The shocking news of Miguel Montero being designated for assignment and Victor Caratini being called up from the minor leagues for the first time prompts the thought that the Cubs could go out and look for a veteran backup catcher to be behind Willson Contreras. The Cubs obviously think Caratini is ready to play in the major leagues, but they might want someone with more experience in the role.
Derek Norris, who was released by the Rays two days ago, is available at the cost of only the minimum salary (the Rays are responsible for the rest of his contract).
I’m here to tell you that I don’t think the Cubs should go after Norris. He is currently being investigated by MLB for allegations of abuse by his ex-fiancée. There are some details of the alleged abuse in this article by Marc Topkin in the Tampa Bay Times. The ESPN.com link above has this statement issued by Norris:
"First, I want to be absolutely clear that abuse of any form, is completely unacceptable," Norris' statement said. "Allegations regarding this issue are a very serious matter and should not be taken lightly under any circumstances. That being said, in this circumstance, the comments made by my ex-fiancée could not be further from the truth. I have NEVER been physically or emotionally abusive towards her, or anyone else in my life.
"I plan to go above and beyond to assist MLB with their investigation into this matter."
At this writing there has been no resolution to MLB’s investigation, but taking this on is probably not something the Cubs would want to do, or should do. Beyond that, Norris has hit poorly over the last two seasons. Pass on Norris.
There are other veteran catchers who are likely available at not too high a cost in prospects.
Perhaps the Giants, mired in last place in the N.L. West, could be convinced to part with Nick Hundley. Hundley, who is no relation to former Cubs catchers Randy and Todd Hundley, has thrown out 28 percent of runners trying to steal off him this year and as recently as 2015 threw out 34 percent on base-stealing attempts. He’s hitting .234/.260/.379 in 124 at-bats; while that isn’t great, it’s perfectly suitable for a backup catcher.
If the Cubs would rather look at a lefthanded-hitting catcher they might contact the Tigers, who are falling out of contention even in the wide-open A.L. wild-card race. Detroit has Alex Avila (son of their current general manager Al Avila) backing up James McCann and might be amenable to a trade, though Avila is hitting quite well for Detroit, .323/.439/.587 with 10 home runs in 155 at-bats. Al Avila has let his son go before, to the White Sox via free agency before 2016, before he signed him back entering the 2017 season.
Could the Cubs deal with the Mets? Their backup, Rene Rivera, is hitting .268/.305/.423 and has thrown out 38 percent of baserunners trying to steal this year. Rivera is 33, so he’d be only a short-term fix, but that’s likely all the Cubs are looking for.
Timing, of course, is everything. Had the incident with Montero happened a week ago, I suspect the Cubs would have snapped up Stephen Vogt, who was waived by the Athletics. He was claimed four days ago by the Brewers.
In general I don’t believe the Cubs want to go through getting back into first place and going on a real run with an inexperienced backup catcher, even as good as Caratini appears to be. I’d think they are in the market for a veteran backup. Caratini could then head back to Iowa and rejoin the Cubs in September.