him before the workout. General manager Mike Rizzo soon followed. Norris wasn’t particularly excited to know he no longer was this team’s designated No. 1 catcher, but he did appreciate the manner in which the club kept him in the loop.
“They made me aware of the situation before I caught wind of social media,” he said.
Since the Nationals acquired him from the Padres in early December, Norris had no reason to believe he wouldn’t be the team’s starting catcher to open 2017. Club officials spoke highly of him and were optimistic he would bounce back from a bad year at the plate in San Diego.
But Wieters was looming in the shadows all along, a big-name free agent who went unsigned the entire winter while other clubs balked at agent Scott Boras’ asking price. And once that asking price dropped this week to two years and $21 million, with a player option to opt out after one year, the Nationals swooped in and signed the four-time All-Star.
What exactly this means for Norris (who is making $4.2 million this year) remains to be seen, but the odds of him remaining with the organization that already drafted and traded him once before seem slim.
“There’s always somebody out there that needs a frontline catcher,” Baker said. “And we thought it would be better for him (to know now) because he was here before I got here. I think Mike had drafted him in the fourth round a long time ago, so it was very difficult for Mike to make this move. But Mike knows that this is a business, and the business is winning and trying to upgrade the position.”
Norris was an All-Star himself in 2014 with the Athletics, but he is coming off a rough year with the Padres in which he hit .186 with a .583 OPS that ranked last among all qualifying catchers.
“Personally, I think anyone that’s a competitor wants to be in there every single day,” he said. “I’m always going to strive to better myself to help the team win. Whatever happens, happens. But as of right now, today, I’m going out and I want to start opening day and start every single day. Obviously that’s probably not going to be the way things pan out, but that’s the kind of player I am and always will be. ...
“I’m still going to fight for a starting job. I don’t care if it’s Pudge Rodriguez in the prime of his career, or Yadier (Molina) or Matt Wieters. As of now, I’m still competing for a starting job. I’m trying to help a team win, and whatever transpires, transpires.”