- The Cards recalled Giovanny Gallegos from Triple A today, the club announced and Joe Trezza of MLB.com tweeted. The 27-year-old reliever – whom you’ll recall was one of the arms acquired from the Yankees in the late-summer swap for Luke Voit – will be available out of the St. Louis bullpen. With the playoff race nearing its apex, Gallegos isn’t likely to see a lot of usage, but an extra arm never hurts this time of year.
- Trezza also tweeted that Cards manager Mike Shildt expects Bud Norris (blister) to be available out out of the pen tonight. Norris was pulled in the 7th inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers last Sunday when the blister surfaced. Though the deposed closer has struggled at times this year, he figures to be an important piece of the puzzle in the final week. With the final six games against the division-rival Brewers and Cubs, there figure to be more than enough high-leverage, heart-pounding situations to go around – even if he’s not closing games.
- In a separate piece from Goold, Cardinals president of baseball ops John Mozeliak confirms some items of interest about the club’s future bullpen. Namely, current closer Carlos Martinez will indeed return to the starting rotation next season. A tight rehab timeline, coupled with the team’s needs, prompted Martinez’s move to the pen late this year. While it has worked out quite well thus far, however, it seems more happy accident than long-term strategy.
- Speaking of the late-inning mix, flame-throwing rookie Jordan Hicks will have no restrictions the rest of the way because of the built-in days off. Though he’s still roughly 25 innings shy of his total innings tally from last season, when he was pitching as a starter in the minors, Hicks has still been relied upon rather heavily in 2018. Pitching every couple of days is a different animal, as is the pressure the 22-year-old faces as a late-innings reliever in a pennant race. Regardless, Shildt will have unfettered access to his young fireballer as the Cardinals try to lock down a spot in the playoffs.
- As Goold also covers, the Cardinals have no intention of altering their starting rotation for the final week of the season. It’ll be Austin Gomber, Jack Flaherty, and John Gant facing off against Milwaukee starting Monday.
The Cardinals are receiving trade inquiries into closer Bud Norris, reports Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with the Rockies and Red Sox among the teams that have shown interest to this point. In a second column, Goold adds that the club is “open to discussing offers” for both Norris and first baseman/outfielder Jose Martinez.
The Red Sox have been tied to countless relievers of late, it seems, and Jim Bowden of MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM tweets that they, along with the Phillies, Astros and Mariners, are “in” (to varying extents, of course) on practically every bullpen arm that is available on the market at this point.
Norris wasn’t supposed to be the Cardinals’ top bullpen addition of the offseason — far from it — but that’s unequivocally how things have played out. While the Cardinals gave Greg Holland a one-year, $14MM contract to serve as their closer and also signed Luke Gregerson to a two-year, $11MM deal, Norris and his one-year, $3MM deal have been the lone bullpen signing to pay dividends. Holland was released on Friday amid a seismic shakeup of the St. Louis pitching staff, while Gregerson been plagued by injuries all season and owns a 7.11 ERA through just 12 2/3 innings thanks to multiple DL stints.
Norris, meanwhile, stepped up and seized the ninth-inning gig from Holland and Dominic Leone (another offseason ’pen addition who has yet to pan out). Through 43 innings, the 33-year-old Norris boasts a 3.14 ERA with 11.7 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 1.05 HR/9 and a 41 percent ground-ball rate. His fastball and sinker are both averaging nearly 95 mph, the best of his career, and Norris’ ridiculous 38.3 percent chase rate (that is, out-of-zone pitches that have induced a swing from opponents) ranks seventh among 158 qualified relievers.
Earlier this month, Norris spoke to the Post-Dispatch’s Rick Hummel about his hopes to sign a long-term deal to remain with the Cardinals, though his affordable salary and excellent results could make him as appealing a trade candidate as they do an extension candidate for the St. Louis front office. As it stands, he’ll be a free agent at the end of the season and is still owed $1MM of his $3MM salary, making him affordable for any team in search of a upgrade.
