The Nationals’ potential agreement with free-agent righty Bud Norris has fallen through, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The organization felt that the 34-year-old veteran was as much as a month away from MLB readiness, and the team’s preference is to find bullpen help that is more immediately available.
Norris was in camp with the Blue Jays on a minor league contract and received a $100K retention bonus to remain in the organization’s minor league ranks beyond the end of Spring Training. However, the two side agreed to a release last week due to what appears to be similar circumstances; Norris reportedly felt ready to join the Jays’ big league club sooner rather than later, but the Toronto organization wanted him to continue building arm strength in extended Spring Training.
With his hopes of signing in D.C. dashed, Norris will remain on the free-agent market as he seeks a different opportunity. With two clubs deeming him unready for near-term MLB action, it seems likely that he’ll need to build up strength somewhere before he ultimately returns to a Major League mound. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reported in early April that Norris, who averaged 94.6 mph on his fastball in 2018, was sitting in the 90-91 mph during workouts.
If and when Norris does work up to his previous velocity levels, he should be able to help out the majority of big league bullpens. While his career as a starter took a southward turn in 2016, he’s posted strong results over the past two seasons as a reliever. Dating back to Opening Day 2017, Norris has a 3.91 ERA with 10.6 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 1.20 HR/9 and a 44 percent ground-ball rate. He’s also posted a swinging-strike rate north of 12 percent over that two-year span — easily a career best — and last season also set a new highwater mark with a hefty 35.9 percent opponents’ chase rate on pitches outside the strike zone.