Norris call-up could signal end for Suzuki

When the A’s traded Gio Gonzalez over the winter, one of the key prospects they got back in the deal was Nationals top catching prospect, Derek Norris.

After Kurt Suzuki hit .242 in 2010 and .237 last season, anyone analyzing the Gonzalez trade could see the A’s had landed their future backstop. Meanwhile, Suzuki is having the worst season of his career, hitting just .215 with zero home runs, nine walks and 43 strikeouts in 60 games this season.

Norris was called up from Sacramento by Oakland before Thursday’s game. He had been hitting .273 with eight home runs and 36 RBI at Sacramento.

In his debut on Thursday, Norris went hitless in three at-bats, but threw out Dee Gordon — one of the fastest players in the league — trying to steal. He also caught eight great innings from Travis Blackley.

The A’s can make all the claims they want that Suzuki isn’t going anywhere. But with the way that Billy Beane conducts business, I’d be genuinely shocked if Suzuki was still on the roster after the July 31 trade deadline.

Suzuki may not be having a good statistical season, but he plays a premium position at a time when plenty of teams in playoff contention could use a veteran behind the plate. Only 14 teams have a catcher than even qualifies for the batting title.

Among Suzuki’s likely future employers:

  • The Miami Marlins are four games out in the NL Wild Card race and haven’t gotten much production out of the catcher spot. Following two solid seasons, starter John Buck has had an awful 2012, batting just .168.
  • The Tampa Bay Rays are eight games over .500 and on top of the AL Wild Card standings despite perennial backup Jose Molina starting a majority of the games for the Rays. They have a stable of young, talented pitchers that would benefit from a veteran like Suzuki.
  • The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim still regret trading away Mike Napoli before the 2011 season. Since then, they’ve had a revolving door at catcher. Hank Conger, their first round pick in 2006, has played bits and pieces the last three seasons, but hasn’t shown that he’s a major league catcher. In the offseason, they acquired Chris Iannetta from Colorado, but he’s played in just 26 games and hit .197. Bobby Wilson and John Hester have been splitting time lately, but neither are the long-term answer.
  • Young Josh Thole has been holding his own for the New York Mets batting average-wise (.264), but in 43 games, he has just one home run and seven RBI.
  • The team that drafted Norris, the Nationals could themselves be in the market. Their starting catcher Wilson Ramos tore his right ACL May 12 and is out for the year. Jesus Flores is filling in admirably, but Suzuki would be a good fit with a young staff. He’d also be reunited with Gio Gonzalez.

The A’s are playing this smart. They brought Norris up five weeks before the trade deadline so that he can learn from Suzuki. And to Suzuki’s credit, he told The Oakland Tribune’s Joe Stiglich that he’s embracing the role of teacher.

Manager Bob Melvin downplayed speculation that Suzuki will be traded soon, telling Stiglich that the incumbent will still get his share of playing time:

“This is more about both of them co-existing – the guy who’s your catcher of present and the guy potentially is your catcher of the future. Make no mistake, with (Norris) here, he’s gonna play some. They’re both going to play. It’s also going to give me an opportunity to rest Kurt a little bit more.”

That’s obviously the politically correct answer. If Norris plays well over the next three weeks, you can expect to hear plenty of rumors involving Suzuki. Of course, Beane’s plan could change if Norris struggles. But if you’re an A’s fan, you should start to prepare yourself for life without Suzuki.