While the San Diego Padres finished the 2016 season with a much improved farm system, the big league roster was left with more questions than answers.
Not only is the Padres rotation a giant question mark, and the organization has too many outfielders for one outfield, but the Padres currently have three catchers slated to be on the big league roster. The Padres may have solved part of the problem with the attempted transition of Christian Bethancourt to a hybrid relief pitcher/utility player role, but the Padres still have two starting-caliber catchers on the roster.
With the acquisition of Derek Norris prior to the 2015 season, the Padres had their starting catcher for the immediate future. However, the Padres already had their supposed catcher of the future waiting in the minor leagues in Austin Hedges. It was clear that the Padres lacked faith in Hedges, so Norris was brought in to fill that role, at least in the short term. Hedges did end up seeing some playing time at the big league level, but his struggles further solidified the Padres reasoning for bringing in Norris.
All this was before Hedges breakout 2016 season. Always known as one of the best, if not the best, defensive catchers in the entire minor leagues, Hedges struggled to hit consistently enough to be a valuable starting-caliber player. All that changed in 2016, when Hedges tore apart Triple-A on his way to one of the most successful offensive seasons for a Padres prospect in recent memory. Hedges finished the season with a .326/.353/.597 slash line, 21 home runs, and 85 runs batted in, proving his worth at the plate in addition to behind it.
Hedges Triple-A tear was accompanied by the worst season of Derek Norris’ career. While Hedges was tearing up minor league pitching, Norris was struggling to do much of anything. After an up and down season at the plate, filled with more cold streaks than hot, Norris finished the season with a .186/.255/.328 slash line, a wRC+ of only 55, and a negative value according to Fangraphs WAR. When all was said and done on the 2015 season, Norris had posted his worst numbers to date in just about every offensive category.
This leaves the Padres in quite a significant bind. Austin Hedges is more valuable than ever, perhaps proving himself to be capable of handling full-time catching duties at the big league level. On the other hand, Derek Norris’ value is at an all time low. Two opposite ends of the spectrum with no solution in sight. That is until you consider the Minnesota Twins.
The Twins have made their intention to upgrade the catcher position very clear. With Kurt Suzuki as the current starter, it’s clear the Twins would like a player with a little more offensive punch at that position. Derek Norris fits that bill. Despite his struggles in 2016, Norris was one of the better hitting catchers in baseball in years prior. It’s clear Hedges is the favored catcher long-term in San Diego, so a change of scenery may work wonders in reviving Norris’ career.
From the Twins perspective, the cost with Norris isn’t prohibitively high, as the Padres seem intent on making Hedges a long-term fixture behind the plate. A couple lower level prospects would probably be more than enough to get a deal done. With one of the better farm systems in baseball, a couple smaller pieces is not too much to give up for the Twins. Both teams have a need here and this trade would make complete sense for both parties involved.