As for Martinez, there’s little question about the late-blooming 30-year-old’s ability to produce at the plate. He’s mashed at a .304/.371/.487 pace since making his Major League debut in 2016, and his current .294/.359/.461 output is considerably better than that of a league-average bat (23 to 24 percent better, when adjusting for park and league, per OPS+ and wRC+). Martinez’s power is down a bit from 2017, but he’s still walking at a solid 8.9 percent clip and has improved his strikeout rate, which sits at just 16 percent. He can be controlled through the 2022 season and won’t even be eligible for arbitration until after the 2019 season.
While all of that is decidedly positive, Martinez’ glovework is on the opposite end of the spectrum. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak candidly acknowledged earlier this month that Martinez’s defensive shortcomings at first base were “putting a lot of stress on everyone,” and the team has since shifted him into a part-time role and given him more time in the outfield recently. Martinez, though, has played 328 innings in the outfield and turned in dismal defensive marks (-8 Defensive Runs Saved, -5 Ultimate Zone Rating). He hasn’t fared any better at first base, though, and there’s been speculation that he could ultimately land on an American League club where his bat would be better serve in a DH capacity.
The Cardinals’ signing of Bud Norris didn’t come with much fanfare, but he’s cemented himself in the ninth inning in St. Louis and now tells Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch that he hopes to remain with the Cardinals for the long haul. “I get chills on my neck thinking about it,” said Norris. “Yes, I would love to end my career here and I would love to have a multi-year contract here. That would mean the world to me and my family … There’s something very, very special about this place.” Norris said he’s willing to pitch in any role over the long run, though after originally being reluctant about the transition from rotation to bullpen, he’s now embraced the mindset of a late-inning reliever and enjoys the challenge. Through 33 2/3 innings this season, Norris has pitched to a 3.21 ERA with even better supporting metrics — 11.8 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, 1.07 HR/9, 2.65 FIP, 2.41 xFIP. He’s playing on a one-year, $3MM deal with the Cards, though he’s certainly well on his way to earning a raise.
More from the division…
- The Pirates announced this morning that left-hander Nik Turley has been reinstated after the completion of his 80-game PED suspension. He was, however, immediately placed on the 60-day disabled list to a left elbow strain. No further context or timeline was given in the team’s brief press release. It’s not clear at all, then, whether Turley will ever even suit up for the Pirates. Pittsburgh claimed the 28-year-old off waivers from the Twins over the offseason, but if he doesn’t end up pitching for the team this season, it’s hard to envision him keeping a 40-man roster spot in the coming offseason. Turley was hit hard in the Majors last year, allowing 22 runs in 17 2/3 innings, but he also posted an impressive 2.66 ERA with 10.5 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 in 67 2/3 innings of work in Triple-A.
- The Reds have played at nearly a .500 clip since Jim Riggleman took over the team in April, and while there’ll be speculation about the possibility of him keeping the job, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic writes (subscription required) that the Reds “plan to conduct a wide search” at season’s end regardless of how the club finishes out the year. As Rosenthal notes, Riggleman joined the organization as the team’s Double-A manager in 2012 under then-GM Walt Jocketty, but current president of baseball operations Dick Williams may prefer to hire his own preferred choice rather than stick with a manager who was not initially his own hire.
Despite Ian Happ’s alarming struggles at the plate — he’s hitting .233/.282/.384 with a mammoth 46.2 percent strikeout rate through 78 plate appearances — Cubs skipper Joe Maddon says the team is not discussing the possibility of optioning the young switch-hitter to Triple-A Iowa (link via Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times). Per Maddon, the 23-year-old is frustrated by his lack of contact but handling the struggles quite well. Maddon acknowledges that it’s difficult to get all of his young hitters into the lineup but maintains that the best place for Happ to right the ship at the plate is with the big league club for the time being.
