“It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken. Perhaps they’re better left unsung. I don’t know, don’t really care, let there be songs to fill the air.” – Ripple, Grateful Dead
The Cubs have signed Daniel Norris, which I appreciate because he’s the kind of individualist that appeals to your common Deadhead. This signing feels 100% Carter Hawkins to me, and that should make fans of Chicago’s North Side baseballers at least a little excited given the GM’s previous work with pitchers in Cleveland.
The Daniel Norris signing is fascinating. He has one of the most interesting changeups in MLB…23% more vertical drop than league average at an 8:45 axis, in part due to massive seam shift wake. Above average whiffs. Command escaped him in '21, but he has a history of command.
— Brendan Miller (@brendan_cubs) March 17, 2022
Heading into 2012, Norris was ranked No. 18 among all prospects as a potential ace with the Blue Jays. He won’t be a top-of-rotation candidate in Chicago, but he brings value to the team as a left-handed reliever. If he ends up as a starter, he could be a decent replacement for the injured Adbert Alzolay. The Cubs still don’t have a power arm among their starting five, but Norris represents a better lottery play than Shelby Miller was last season, and the 28-year-old lefty can’t be any worse than Zach Davies.
ESPN The Magazine did a fascinating feature on Norris as a rookie because he chose to live in his Volkswagen van even though he could afford not to after receiving a $2 million signing bonus from Toronto in 2011. His frugality goes beyond living in the German transporter he lovingly referred to as “Shaggy,” and Norris purposely lived on an $800 monthly budget. He spent a whopping $14 on a Henley t-shirt at the Converse store after receiving his bonus as an 18-year-old. None of that means anything if Hawkins and the team’s pitching coordinators can’t help Norris right the ship after a brutal 2021.
If you’re looking at the paint-by-numbers portrait of his season, it seems the lefty was hardly deserving of a guaranteed contract. In a season split between the Tigers and Brewers, the socially unconventional reliever posted a 6.16 ERA across 57 innings with 58 punchouts and 30 free passes. With Detroit, an elevated .354 batting average on balls in play indicates his 5.89 ERA (3.80 FIP) was more bloated than it should have been. He lowered that BABIP to .231 after landing in Milwaukee, but the absurd walk rate contributed to an unsightly 6.64 ERA over his final 18 appearances.
Things weren’t all bad, however. Opposing lefties struck out at an electrifying 29.5% rate and posted a weak .635 OPS when facing the bohemian reliever. Furthermore, a 4.32 SIERA and other peripherals largely paint Norris’s numbers with the Brewers as relatively unlucky and point to improvement should he keep his skillset intact this season. If that’s the foundation the team has to work with, the pitcher should see marked improvement with a minor tweak or two.
Norris is going to have to harness the changeup, especially to righties, and work on his slider to make the rotation or become a high-leverage relief option. Improvement in both pitches should limit the number of opposing batters he puts on base and an effective slider would be a nice wipeout pitch that contrasts well with his potentially nasty changeup. If Norris can replicate his 2020 season in Detroit (2.87 FIP, 0.7 HR rate, 1.157 WHIP, 140 ERA+), he’s a steal whether he starts or not.
Cubs News & Notes
- Outfielder Seiya Suzuki has agreed to terms with the Cubs and he’ll be a corner outfield fixture and cornerstone of the lineup for at least the next five seasons.
- The new outfielder is the kind of toolsy player MLB teams typically salivate over.
- Per Keith Law of The Athletic ($), Suzuki will seem like a relative bargain if he hits near a reasonable expectation based on his tools and performance in NPB. He led the Central League in average, on-base percentage, and slugging last year, while also leading the league in walks and finishing third in homers.
- Hawkins and Jed Hoyer may have one or more marquee deals to announce soon ($), whether by trade or free-agent signing.
- Andrelton Simmons may have tipped the dynamic duo’s hands when he stated that he’s “willing to play anywhere” to help the team.
- Willson Contreras said he is “always open to contract extension talks,” though the Cubs have yet to approach him about a new deal.
