Derek Norris better be very good

Derek Norris better be very good
August 4, 2012, 9:27 pm

Well, its official now. Derek Norris better be very very good.

As it is now clear that the Athletics are not making some back-door blockbuster trade for a catcher, or trying to coax the 2003 Jorge Posada out of retirement, they have just handed their immediate future in this still-improbable season to a 23-year-old with 403 games of catching experience.

And maybe Norris is worth this level of faith. After all, baseball teaches that heaven comes in a number of sizes.

But the trade of Kurt Suzuki and cash to Washington for a High-A catcher named David Freitas on Friday is essentially a counter-intuitive move by Billy Beane that affects a young pitching staff that enjoyed the experience of being caught by the veteran.

And yes, Suzuki has been a veteran in offensive decline for some time now, so its not like Beane traded Yadier Molina for a pitch-back net. This is not a pure salary dump, in other words even though shedding 8 million and change over the last two months of this year and all of next has always had a way of warming Beanes innards.

In fact, what it really is, is Beane doing what Beane occasionally does -- falling hard in love with a new player and falling hard out of love with an old one.

Suzuki was one of Beanes favorites for a long time. He was a professional catcher at a time professional catchers are hard to find. He became a pitching staffs best friend, especially in Oakland where he was doing the major equivalent of teaching at a military base elementary school -- educating the young and transient.

And he had one of those staffs now, only this staff still leads the major leagues in most of your more important metrics. That staff is the largest part of the reason why the As are nine games over .500, with the fifth-best record in baseball, and 24 games over what they were projected to be in March, which would have been the worst record in baseball.

In other words, Kurt Suzuki had value to the most important component of the baseball team, and the fact that manager Bob Melvin swore by him even through Fridays post-trade presser indicates fairly clearly how he felt as well.

But Beane wants Derek Norris there instead, and Suzukis .218.286.250 didnt really put up much of a countervailing argument.

So Derek Norris is now in charge of that pitching staff, at a time when Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone are three starts short of exceeding their greatest workload ever, and the rest of the staff is scheduled to turn over to veterans Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson fairly soon.

It is, in short, a hell of a challenge, and an odd time to take it on. But that is Beane at his Beaniest -- he is, and we put this politely, aggressively non risk-averse.

The risk here is clear -- the pitching doesnt take to Norris, or Norris doesnt take to the pitching, or most likely, they begin but do not complete the process of finding that happy simpatico in the middle. A term, we hasten to add, Beane doesnt believe in that much anyway.

Or maybe Norris does get in stride with the staff but spends so much time worrying about that that his offense deteriorates. Or maybe it all converges in a joyous merging of precocity and ferocity -- I mean, maybe Beane is right here, after all. Hes had what by any assessment is a pretty good year of general management, even if like the rest of the universe he couldnt have foreseen much of it.

No, this isnt about whether trading Suzuki was right or wrong, because we have no way of knowing at this moment whether it is. It is Beanes process that fascinates here. He sees in Derek Norris the future. He sees in Kurt Suzuki the past, even if he still has some present in him.

And Billy Beane has always craned his neck to try to look over the horizon. It hasnt always worked, but hes trying to do it again here.

In short, Derek Norris better be very very good. Like we said.

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