Despite trading for catcher Derek Norris, the Washington Nationals still covet free agent Matt Wieters. Will they get him?
This is an interesting turn of events. Since Washington chased Andrew McCutchen earlier this week, the pace of potential offseason moves zoomed to full throttle. The Norris trade was a mild surprise. So was the contract tendered to shortstop Danny Espinosa.
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The conventional wisdom after the pair of moves Friday was Norris is the likely Opening Day catcher, and the proposed McCutchen deal is not as close as first thought.
Although we still are in the dark regarding Washington’s chase for the centerfielder, the Norris trade is a large feint.
You can understand why Wieters—even at 30—is on the Nationals list of wants. After two injury-plagued seasons, he rebounded to All-Star status in 2016, slugging 17 home runs while driving in 66. Now healthy, he threw out 35 percent of base stealers, above the American League average of 29 percent.
In 124 games last year, Wieters caught 111 and finishing 101. If he can stay healthy, he provides productivity on both sides of the ball.
Which makes Norris a failsafe player. His second full season with the San Diego Padres, his batting average cratered to 186 as he whiffed 139 times. Always a free swinger, the big concern is that his increase of eight strikeouts from 2015 came on 100 less at-bats.
Norris is cheap, around $4 million for his services in 2017. He also has two seasons of team control left. For all the open aggression the Washington Nationals are showing, the trade for Norris shows a cautious team hoping to fill a need cheaply. The trade also says catcher of the future Pedro Severino needs more minor league time.
Norris is no Wieters.
Now the top catcher available on the free agent list, Wieters offers a bridge while the Nationals charge toward a championship and when Severino is ready to play at the Majors every day.
The downside for signing a catcher over 30 shows itself in the National League. There is no designated hitter spot to slide into. With Ryan Zimmerman signed through 2019, there is not an opening at first base either.
The Nationals want to win now. If they can meet Wieters asking price, 2019 is light years away. Convinced they have the best chance to grab a championship, Wieters makes sense.