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Should the Reds pursue Derek Norris?

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Norris was recently cut by the Nationals. Should the Reds consider signing him?

MLB: Washington Nationals- Workouts Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It's still unclear who will start at catcher for the Reds this season. The front office is hopeful that a healthy Devin Mesoraco will be able to at least split time with Tucker Barnhart behind the plate. In 2014, Mesoraco was one of the best offensive catchers in baseball. His re-emergence would be a major boost to the Reds lineup and their rebuilding efforts.

However, Mesoraco's health is still a major unknown. What would the Reds do if he was unable to resume catching? Last season, Barnhart filled in competently as the starter. However, no one considers him to be the long-term solution behind the plate. Cincinnati's need for depth at catcher this season is exacerbated by the fact that Ramon Cabrera (last season's backup) is no longer with the team.

Bryan Price told Zach Buchanan that the team is unlikely to carry three catchers on the Opening Day roster. If Mesoraco was unable to play, the team would likely rely on Rob Brantly or Stuart Turner in the backup role. The Reds have made catching a priority in recent drafts, and there are options available in the farm system.

But are players currently in the system the only options Cincinnati has? On Monday, Derek Norris was released by the Nationals before ever playing a game for the team. Washington traded for the catcher in December, but then made the (curious) decision to sign Matt Wieters to a two-year deal. Norris was the odd man out given Washington's other options.

At this point in the preseason most teams are set on a starting catcher. Norris will be looking for a starting job, and he should come relatively cheap on a short-term deal. Should Cincinnati consider bringing him in as a catcher for the 2017 season? .

If Mesoraco is healthy he's going to play, so that means Norris would likely be competing against Tucker Barnhart for his spot on the roster.

Let's do a quick comparison of how these two looked on offense in 2016:

2016 Statistics:

Player

Age

BA

OBP

SLG

HR

RBI

R

fWAR

Barnhart

26

.257

.323

.379

7

51

34

0.9

Norris

28

.186

.255

.328

14

42

50

-0.4

Norris is coming off the worst offensive season of his career. Those who are optimistic that Norris can rebound will point to his .238 BABIP. This was well under his career mark of .291. Yet, there are legitimate reasons to be concerned about his production last season. His strikeout rate climbed above 30 percent, and his contact rate dropped to a career low 75.1 percent.

A look at Norris' and Barnhart's career numbers offers a little clearer picture of their true talent level at the plate:

Player

Seasons

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

HR

RBI

R

fWAR

Barnhart

2014-2016

754

.250

.317

.349

11

70

60

1.4

Norris

2012-2016

1997

.233

.309

.380

54

223

221

7.2

There isn't much that separates these two in terms of rate stats. Barnhart has been a little better at getting on-base, and Norris has hit for more power. It would be interesting to see Norris with Great American Ball Park as his home park for a season. He's hit double-digit home runs in each of the past three years. He accumulated those totals while playing in Oakland and San Diego. In 2017, those parks finished in the bottom 11 by home runs allowed per game.

Norris' offensive numbers alone probably aren't going to sway many fans that the Reds should consider signing him. He does have two above-average offensive seasons by wRC+, whereas Barnhart has never achieved that mark. Still, there doesn't seem to be a startling difference between the two.

Their defensive statistics begin to provide a little more contrast:

Defensive Statistis (2016)

Player

Framing Runs (BP)

DRS (FanGraphs)

Norris

8.9

4

Barnhart

-4.2

-1

Norris finished the season in the top 10 by framing runs according to Baseball Prospectus. Barnhart's pitch framing skills were well below league average. It's a pretty significant difference, and you have to wonder how much help Norris could offer Cincinnati's young starters. We've heard repeatedly about the team's desire to develop the confidence of their prospects at the major league level. Few things could help cultivate that confidence like a catcher who would increase their chances of succeeding.

In a more general sense (DRS), Norris was an above average defensive catcher last season. DRS is a composite stat from FanGraphs that takes in to account multiple aspects of playing defense. Once again, Barnhart was found to be below average by this metric. Norris might not be an offensive upgrade over Barnhart, but he could be a fairly significant defensive upgrade.

At the end of the day, the Reds will have to decide how much they value a catcher's skills behind the plate. It's looking like the Reds might have to rely on two to three of their young prospects to fill spots in the starting rotation at the beginning of the season. Bringing in a catcher like Norris might be one of the best things they could do for their long-term development. He could split time with Mesoraco, or handle the full-time load if Devin's injury struggles resurface.

Barnhart has an option remaining, and the Reds wouldn't have to cut ties with him to accommodate Norris. There's always the chance Norris could re-habilitate his trade value, and the team could look to flip him at the deadline. In that case, Barnhart could come back up in whatever role the team needed at the time. Cincinnati should be looking for any edge they can get on the field, and Norris defensive abilities might be just what they need at this time.