The Boston Red Sox have reportedly shown interest in acquiring St. Louis Cardinals closer Bud Norris before the MLB trade deadline.
The 33-year old is having a solid season in the Cardinals bullpen. He owns a career-best 3.14 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 11.5 K/9. Norris has converted 20 of 23 save opportunities this season and tallied another 19 saves last year for the Los Angeles Angels.
Norris spent the first few years of his career as a back of the rotation starter for the Houston Astros. He has been passed around to six other teams over the last six years, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen.
It seems Norris is finally locked into being a reliever, which is certainly the role the Red Sox would envision for him. He obviously wouldn’t be their closer with Craig Kimbrel around. However, Norris could provide some insurance as a veteran with the “proven closer” tag. A reliever who has succeeded in high-leverage situations is an area the Red Sox need to improve.
The concern with chasing Norris is whether or not to take his results this season with a grain of salt.
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The uptick in strikeout rate gets some credit for his career year and that improvement may be legitimate. Moving into a full-time relief role has allowed Norris to crank up his fastball velocity to a career-high 94.9 mph.
His sudden mastery of the strike zone is harder to believe. Walks have always been a problem for Norris. He has a career 3.5 BB/9 and that figure has drifted well over the 4.0 mark several times throughout his career. This year his 1.7 BB/9 puts him among the 10 best relievers in the majors (minimum 35 innings pitched). That dramatic improvement seems too good to be true for a pitcher at this stage of his career.
Norris has also shown wide reverse splits this year. Right-handed bats have abused him to the tune of a .310 average and .851 OPS, while lefties are only hitting .180 with a .468 OPS. That could prove useful to a Red Sox bullpen short on left-handed relievers. Norris isn’t a southpaw but he’s been very successful against them.
Unfortunately, that makes Norris best suited as a situational reliever rather than the lockdown eighth-inning setup man they need. His splits are abnormal from what he’s done in his career, as he’s been slightly better against right-handed hitters in prior seasons. Once again, this leaves us trusting the small sample size of this year over what we’ve seen from Norris his entire career.
Which version of Norris would the Red Sox be acquiring? Will he continue to be an elite strikeout pitcher with stellar control? Can he be trusted against batters from either side of the plate? The uncertainty surrounding Norris makes him a bit risky.
The good news is that Norris isn’t expensive, which reduces the risk. The Red Sox would owe Norris only a prorated amount of the $3 million he’s earning this year before he hits free agency this winter. That makes him a relatively low-cost trade target who wouldn’t require a blue-chip prospect to acquire.
We should be skeptical that Norris will carry over this season’s success if he gets traded to Boston. That doesn’t mean he can’t be useful. With time running out before the deadline, Norris is among the remaining available relievers to consider.