December 18, 2012
Tuesday, December 18
Teams still searching for shortstop upgrades will need to dig deeper, because the top two free agents at the position found new homes on Monday, with Stephen Drew leaving the Athletics for the Red Sox, and Japanese import Hiroyuki Nakajima jumping at the opportunity to fill his shoes in Oakland. Meanwhile, as the free-agent market for starting pitchers winds down, the trading block remains strong, and a couple of new names have entered the fray. They are the focus of today’s Roundup.
Bud Norris has Jeff Luhnow’s phone ringing
Norris, a 27-year-old who will is arbitration eligible for the first time, is a logical trade candidate for the rebuilding Astros, who aren’t keen on paying a seven-figure salary to a pitcher with middling results and a checkered injury history. Four winters ago, Norris was a hard thrower who ranked fourth in Houston’s farm system, but he was hindered by high-effort mechanics, and—despite a major-league fastball and slider—was difficult to project. What is he now? The table below and other factoids from his Brooks Baseball card offer some insight:
A 1.4-1.7 WARP pitcher in each of his first three full years in majors, Norris still relies heavily on his heater, but the pitch averaged just a hair over 92 mph last season, and saw a 1.6 percentage point drop in whiffs compared to 2010 (7.6 percent), when it came in at around 94 mph. The slider remains his primary off-speed offering, and its sharp bite makes it a weapon, but Norris’ changeup is as fringy as it was when he debuted in 2009, leaving him vulnerable to left-handed batters. Norris has shown a significant improvement in control, bringing his walk rate down by more than two percentage points (11.3 percent in 2010, 9.0 percent in 2012). On the other hand, the evaluators who told Kevin Goldstein that his delivery would fit better in the bullpen have been vindicated, as his medicals are littered with shoulder and upper-arm ailments, as well as a knee sprain that cost him 16 days last season.
All of that is to say that the teams bidding on Norris—a list that, per Heyman, includes the Cardinals and Rangers—should view the righty as a league-average starter, a notch below Edwin Jackson, who is still in talks with the Padres, according to Heyman’s colleague, Scott Miller. Both St. Louis and Texas are replete with bullpen arms, so it’s unlikely that either would transition Norris to set-up work, in hopes that his fastball-slider tandem would play up in a relief role. Nonetheless, considering that Norris is essentially the same pitcher that he was four years ago, there isn’t much reason to expect a sudden breakthrough.