More from the division…
- Jung Ho Kang has reported to the Pirates’ Spring Training facility in Bradenton, Fla., writes Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Manager Clint Hurdle explains that the plan for Kang is to get him into game shape over the course of the next month — he’ll remain on the restricted list and won’t be paid or accrue service time during that period — as he prepares for in-game action. “There will be no game activity until we get his arm in shape, his legs in shape, get him swinging, get our people to look at him and evaluate him and then go from there,” says Hurdle. Kang is preparing for a return to the Pirates after sitting out the 2017 season upon being convicted of a third DUI in his native South Korea and subsequently being unable to acquire a work visa.
- Given Greg Holland’s disastrous start to the 2018 season, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny confirmed today that Bud Norris is his closer for the time being, as Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. “It’s Bud’s game right now,” said Matheny after effusing praise for the manner in which the veteran Norris has performed in high-leverage spots while ascending to the ninth-inning role. “But we’re going to have to have other people to pitch the end of the game. There are going to be times when Bud’s down and times when we need to put Bud in a little earlier and he needs help.” There’s no indication as to when Holland might be given another try in save situations, though with Norris boasting a terrific 1.72 ERA and 22-to-2 K/BB ratio through his first 15 2/3 innings of the season, he’s likely earned himself a reasonably lengthy leash in the the ninth inning.
- The fate of the Reds’ rebuild is in the hands of a group of starting pitchers that have yet to prove capable at the big league level or even, in some cases, in the upper minors, writes John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. As Fay notes, the Reds have a fairly promising group of position players in the big leagues (plus an elite prospect on the cusp in Nick Senzel), but none of their pitching prospects have established themselves. As Brandon Finnegan, Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano endure struggles in the Majors, alternatives such as Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed and Jackson Stephens are floundering in the minors. Fay notes that the organization’s plan had been to expand payroll next offseason and fill some holes via free agency as the nucleus of the next contending Reds team emerged, but that of course won’t have any impact if the team can’t overcome an increasingly problematic inability to develop starters.
- The Brewers announced tonight that righty Zach Davies is going on the 10-day disabled list due to some inflammation in his right rotator cuff. However, with two off days coming in the next week, the team added that it only expects Davies to miss one start. A corresponding move will be made tomorrow. The 25-year-old Davies has started off the 2018 season with a 4.24 ERA, 6.6 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.32 HR/9 and a 48 percent ground-ball rate through his first 34 innings. His placement on the DL is retroactive to April 30, so he can be activated in a week’s time.
The Cardinals are off to a solid start to the year, though the NL Central is shaping up to be quite the battleground in 2018. Maintaining health throughout the season could end up being a major factor in deciding the division race. The long view is what motivated Cards righty Adam Wainwright to go on the DL at this point, as MLB.com’s Joe Trezza reports. His elbow has flared up a bit, though the 36-year-old suggested he’s confident that he’ll be able to return in relatively short order. The hope is that some rest and minor mechanical tweaks will allow Wainwright to take most of his scheduled starts in the final season of his contract. Of course, even if the veteran hurler is down longer than expected, the team has plenty of options, as Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explores.
Here’s more from St. Louis:
- Another key hurler for the Cardinals, recent signee Miles Mikolas, has thrown well upon his return to the majors. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch documents some of the ways in which Mikolas has thrived. In particular, he has been one of the most efficient starters in all of baseball, due in no small part to the fact that he has issued just a pair of walks in 26 innings. Goold traces this element of Mikolas’s game back to his successful stint in Japan, during which he gained mental and physical control of his pitching. It’s early, to be sure, but the two-year, $15.5MM pact Mikolas signed over the winter has looked like a bargain.
- Cardinals fans will also want to check out two other recent pieces from the Post-Dispatch on the team’s pitching staff. Jose de Jesus Ortiz offers a look at staff ace Carlos Martinez, who says he believes he is pitching better than ever. That the 26-year-old has found another gear is certainly a scary thought for the rest of the league. And Goold examines the intriguing case of Bud Norris, who is now closing out games and sporting a career-high 15.3% swinging-strike rate. It’s a worthwhile read that goes well beyond the field of play.
