Bud Norris has been a surprising fantasy star this season, but the story has taken some odd turns in July.
Norris dealt with recent fatigue and finger discomfort, though the Cardinals did their medical diligence and pronounced Norris healthy. A strange story surfaced two weeks ago, concerning Norris’s unusual relationship with teammate Jordan Hicks, and ex-manager Mike Matheny’s curious, tacit approval of Norris’s actions. Matheny was fired shortly after the story came out; perhaps it was related to clubhouse culture and politics, but Matheny’s field work was suspect as is.
The Archway closer hasn’t done a lot of work this month, partly due to the nicks, partly due to the way games have fallen. And it’s also been Norris’s wonkiest month, for whatever six appearances mean to you. Norris picked up a blown save Monday at Cincinnati — blowing the brilliant debut from rookie Daniel Poncedeleon — and Norris’s ERA has gone up in every month this season.
This is more based on instinct and gut feel, but I wonder if Norris’s tenure as closer could be in jeopardy. There’s been speculation of the Cardinals shopping Norris, as they’re barely on the periphery of the wild-card race (six teams are ahead of them). Norris currently has the best ERA and WHIP (3.38 and 1.08, respectfully) of his 10-year career. He’s 33. Might as well shop him while he’s hot.
Even if Norris isn’t traded, he has dealt with those previously-discussed physical issues, and the Cardinals have plenty of possible replacements. Hicks, ironically, is one of them — a 21-year-old righty with a ridiculous 100-mph fastball. Hicks is still growing into his stuff — he’s walked 25 men in 50.2 innings and struck out a surprisingly-low 43 batters. But no one questions the raw ability, and he does have a reasonable 3.38 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
Bottom line, I’ve traded a Norris share in one league, and I’ve hedged some Norris options elsewhere. Lots of moving parts here — a team not really contending, interim manager Mike Shildt, some unusual things tied to Norris’s standing as a teammate. Even if Norris turns out to be healthy and in good standing with the organization, it’s not hard to imagine a path where his role gets adjusted — be it in St. Louis or somewhere else.
Yes, I’m speculating. That’s what we do. I’m not saying drop Norris outright, or trade him at a silly discount. I’m suggesting you go into this bullpen with both eyes open.