The Detroit Tigers announced a bevy of free agent signings on Tuesday, including outfielder Leonys Martín to a major league contract. Among the four who received minor league deals from Detroit was catcher Derek Norris.
Norris saw minimal time with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017 before being let go in June. Norris, unfortunately, made more waves in the news after being accused by his ex-fiancee, through Instagram, of “physically and emotionally abused by this beautiful man.” Though he is not directly named in her accusation and he was never arrested or formally charged, the big league catcher was eventually suspended for the final month of baseball for violating the league's policy on domestic violence.
The signing has recently come under fire from Tigers fans given the nature of the accusations made against Norris. Team general manager Al Avila, expecting questions pertaining to such a topic, defended the team's addition of the former All-Star backstop.
“When we consulted with (MLB), they were like, ‘The guy served his penalty, he should be able to sign, that’s the way the process works,’” Avila told The News. “We do know the guy, David Chadd has known the guy for a long time, he knows the father, he knows the issue.
“We signed a good kid.”
One small factor that played into the signing of Norris are his Kansas roots, which he shares with Tigers assistant general manager David Chadd.
Regardless of what people will make of the signing from an optics perspective, on the field, the signing by Avila makes a lot of sense for the Tigers. It gives them a fourth option, and a veteran one at that, for their Triple-A affiliate Toledo Mud Hens. Detroit figures to carry two catchers out of spring camp; James McCann as the starter and John Hicks as the presumable backup.
Next up on the catching totem pole for Detroit in the organization is 25-year-old Grayson Greiner, who looks to rebound after taking a step back in 2017 in the minors. Greiner is likely the No. 1 backstop for the Hens, so Norris provides the team with a big safety net.
Norris will also be a prime candidate should injuries occur to the Tigers' lineup throughout the season, given his ability to play first base and DH as well and some of his prior years as one of the better hitting catchers in baseball.