- On the position-player side, the Cards appear to have unearthed another hidden gem in first baseman Jose Martinez. The late-blooming 29-year-old has done nothing but hit in the majors and is off to a .329/.409/.526 start to the current campaign. Trezza penned an interesting look at Martinez’s unlikely path to the majors. The St. Louis scouting department and front office aptly identified and targeted the burly slugger, eventually snagging him from the cross-state rival Royals. Of course, the results have outstripped even the most optimistic expectations. “We were confident he could be a good right-handed hitter off the bench,” says Cardinals GM Mike Girsch. “That’s what we thought we were getting. Since then, he’s been raking.” While he’s currently performing like a mid-prime star, Martinez won’t even reach arbitration eligibility until 2020.
The Cubs have a pair of former players entering their front office, per a club announcement. MLB veterans Chris Denorfia and Matt Murton have been named, respectively, as special assistant to the president/GM and baseball operations assistant. Denorfia, a ten-year big-leaguer, spent just one year in Chicago — his final campaign in the majors, 2015. Murton, meanwhile, broke into the majors with the Cubs but mostly found success abroad as a member of Japan’s Hanshin Tigers.
Here’s the latest from the National League:
- Braves southpaw Luiz Gohara is going to be shut down for at least two weeks after suffering an ankle sprain, as David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Though it doesn’t seem as if there’s anything approaching long-term concern for the injury itself, there are implications. For one, there’s now little chance that Gohara will open the season in the rotation, as he has already been limited in camp. That means another pitcher — O’Brien suggests Max Fried or Scott Kazmir, though others are also certainly in the mix — will likely take that slot. When Gohara is back to health, moreover, he’ll presumably need to boost his conditioning along with getting his arm up to full speed. The big-bodied southpaw previously strained his groin in a camp workout and has long faced questions about his weight. Of course, that did not prevent him from an impressive five-start debut showing in 2017.
- The Cardinals have decided to put righty Bud Norris in the bullpen, Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. That’s not terribly surprising, but the organization had at least been stretching him out as a starter to open camp. Norris showed some renewed vigor at times last year as a late-inning reliever and could be used in that capacity, though skipper Mike Matheny also did not rule out relying upon Norris for multiple innings in a swingman role. In other news from St. Louis, the club announced that outfielder Tyler O’Neill has been diagnosed with a hamstring strain. The severity is not known, but the the odds were already stacked against the well-regarded prospect cracking the Opening Day roster.
- Kevin Plawecki could receive the lion’s share of the time behind the dish for the Mets, Tim Healey of Newsday writes. New skipper Mickey Callaway says it will often come down to platoon splits in deciding whether Plawecki or Travis d’Arnaud is behind the dish, with the former’s advantage against right-handed pitching perhaps leading to greater opportunities. Surely performance levels over the course of the season will weigh into the calculus, but Callaway clearly indicated that the organization is disinclined to match up their backstops with particular starters.
Red Sox left-hander Drew Pomeranz exited today’s Grapefruit League start with tightness in his left forearm, though he told reporters after the game that he’s not concerned about the possibility of a serious injury (link via MassLive.com’s Jen McCaffrey). Obviously, caution is called for all the more at this stage of spring, so it’d be wise not to leap to any conclusions — particularly given Pomeranz’s comments. The 29-year-old, who is coming off of back-to-back seasons in which he posted a 3.32 ERA in over 170 frames, is a key piece of the Boston rotation. He’ll be further evaluated on Saturday.
Here’s the latest on the health front from around the game …
- The division-rival Yankees are also facing some injury issues, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch was among those to report (Twitter links). Of particular concern is prospect Clint Frazier, who required an MRI because he is still not recovering as hoped from a concussion. Surely the organization will exercise quite a lot of caution with the talented young player. Meanwhile, fellow outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury has been diagnosed with a mild oblique strain. There’s no indication of just how limiting the injury will be — and for good reason, as oblique problems rarely seem to progress in a predictable manner. Fortunately for the Bronx Bombers, there are still four quality players ahead of this duo on the outfield depth chart.
