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National League

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Signed LHP Brian Duensing to a one-year, $2 million contract. [12/2]

The Cubs reached into the archives and grabbed a left-handed reliever in Duensing. He gave fans in Minnesota plenty to be happy about earlier in his career, and though that has tapered off some, this is a high-upside move for Chicago. More recently, he’s been a sparsely used bullpen arm for the Orioles, who have inadvertently become something of a pipeline to the Cubs. Last season, he spent the bulk of his time pitching in the minors and threw a grand total of 13.1 innings for the Orioles.

The sample size being what it is, his K/9 rate was up from the previous season and his BB/9 was down. This held true in his stint on the farm as well, so there’s some promise that he could wind up a serviceable left-hander in a bullpen that’s probably losing Mike Montgomery to the rotation, Aroldis Chapman to free agency, and possibly even Travis Wood via free agency as well. That’s probably Duensing’s greatest value to the Cubs, if he works out. He probably can’t play left field or hit playoff home runs like Wood, but if he can induce ground balls at or near his 48 percent career rate, he can handle bullpen duties like Wood has of late.

Duensing’s splits don’t offer much hope that he can work as a LOOGY, but this is exactly the kind of low-cost move that can work wonders for Chicago if he pitches at all like he did in his last three seasons with the Twins. Though his 2016 was a significant downturn in performance, he hasn't lost any velocity, so the Cubs are clearly hoping Chris Bosio can work his magic again. If not, he’s a fine placeholder until they can make a bigger upgrade. —Jared Wyllys

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Acquired C-R Derek Norris from San Diego Padres in exchange for RHP Pedro Avila. [12/3]

This is the third December trade in which Norris has changed hands. He was a co-centerpiece of the Nationals’ trade for Gio Gonzalez in 2011, and then he was part of A.J. Preller’s first flurry of acquisitions in 2014. Now, he’s an arbitrage play by a Nationals front office that needed to shore up the catching situation but knew they wouldn’t have big money to spend on that need.

Our framing numbers continue to affirm Norris as a solid defensive catcher, and in his case–with plenty of turnover on the pitching staffs with which he’s worked during his career–it’s easy to believe that. On the other hand, his arm is weak and sometimes erratic, and pitchers don’t have good things to say about him as a game-caller or handler of the interpersonal element of the job. It’s safe to say that he’s a net positive as a defender, but not a game-changing backstop.

The real question will be what Norris can deliver at the plate. Once notable for his patience and his power, Norris has seen both traits erode over the last two years. He’s been well above the offensive benchmark for the position in three of his four full seasons, but last year he was a disaster. He simply forgot how to make contact. If that persists–if he’s going to strike out 30 percent of the time and not even make up for it by driving the ball more often–Norris is a backup in starter’s clothing. If he returns to the form that he set as a fair expectation from 2013-15, the Nationals’ gamble will pay off handsomely. —Matthew Trueblood

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