Posted on February 12, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine
As the St. Louis Cardinals continue to rebuild their bullpen for the 2018 season, they’ve added another name to the mix. The Cardinals have reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with veteran righty Bud Norris. The deal is worth $3 million plus incentives.
Norris has had plenty of ups and downs as he enters his 10th big league season. He had a particularly rough time during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. After Norris was released by the Dodgers late in 2016, he had to settle for a minor league contract with the Angels last winter. However, Norris proved himself and ended up making the team’s opening day roster. Despite a couple of DL stints because of inflammation in his knee, Norris was able to re-establish himself as a viable major league pitcher.
While Norris has spent much of his career as a starter, the soon-to-be 33-year old has made the transition to reliever. He spent most of the 2017 season pitching out of the Los Angeles bullpen, and was actually the team’s closer for much of that time. He accumulated 19 saves in 23 opportunities, the first saves of his big league career. On the season, Norris was 2-6 with a 4.21 ERA.
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It’s unlikely the Cardinals signed Norris with the intention of making him their closer. But it doesn’t hurt that he now has experience in that role. Also, with Luke Gregerson penciled into that role after the worst season of his career, Norris could be the team’s backup plan in the closer’s spot.
It’s also possible Norris could be used as a starter. But only if youngsters Luke Weaver and Jack Flaherty struggle to solidify the last spot in the rotation during spring training. It’s far more likely that Norris will be part of the St. Louis bullpen.
As it stands, Gregerson will likely open the season as the closer. That leaves Norris in a setup role alongside Brett Cecil, Tyler Lyons, and Dominic Leone. Cecil and Lyons provide reliable options from the left side while Leone is coming off a breakout season with the Blue Jays in 2017. There are also rumblings that Alex Reyes could pitch out of the bullpen after he returns from Tommy John surgery.
Of course, there’s much to be decided regarding the pecking order in the St. Louis bullpen. Even if Gregerson sticks in the closer’s role, the Cardinals have had a large amount of turnover in their bullpen this offseason. Mainstays like Trevor Rosenthal and Seung Hwan Oh are no longer with the team. That leaves the Cardinals with fewer established relievers in the back end of their bullpen.
“I do think, when you look at our bullpen, there’s going to be opportunities to see people take on more responsibility or more roles,” Cardinals GM Mozeliak said earlier this winter. “There’s no doubt last year was a disappointment, when you think about the blown saves, close games lost. But we also feel like this year, we have a group of guys that are ready to take that next step up.”
The additions of Gregerson, Leone, and now Norris should help the St. Louis bullpen this season. But St. Louis is still lacking an elite late-game reliever. At the moment, it appears the Cardinals are hoping that having enough bullpen depth will make up for a lack of high-level talent. It’s a strategy that’s questionable at best for a team that’s hoping to compete in 2018.