Let's get something out of the way first: newly signed pitcher Bud Norris shouldn't be confused with former Cardinal pitcher Bud Smith, who threw a no-hitter before dropping off the face of the Earth.
Norris is a former Cardinal pest who isn't going to save the St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff. Please don't mistake the man as a reactionary move to the Yu Darvish deal with Chicago. Like any move in baseball, context is important.
The addition of the former Houston Astro who put a chill on Redbird bats from 2009-2012 is a depth move for a team in transition, not one that will launch the Birds into pennant contention. While joking around about recruiting Ex-Cardinal killers is fun on Twitter, certain fans are raging that John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch sat on their hands in signing Norris.
After all, he isn't the same pitcher who made 118 starts for the Astros years ago. Norris hasn't started more than 28 games in a season since an impressive 2014 campaign with the Baltimore Orioles. A hardcore baseball fan could mistake Norris' recent trek as a challenge to Mike Morgan's desire to play for as many teams as possible inside a four-year stretch.
Norris has split the past three seasons between five teams (Baltimore, San Diego Padres, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Los Angeles Angels), starting 52 games total while spending a majority of the time in the bullpen for the past two seasons.
The truth is Norris was never a top-notch starter. He was the guy who would shut down the Cardinals for seven innings, and proceed to get clubbed by the next two teams on the schedule. He posted a 4.33 ERA with Houston and a 4.65 ERA with Baltimore. Norris has found some comfort in the bullpen, which leads me to the virtues that could make him a sleeper addition.
What Norris does give the Cardinals is a reliable right-handed arm for the bullpen and a pitcher who still has something left to give. Before a right knee injury hampered his 2017 season, Norris posted 1.046 WHIP and struck out 47 batters in just 36.1 innings. Inflammation in his knee and a few rocky starts out of the Angels rotation marred his second-half statistics.
Norris can still get hitters to swing and miss. In 62 total innings last season, Norris averaged 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings and enjoyed a similarly high strikeout ratio during his brief time spent in the Padres bullpen in 2015. When a pitcher doesn't have to save his stuff for 5 or 6 innings and can let it go, there can be an uptick in performance. Just look at Tyler Lyons' rotation/bullpen splits.
Norris could be the right-handed equivalent of Lyons for the Cardinals in 2018. When a spot start is needed, send in Bud. When Adam Wainwright gets obliterated, call Norris. If a game reaches extra innings and the fans don't need to see how fast Greg Garcia can throw a baseball, ask for Bud instead. If Miles Mikolas swallows a lizard in the fifth and suffers indigestion, dial Bud's number.
Once again, context is key here. Mozeliak didn't get the alert on his phone about the Darvish signing, and immediately think to himself, "Time for daddy to go to work." This is a solid depth move that could help the Cardinals.
As Bernie Miklasz wrote so eloquently today for 101 ESPN, the Cardinals and Cubs are operating on different levels right now. "The Cardinals aren't tanking; they are wildcarding," Miklasz wrote. It's becoming useless to compare the actions of Theo Epstein and Mozeliak/Girsch.
The Cardinals have a bevy of prospects and won't deal them away easily. The Cubs dealt a package last summer for Jose Quintana, and are content to ride that World-Series-hungry ladder for the foreseeable future. Epstein, who praised Mozeliak's strategy years ago, is doing his best Walt Jocketty impersonation.
Adding Norris isn't going to save the Cardinals if the ship starts sinking in June; he is here to provide reliable support for the bullpen and the rotation.
It's a one year deal said to be worth $3 million with some incentives attached. Heck, the Cardinals paid that amount for Ty Wiggington to go away, so we shouldn't be worried about dollars. Norris will turn 33 on March 2, which would lead some to believe his best days are behind him. I think Norris has something left to give in the bullpen, which is where the Cardinals need to use him primarily. If he gets blasted, then it was a low-risk misfire.
While we sit and wonder when the Cardinals will spend big, it's OK to appreciate a smaller move like this.