- Marcus Stroman said his right arm is “the best it has ever felt.” The starter has also become a bit of a cult hero among Chicago’s minor league players.
- Led by Stroman, Kyle Hendricks, and Wade Miley, Chicago’s rotation is largely set. Hoyer and Hawkins may continue to add pieces to the team’s bullpen.
- The Cubs signed righty reliever David Robertson to a one-year deal and he may see some opportunities to close this season.
- Lefty swingman Steven Brault, who was designated for assignment by the Pirates just before the lockout, agreed to terms on a one-year deal with Chicago.
- Slugger Joey Gallo could be a trade option to help the Cubs fill their left-handed power void.
Odds & Sods
If I may be allowed more than one, Suzuki is also my spirit animal.
I love Seiya Suzuki already pic.twitter.com/C6M4Qqp0aW
— Ben Verlander (@BenVerlander) March 14, 2022
New Basecamps for Old Cubs
- Kris Bryant signed a massive seven-year, $182 million with the Rockies that includes a no-trade clause.
- The Phillies and Kyle Schwarber have agreed to terms on a four-year deal with an annual value just shy of $20 million.
- Andrew Chafin is taking his fat 230 ERA+ to the Motor City. The Sheriff will earn $13 million on a two-year deal with the Tigers.
- The Yankees re-signed Anthony Rizzo the other day, though his struggles against right-handers last season (.214/.321/.412) are leaving some fans of the Bronx Bombers a little restless.
- Outfielder Joc Pederson will earn $6 million on a one-year deal with the Giants as he looks to earn his third straight championship with three different teams.
- Reliever Jason Adam has signed a split major league deal with the Rays.
- Ryan Tepera is still available and a reunion with the Cubs isn’t out of the question. Of course, Nick Castellanos and Jorge Soler remain in the free-agent pool and either would be a nice North Side addition as well.
Offseason moves by the Reds may indicate baseball still has a problem with teams purposely tanking.
New York mayor Eric Adams is willing to potentially eliminate the state’s vaccine mandate before Opening Day. Players who have not been inoculated against COVID-19 are currently prohibited from playing, though the mayor said he is no rush to placate professional athletes at the expense of the city’s nine million residents.
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Spring training games start today! If you canceled your MLB.tv subscription earlier this month you may want to re-up.
A federal judge has ruled that minor league players are full-time, year-round employees and that MLB is in violation of minimum wage laws in the state of Arizona. U.S. District Judge Joseph C. Spero in San Francisco also ruled MLB did not comply with California wage statement requirements, awarding $1,882,650 in penalties.
I know there is enough significant chatter to indicate a reunion between the Astros and Carlos Correa seems like the likeliest scenario, but the fact that the shortstop is still unsigned makes me think that’s not the slam dunk that others believe it to be. I’m sure Trevor Story would love it if Correa would make up his mind soon.
They Said It
- “With the shift the last couple years, I played a lot of second base, played it a whole lot. If they need me, I’m part of the team. I’m trying to win. I’m open to helping out wherever I’m needed.” – Simmons
- “It’s crazy. You kind of forget that because we haven’t been around baseball for a while, so to walk into the clubhouse and to feel that kind of energy from the young wave of stars, I mean, these guys are going to be the next Hall of Famer/All-Stars in the game. To see them gravitate toward me and tell me I’m their [favorite] player …” – Stroman
- “What I know about the direction we’re going and where the front office wants to take us, they want to accrue as much talent as they can, whether it’s at the big-league level or minor-league level. We’re going to get as much talent into this organization as we possibly can because that’s what winning organizations have.” – David Ross
- “In my career, we’ve been around a number of teams that were really special. We’ve built that once here, and we want to build that again. So, we’ll try to thread that needle as well as possible. We want to make moves to compete, but we’re not going to make moves that are inconsistent with what we’ve done over the last 16 months.” – Hoyer
Thursday Walk-Up Song
The Boys Are Back in Town by The Bus Boys – Baseball is officially back with four games on tap today, including a pair of split-squad games between the Cubs and White Sox.