Heading into the off-season, the Cardinals had two main objectives: add an offensive threat in the lineup and consistency in the bullpen. Well—they got their offensive threat in Marcell Ozuna when they made a deal with the Miami Marlins back in mid-December. Next on the list was help in the bullpen.
It should come as no surprise that the Cardinals are adding relief pitching left and right this off-season. There was overwhelming inconsistency in the 2017 bullpen that led to the loss of over 30 leads; including 17 blown saves. On paper, the pitching staff’s statistics last season seem pretty decent—but we all know that numbers aren’t everything.
Today—the Cardinals signed 32-year-old reliever Bud Norris to a 1-year deal. Although he had his fair share of struggles on the mound as a starter, only posting an ERA under 4.00 twice in his career, the bullpen may have been his last chance. Last season, the Angels’ coaching staff potentially jump started his career by turning him into a solid reliever. Unfortunately, he posted a cumulative ERA of 4.70 as a reliever. Not so fast though–there are other aspects of his skill-set to get excited about. His K/9 spiked to 11.24 serving out of the bullpen; and only gave up 14 XBH out of the 234 batters he faced. I am also very fond of his 80.1 LOB%; which would’ve ranked in the top-3 among the Cardinals bullpen pieces last season.
Uncertainty definitely surrounds the Cardinals bullpen heading into Spring Training. However, this deal with Norris simply provides the coaching staff with yet another option in either the 7th, 8th, or 9th inning role. The 6’0 righty will join the club alongside veteran reliever Luke Gregerson and on-the-rise reliever Dominic Leone in 2018.
Others who are coming back from last season for the Cardinals include: Tyler Lyons, Sam Tuivailala, Brett Cecil, Matt Bowman, and John Brebbia. By adding three new bullpen arms, the team seems to have their pitching staff penciled in to begin the 2018 season. It will be interesting come May though when the Cardinals #1 prospect, Alex Reyes, rejoins the club after recovering from Tommy John surgery.
It is my opinion that signing Norris sets the organization up to make another move via trade in the upcoming month. Could we see the rumor-filled Rays deal finally get done? Or maybe another deal with a club trying to cut salary? Only time will tell if this is the roster we expect to see parade around the field come Opening Day.
So—what can we expect out of the bullpen to-date? Now with 4 of the 8 relievers hovering above 10.00 K per 9 innings, we can expect a good amount of strike-outs later in games. Considering roles in the bullpen will likely go undisclosed for the time being, the closer role is essentially up for grabs. I like Leone’s chances of winning the spot out of the gate, but could succumb to the coaching staff’s trust in Lyons after last season’s success. Gregerson and Norris are likely to alternate 8th inning work, pending dominant appearances in Spring Training. Brebbia is an intriguing candidate for an uptick in innings this year after showing he can command the strike-zone and leave inherited runners on-base. He posted team-highs with a 90.9 LOB% and 5.3 BB%. Look for Brebbia to be the first to enter a game when things start getting hairy. As for Cecil, Bowman, and Tuivailala—they will get their chance to prove themselves yet again in 2018. However, they may have short leashes with the amount of depth the Cardinals have at the major league level and waiting in the minors.
Overall, the Cardinals may not have went out and got their $12 million, or more, per year closer that everyone was dreaming of. But, they did add two veterans and one young-gun that should mix in well with the returning pieces. I personally am looking forward to seeing how this pans out for them. Now that the Cardinals have a plethora of good options, it may be better than signing, or trading, for one guy and hoping he can continue his success in the 2018 season.