- Rockies outfielder Gerardo Parra, who is recovering from hamate surgery on his right hand, took batting practice on Friday, tweets Nick Groke of the Denver Post. He’s slated to face live pitching for the first time since the operation on Monday, and manager Bud Black estimated that Parra could be in a game in eight to nine days, which should still give him ample time to ramp up for the regular season. It remains to be seen just how the Rox will distribute playing time in the outfield, though Parra seems to be slated for rather extensive action so long as he remains on an upward trajectory.
- An injury forced newly signed Cardinals right-hander Bud Norris out of today’s spot start, writes Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Norris, filling in for Carlos Martinez (who had a personal matter to attend to, per the report), exited due to hamstring spasms after allowing five runs in 2 1/3 innings of work. At this point, it’s not clear whether this issue is simply an early-spring blip or something that will cause some problems for the hurler, who recently inked a one-year, $3MM deal to join the St. Louis organization.
- If there’s a hurler whose injury sparks some immediate cause for concern, it may be Dodgers righty Tom Koehler. It was announced he’d require an MRI on his shoulder not long after he was pulled in the middle of an inning, as MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick was among those to tweet. Shoulder bursitis caused problems for Koehler last year, when he struggled to a 6.69 ERA in 72 2/3 innings. The Dodgers have planned to move the long-time starter into a full-time relief role after promising him $2MM for the 2018 season.
The latest from around the NL East…
- The Mets had Bud Norris “on their board” before the veteran right-hander signed with the Cardinals, The Athletic’s Marc Carig reports (Twitter link). Norris’ versatility as both a reliever and a potential swingman or spot starter intrigued the Mets, who may or may not be still looking for rotation depth.
- Juan Lagares’ name has surfaced in some trade rumors over the offseason, though MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo (Twitter link) doubts the Mets would part with the defensively-gifted outfielder. The team is thin on outfield depth as it is, and Lagares is penciled in as the starting center fielder until Michael Conforto is healthy. Dealing Lagares (who is owed $15.5MM over the next two seasons) would free up some payroll space for the Mets, and he hasn’t hit much over the last three years, with injuries playing a role in his struggles at the plate. Nevertheless, DiComo writes that “the Mets are super bullish on” Lagares and even plan to use him against both left-handed and right-handed pitching.
- Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos discussed his team’s signing of Chris Stewart with reporters (including David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), admitting that Stewart’s addition is “not a clean fit right now” since the team is set behind the plate with Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki. The hope is that Stewart will accept an assignment to Triple-A at the end of Spring Training to provide additional depth at catcher behind the MLB duo. The Braves would’ve preferred to sign Stewart to a minor league deal, though Stewart was insistent on receiving a Major League contract, even if his deal isn’t guaranteed.
- The idea of players asking for trades is “a little radical” for Martin Prado, the veteran infielder told reporters, including Clark Spencer and Andre C. Fernandez of the Miami Herald. Unlike several Marlins teammates who are still with the team (J.T. Realmuto, Starlin Castro) or have since been dealt (Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich), Prado said he would never request a trade, though he “respected” those players’ decisions. While Prado may have not have asked for a deal, Miami reportedly looked into trading the infielder and $28.5MM remaining on his salary as part of the team’s latest payroll slash.
- Wei-Yin Chen won’t be ready to be on the Marlins’ Opening Day roster, manager Don Mattingly told media, including Spencer and Fernandez. Chen is beginning a throwing program during Spring Training as he continues to recover from the elbow problems that limited him to only 33 innings in 2017. Mattingly didn’t put a timetable on when Chen is expected to be ready, other than to say that he expects the southpaw to be in the rotation at some point.
- Also from the Spencer/Fernandez piece, Dan Straily’s arbitration hearing with the Marlins will take place tomorrow. The two sides will face the arb panel despite a rather small difference in submitted figures; Straily is asking for a $3.55MM salary in 2018, while the Fish countered with an offer of $3.37MM. Miami has already gone to arbitration hearings twice this winter, winning one (against Realmuto) and losing the other (to Justin Bour).
