On Tuesday afternoon, the Cardinals and the Mets were tied at 4-4 when Bud Norris came into the game. Two-thirds of an inning later, it was 8-4 and Norris was done for the afternoon. Immediately Twitter was afire with folks complaining that Norris didn’t need to be on this team and why in the world did the Cardinals sign him.
There’s a legitimate complaint there. At the time of his signing, I was very surprised that they liked him well enough to give him a major league deal instead of a minor league one with an invite to spring training to have him earn his way onto the roster. While $3 million isn’t a terrible burden–I believe Bill DeWitt just made that much in the time it took me to write these two paragraphs–it’s not like the Cardinals to cut Norris in spring before he’s even started what he’s been paid for.
As the other part of that complaint goes, there are plenty of young arms that need to be on the roster. There’s truth there as well, though I will say it feels slightly ironic that people are complaining that the Cardinals spent money. If the club had known that Mike Mayers and Josh Lucas would have been this strong in the spring, you wonder if they would have forgone adding Norris into the mix.
But has Norris been that bad this spring? Let’s look at his outings and see.
It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but 9 of the 11 runs he’s given up this spring have come in two outings, one of which was the time he was the emergency starter when Carlos Martinez had a personal matter to attend to. Before yesterday, he had four scoreless outings in a row and he’s struck out seven batters in nine innings, which would seem to indicate that he’s still fooling hitters.
I’m not saying that I’d have signed Norris or that Mayers and others haven’t done better, but I still think Norris can be effective for the Cardinals and helps increase that depth of arms in the bullpen. With the Memphis shuttle able to run, you can keep Norris for a while while shuffling through these arms. If it ever gets to where he’s not that valuable, you can cut him then. I wouldn’t necessarily lay bets on Norris being with the team all season. I do think he has value to the club, though. I don’t want him starting and I don’t want him in the ninth all that often, but I think he can be a solid 7th/8th inning arm still. Hopefully he’ll get another outing or two this spring to show whether Tuesday’s game was an aberration or a sign of things to come.
The other thing is, of course, we have said all spring long not to make decisions over spring training stats, good or bad. While the club definitely factors those into things, especially as a tiebreaker, other factors that have more ramifications come into play as well. Someone on Twitter said that they shouldn’t preach competition and not live up to it, which is fair, but ask Ozzie Smith how much a strong spring can overcome preconceived opinions. I guess what I’m saying is that Norris, due to the contract and due to his experience, has a large head start over young arms that can be sent down. While they may have cut into his lead, I don’t think they’ve overcome it.
That doesn’t keep us from looking at the stats, especially at spots that aren’t completely locked down. Like the last bat on the roster, for instance. The conventional wisdom is that Harrison Bader and Yairo Munoz are battling for the right to go to St. Louis and ride in the Opening Day parade (assuming no changes in the roster are made in New York or Milwaukee). In this race, I think Bader has a bit of a leg up, given the outfield in Memphis is going to be crowded enough without him, but it’s not much of one and Munoz makes up a lot of it by being able to play the infield. So where do these guys stand after yesterday’s game?
This one seems too close to call. Bader has more extra-base hits but Munoz has more homers and a bit better plate discipline based on the BB/K rate. I still think Bader is the one that goes north, but I wouldn’t be surprised if 1) it goes the other way and 2) they don’t flip places before too long. Unless the Cards do go with 13 hitters early (which they should, but that doesn’t mean they will), in which case both of them will get the nod.
Cards have kept their starters away from the main games this week, letting Martinez and Adam Wainwright got their work in on the back fields while folks like Mayers and Matthew Bowman took starts. I think it’s a little bit over the top to hide these guys from folks they’ll see soon, given that both of them have extensive experience in the league, but I guess any little edge helps at times. Miles Mikolas, who probably still needs to be facing hitters that are competing, goes today against the Braves. The game’s on KMOX but may be (I’ve not checked to see) the last Cardinal game that’s not televised this year.
Going back to the bullpen for a bit, the Cards haven’t picked a closer and aren’t likely to do so until after the season starts. Now, whether this is “we don’t have a closer” like we didn’t have a closer in 2011 (because Tony LaRussa just didn’t want to put that label on Jason Motte, even though that’s what he was) or they truly are going to mix-and-match, rotate guys, etc., we’ll have to see. I still think Dominic Leone is going to wind up with the job, given that the only run he gave up this spring came back on March 2, but he’s not pitched in close to a week. Would imagine he’s out there today, but if there are any nagging issues with him, that puts things wide open again.
If you’ve not got your picks in for the season overview of The Cardinal Six, there’s still time! A week from today it closes with the first pitch in New York. Hard to believe the season is almost here!