One of the most famous quotes from The Dark Knight is “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself the villain.” Bud Norris is looking to flip that on its head.
Norris, that notorious Cardinal killer in the past, agreed to a one-year, $3 million, major-league contract with St. Louis. It’ll probably be officially announced today after the results of his physical came back and we’ll see who lost their spot on the 40-man roster to make room for him. While the initial expectation was that Norris would be added to the bullpen, the team has at least made noises about stretching him out for rotation depth.
Of course, one of the other famous quotes from The Dark Knight is “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” While they didn’t necessarily have the same motivation as you’d expect from those words, there’s no doubt that there were some torches out among the faithful when this news came out. Not everyone was overwhelmingly pleased (or pleased, or iffy, or just OK) with the deal.
Which, when you look at Norris’s recent history, you can well understand. Just a glance at his Baseball-Reference page indicates it’s been quite a while since he’s been serviceable even. There are a lot of ugly ERAs on that career record and the WHIPs aren’t much better. So why, besides the “dumpster diving” or “low-hanging fruit” labels that fans like to throw on deals like this, would the Cardinals bother? I don’t think anyone feels supremely confident in the bullpen, but it feels better than last year. Does Norris actually help?
Most of the optimism about this deal, such that there is, hinges on the fact that last year, before the All-Star Break, Norris was quite good. He limited hitters to a .547 OPS, had a 2.23 ERA, and walked 14 while striking out 47. Then he wound up with a knee injury and faded, so the hope is that he’s more the first half guy and the knee problems can account for his slide. Last year was the first year he’d mainly been a reliever and, as noted, the early returns were good.
What’s less reasonable, at least to me, is this idea that he’s going to be stretched out to a possible rotation option should something go wrong. I get that there are questions in the rotation and perhaps you want people like Jack Flaherty and Austin Gomber to season a little more in the minor leagues. Still, even as they are learning, you have to figure they’ll give you more than Norris would in that role. Perhaps Mike Maddux can work some magic, but it feels like it is asking a lot. Norris did make three starts last year, but they were were at the end of the season and he never made it through the fourth in any of them, though that was more stamina than results.
Any interest or excitement about Norris is as a strong arm for the bullpen. Norris had 19 saves last season, which as Derrick Goold points out is more than anyone else currently on the roster had in 2017. It feels like that adds a solid weapon to the mix and, as we noted, Norris seemed to thrive on the bullpen role early last season. After he took over the Angels’ closer role in mid-April, he only blew one save between then and early August. I’m not saying that he should immediately supplant Luke Gregerson as the ninth inning option but he does give someone with good experience late in games. If Norris can click, him, Gregerson, and Patron Pitcher of the Blog Tyler Lyons could be a very interesting 7-8-9 combo.
A large part of the problem is, of course, that the Cardinals seem to have no sense of timing when it comes to these things. Similar to the uproar around Mike Matheny‘s extension coming the day after the Cubs won the World Series, the signing of Norris so quickly after the Cubs came to terms with Yu Darvish this weekend put those two signings under the spotlight with natural comparisons. Just as naturally, the Cardinals didn’t fare well in that matchup. Could it be that Norris has more of an impact on 2018 than Darvish? It could well be. That doesn’t mean that you are going to pick Norris if you have your choice on these two. A Google search shows it was Hugh Keough that said, “The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”
If Norris had signed around Winter Warm-Up, there would still have been some of the resistance and wringing of hands, but I think it would have been lesser if it wasn’t immediately after a move by the Cubs that improved their 2018 roster dramatically from what they had a week ago. We’ve seen often that timing is an issue for the club and this is just another example. Norris is not supposed to be dramatic or sexy signing–St. Louis did that with Marcell Ozuna–but it’s supposed to be a fine-tuning part. You can argue whether the team needs a fine tuning or it needs something more substantial, and that’s fair, but that’s not what the front office was doing here.
If Norris stays in the bullpen, I think this will be a fine move. We’ll find out today who gets lost off the 40-man. I naturally jumped to Mike Mayers, but Kyle Reis made a point last night in his Periscope that Rowan Wick makes a lot of sense and I could get behind that. Wick is more likely to slip through waivers as well, I think. Mayers may have some terrible MLB numbers, but he’s been there and he’s been good at AAA. It could be that an adjustment or some more experience and he could help a second-division club. Wick scuffled when moved to Memphis last year and doesn’t have the overwhelming strikeout numbers for a guy that (at least I think) can throw really hard. I’d bet Kyle’s right here.
Of course, I’m an optimistic guy. Allen and I recorded a whole show about how this team really could be a good one in 2018, after all. I hope it’s a function of it coming out later in the weekend that the listens are down on it but there are some folks that don’t want to look at the positives about this team. They are convinced it is doomed and this is going to be a miserable summer. It might well be. I just think that if you can’t be optimistic as pitchers and catchers report, if you can’t invest yourself in the possibilities of a new season, if you can’t dream a little bit while watching pitchers casually throw and the sunny Florida days brought back to you via whatever media, well, you might be a little too cynical for your own good.
Baseball’s back, folks. Let’s do this.