- With the Phillies stressing defensive versatility, the team will work Roman Quinn out at shortstop this spring, Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Daily News writes. Manager Gabe Kapler said the team won’t try Quinn at shortstop in an actual game before they see how he handles infield drills, though Kapler noted that “we’d be foolish not to look under that stone” given Quinn’s athleticism. Quinn was originally drafted as a shortstop the Phillies took him in the second round in 2011, but was shifted to the outfield after some early-career defensive struggles. Quinn can already play all three outfield spots, though adding shortstop to his defensive repertoire would only help his chances of winning a spot on what could be a short Phillies bench.
The Cardinals have designated righty Rowan Wick for assignment, the team announced and Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported (via Twitter). His 40-man spot will go to righty Bud Norris, whose previously reported signing is now official.
Wick has yet to pitch at the game’s highest level. The converted catcher/outfielder was added to the 40-man in advance of the Rule 5 draft in the winter of 2016, following his first full competitive season on the mound. He was also tabbed to participate in the World Baseball Classic with Team Canada.
Last season, Wick ended up spending most of his time in the upper minors as he worked to refine his new craft. While the hard-throwing righty was able to tamp down on the walk issues that plagued him in his first attempt at Double-A in 2016, he evidently did not show quite enough for the Cards to ensure they’d retain him entering camp. Wick ended the 2017 campaign with 42 1/3 innings of 3.19 ERA ball with 8.9 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9.
12:55pm: Norris is guaranteed $3MM on the one-year term, and the contract contains “significant” incentives, Rosenthal tweets.
Interestingly, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Norris will also be given the opportunity to start in the event that the Cardinals decide one or more of their younger arms need time in the minors early in the season. He adds that Norris is expected to join the team Wednesday, which would suggest that we’ll know the corresponding 40-man roster move within 48 hours or so.
9:50am: It’s a one-year, Major League contract for Norris, tweets SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo.
9:41am: The Cardinals are in agreement on a contract with free-agent righty Bud Norris, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). His contract is pending a physical. Norris is represented by Wasserman.
It’s not yet clear whether Norris, 33 next month, signed a Major League or Minor League contract, though the latter is a possibility following a rough finish to what began as a strong 2017 season. The 4.21 ERA that Norris authored through 62 innings last season doesn’t look overly impressive, but he was somewhat quietly dominant through the season’s first half; in 36 1/3 innings prior to the All-Star break, Norris notched a 2.23 ERA that was backed by a 2.96 FIP and a 3.21 xFIP. In that time, the starter-turned-reliever averaged 11.6 K/9 against 3.5 BB/9 with a 47.6 percent ground-ball rate.
However, Norris missed time in late June and early July with a knee injury, and upon his return, his success quickly deteriorated. Then the Halos’ closer, Norris improbably served up a pair of grand slams (being charged for all four runs in each instance) within a span of six days, ballooning his ERA from 2.23 to 3.89. Things didn’t get any better for him in the month of August, and he again hit the disabled list late that month due to inflammation in the same problematic right knee. Overall, Norris perhaps quite literally limped to a 7.01 ERA following the All-Star break and watched his K/9 (9.5), BB/9 (4.6) and ground-ball rates (41.8 percent) all go in the wrong direction.
The Cardinals, though, could be heartened by the fact that Norris’ success out of the ’pen in the past couple of seasons has corresponded with a notable change in his pitch selection, as he’s largely abandoned his four-seam fastball in exchange for a cutter and sinker. If those changes and better health can allow him to sustain production more in line with last year’s first half than his nightmarish second half, then Norris could prove to be a bargain for a Cardinals team whose late-inning relief mix still looks to be rather unsettled.
As things stand, Luke Gregerson could well head into the year as the closer, though St. Louis also picked up righty Dominic Leone from the Blue Jays in the Randal Grichuk trade, and lefty Tyler Lyons had a breakout year as a high-leverage reliever last season. Any from that mix could conceivably find his way into the ninth inning in 2018, as could righty Alex Reyes when he returns from Tommy John surgery (even though the organization views him as a starter long term).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.