The Phillies don’t have any left handed starters. Sure, you can look at Cole Irvin as a starter, but the chances of him being any kind of long-term solution are pretty low. So as of today, the team is going with five righties in their rotation with a sixth at the ready in case the injury bug hits.
So why does it feel like they can do something a little better?
All winter long, we have lamented the fact that the Phillies didn’t acquire enough pitching. Adding Zack Wheeler was nice, but we all wanted more, especially after having to suffer through the end of the season when it seemed like no one was healthy. Or good. Instead, our winter has been spent battling in the ring, coming to verbal blows over whether we were #TeamVV or #TeamPivetta for the fifth starter’s spot. It’s a horse that has been beaten to death, one that needs to sultry sounds of spring to come in order to move on to greener pastures. But what about adding a different type of fifth starter, one that might have a little more upside than either of those two?
You might remember Daniel Norris from the ESPN the Magazine article from a few years ago that touted him as this off-the-wall, living in a van free spirit that also possessed a lighting bolt for a left arm. He was the Blue Jays top pitching prospect and someone who looked like he might be headed for stardom. When the Blue Jays were close to contention and were looking for an established ace, they pushed chips in and dealt Norris (with two others) to Detroit for David Price. On a rebuilding club, Norris would have a chance to shine, using the stuff that had already semi-famous to entrench himself as a pitcher in the top tier. So what happened?
Since joining the Tigers, Norris has hit the injured list five times, four with Detroit. The ailments have all been different too - back, elbow, oblique, hip, and quadriceps. All injuries that take some time to get completely right, and if one does not properly rehab it, the results on the field would show. It did show in the amount of pitching he was able to do, only throwing 215 1⁄3 innings from 2016-2018. In that time frame, he wasn’t particularly good, but he wasn’t awful either.
In 2019, though, we finally got a glimpse of what Norris could do if he was fully healthy. Last year, he appeared in 32 games (29 of them starts), threw a career high 144 1⁄3 innings of 4.49 ERA ball. He walked way fewer batters (6.2 BB%), yet also struck out fewer batters (20.5 K%) than he had in previous seasons. Going a little more granular, he seemed to allow a little more contact, yet the kind he gave up wasn’t exactly the threatening kind.
Daniel Norris contact
It was a much better season from Norris, one that should provide some hope to the Tigers as heads into his arbitration years. That, though, is where the situation gets a little trickier.
The Tigers are bad and will be bad for the next few years. While some of the prospects they have coming on the pitching side of things might provide some hope for the future, the fact that many of the bats they are counting on to help in the rebuild are either stalling to years away means that they aren’t going to be competing any time soon. That calls into question whether or not Norris will be a better fit for them on the team to provide innings or on the trade block to help continue the infusion of talent.
Enter the Phillies.
They’re looking for pitching. They have been and the probably always will be. Norris fits the mold of someone they are looking for - controllable, effective and still with a hint of youth on his side. Does he still need to show he can prove his health and newfound ability to get weaker contact over another season? Sure. That might not limit his trade market though. Teams are probably still highly attracted to what Norris might be able to provide their team in the near future. He’s a pure upside buy for anyone that comes calling. And as we all know, upside means expensive, especially in terms of prospects. The Tigers can trade him now when his value is still on the upswing or they can hope that trend continues up throughout the season, at which point his services would fetch a higher return. Of course, as Norris’ history suggests, the haunting specter of injury looms around him. He hasn’t exactly been the pillar of health and should he get hurt in Detroit, all his trade value evaporates.
It’s this upside, though, that should entice the Phillies to start sniffing around Comerica Park. You could keep wishing and hoping and praying that one of Velasquez or Pivetta breaks out, or you could discuss trading for a player that actually showed signs of doing so in 2019. It’s difficult to think what a package for Norris would like, but at the very least, conversations could be had.