Why Detroit Tigers signed Derek Norris despite domestic violence allegations

Anthony Fenech
Detroit Free Press

ORLANDO, Fla. — Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila said he did his homework before signing catcher Derek Norris to a minor-league contract. 

Norris, 28, was suspended for violating the league's domestic violence policy after his ex-fiancee alleged physical and emotional abuse in an Instagram post that has since been deleted. 

Norris, who began last season with the Rays, denied the claims but still was placed on the restricted list for the final month of last season after MLB commissioner Rob Manfred determined Norris' conduct warranted discipline. He also was required to forfeit $100,000 of his salary to the Rays. 

Norris was not criminally charged.

Derek Norris was released by the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this season.

Avila said the team consulted with the Commissioner’s Office and concluded — based on what they heard from Major League Baseball and Norris’ longtime relationship with Tigers assistant general manager David Chadd — he was worthy of a minor-league deal, announced Dec. 5

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“They felt that at this point, that we certainly should sign the guy,” Avila said. “That he was suspended, they described what the situation was and that’s the way the process should work. There was a mistake done, they investigated it and they encouraged us to do the signing because they said, ‘Hey, this guy made a mistake, he was punished for it and now he should be back at work.’ ”

“And knowing the history, knowing some history about him and the family, we felt he was a solid guy that we felt it was more of an isolated thing or something that should never come up again for him.”

Chadd, who said he has known Norris since he was 8 years old, said, “I don’t condone what happened nor does the organization but at the end of the day, after talking to everybody involved, we felt like the kid was deserving a second chance.”

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Norris is a .230 hitter with 63 home runs in six seasons. The details alleged incident are murky, as it reportedly occurred Oct. 21, 2016 but did not become known until Norris' ex-fiance, Kristen Eck, wrote on Instagram in June that she had been "physically and emotionally abused by this beautiful man." 

Norris did not appeal the decision. Avila said he has not yet talked to Norris about the situation.

“I think we did our due diligence as far as checking everything that we should check moving forward,” he said. “So if there was any doubt in our minds that we signed a bad guy, that he’s going to be some kind of a problem, believe me, we would never come close to signing the guy. And again, there’s a history from here since he was a kid and with the family, so there was a history there and it’s a testament to the guy’s character and history.”

Asked what the Tigers’ stance on domestic violence was, Avila said, “Obviously, we don’t tolerate it and obviously, if there’s a domestic violence situation, it will be investigated, in which case, it’s not only our investigation but also the Commissioner’s Office has a policy where they investigate.”

Contact Anthony Fenech: afenech@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech. USA TODAY contributed to this report.