Cardinals Formalize Bud Norris Signing, DFA Rowan Wick

photo: Bud Norris (Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports Images)

St. Louis Cardinals press release

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have signed free-agent right-handed pitcher Bud Norris to a one-year contract, and that he will be in the Cardinals Major League Spring Training Camp that opens today with the first workout for pitchers and catchers.

Bud Norris (Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Norris, 32, appeared in a career single-season high 60 games (57 in relief) for the Los Angeles Angels last season, and led the Halos with 19 saves, ranking 10th among American League closers.  The 6-0, 215-pound veteran of nine Major League seasons owns a career mark of 68-84 with a 4.49 ERA in 291 games (188 starts) with Houston (2009-13), Baltimore (2013-15), San Diego (2015), Atlanta (2016), Los Angeles Dodgers (2016) and the Angels (2017).

Norris’ 19 saves last season were the first of his career, as he converted 19 of 23 opportunities.  He fanned 74 batters in 62.0 innings pitched, posting the best strikeout/9 IP ratio (10.7) of his career.   After securing his first career save on April 22, Norris recorded monthly highs with five saves in April, May and July and he had three saves of at least four outs.  Norris had two stints (June 19-July 1 and August 27 to Sept. 6) on the disabled list last season due to right knee inflammation, but returned to pitch in six games down the stretch, including starts in his final two appearances of the season.

Known by Cardinals fans for his early career success against the Redbirds (7-2, 2.17 ERA in first 11 career meetings), Norris is a lifetime 8-7, 3.44 ERA against St. Louis, including a 4-5, 4.55 mark in 10 career games (9 starts) at Busch Stadium III.

A California native, Norris was a 6th round draft choice by Houston in 2006 and he won a career-high 15 games for Baltimore in 2014, helping the Orioles to the American League East title.

To make room for Norris on the team’s 40-man Major League roster, the Cardinals have designated right-handed pitcher Rowan Wick for assignment.

Norris has been assigned uniform no. 26.

Brian Walton’s take

It only makes sense to have Norris prepare as a starter – in case there is an epidemic of rotation injuries this spring. Most likely, however, the right-hander will open the season in the bullpen. The late-innings situation is fluid, with Norris potentially joining Luke Gregerson, Tyler Lyons and Dominic Leone in the mix.

Rowan Wick (USA TODAY Sports Images)

Wick, 25, a former catcher and slugging outfielder,  had been selected by St. Louis in the ninth round in 2012. The right-handed hitter launched a team-record 14 home runs for short-season State College in 2014.

After struggling with off-speed offerings in full-season ball, the hard-thrower was converted to the mound in 2015. Wick was placed on the 40-man roster prior to the December 2016 Rule 5 Draft. The Canadian native is The Cardinal Nation’s 49th-ranked prospect for 2018.

Establishing the cutter (or some off-speed pitch) displacing his curve ball as a truly effective secondary offering seemed to be the inhibitor to Wick achieving his potential.

From my vantage point, Wick made little to no progress as a prospect over the last year. In 2016, he had dominated at high-A Palm Beach, then gotten his feet on the ground at Springfield. Next, Wick pitched in the Arizona Fall League, where he was selected to participate in the Fall Stars Game. Then he joined his first big-league camp following his addition to the 40-man roster. His stock was clearly rising.

What occurred since last spring were recurring injuries, addressed via rest and rehab, and spotty mound results.

Wick was clearly not ready for Triple-A, where he opened 2017, and after his two DL stints with Memphis, he was moved back down to Springfield in mid-July. While his Texas League stats line looks good on the surface – 2.08 ERA, opposing batting average of .208 – digging deeper led to concern.

First of all, there was his Double-A walk rate of 4.6 per nine innings. Though it was better than his 6.4 mark in his 2016 Springfield debut, it is nowhere near an acceptable range. Perhaps some of that is due to him learning a new pitch, but still…

Next is a very low BABIP of .246, which is likely not sustainable, especially for a fly-ball-oriented pitcher. Finally, his FIP of 4.01 brings home the suggestion that his basic numbers may be misleading.

Once thought to have the potential to be a closer at the Major League level, Wick’s Cardinals career is at a turning point. In removing him from the 40-man roster, the Cardinals have up to seven days to trade, release or outright him to the minors. The latter assumes he is not selected off waivers by one of the other 29 organizations, willing to place him on their 40-man.

Update: Friday, February 16

As he cleaned out his Cardinals locker on Friday, Wick told reporters that his contract has been claimed by the San Diego Padres.

For more

To track the status of the Cardinals’ 40-man roster as well as all players in the system by position and level, check out the Roster Matrix, always free and updated here at The Cardinal Nation. Also included is every player transaction across the full organization all year long.

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Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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