Friday, June 20, 2014

Trade Daniel Norris?

    Rumours have abounded that the Jays are one of many teams in pursuit of Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija.   And with good reason.  The righthander, despite his losing record with the rebuilding Cubs this season, has posted good secondary numbers.  For the Blue Jays, he would represent (along with maybe a reliable second baseman who could hit a little bit) one of the last pieces of the puzzle that would keep them near the top of the AL East.
   In the off-season, the most persistent package of prospects the Cubs were beleived to be asking for from Toronto included RHP Aaron Sanchez, and OF D.J Davis.  As spring approached, the rumoured price tag changed to one (or both, depending on the source) of Sanchez and RHP Marcus Stroman.  With the Orioles, Yankees, Angels, Giants, and several other teams supposedly pursuing Samardzija, we read last week that both the Cubs and Blue Jays had senior executives at a recent Dunedin Blue Jays game, taking in what turned out to be the last Florida State League start of LHP Daniel Norris.
   So, do we agree with the inclusion of Norris in the rumoured package deal ?  Quite simply, no.

   It's not hard to understand why the Cubs would be kicking the tires on Norris.  He's been one of the top pitchers in the lower minors this year, and will likely leap up the rankings of many mid-season top prospect lists.  And as far as Blue Jays minor league starting pitchers, he's probably been the top starting pitcher with the possible exeception of Marcus Stroman, outperforming the likes of Sean Nolin and Sanchez.
   Samardzija recently turned down a contract extension from the Cubs, and will be a free agent after the 2015 season.  While he might not post numbers in the AL East like he did in the NL Central, he no doubt would give the Blue Jays a leg up on the competition.  The Cubs reportedly have asked for a package of 4 players in return for him.  Why not make Norris part of that group?
   For starters, once you get past Norris, there are not a lot of pitchers in the Blue Jays system who are anywhere close to being ready, save for one or two pitchers like Matt Boyd (and when we say close to ready, we're talking two years).  The great Lansing rotation has not been a bust, but with two of their opening day roster pitchers out for the season, and two sent back to extended spring training, it has fallen short of what the club's expectations likely were.  Beyond Nolin, Sanchez, and Norris, there are really no MLB-ready options for several seasons, meaning that the club would have to go the trade or free agent route if they needed to upgrade or replace parts of their starting rotation.  And we all know how those two options went for the club last off-season.
   In addition, we're beginning to think that Norris' ceiling is higher than mid-rotation starter, as was originally believed.  Thought to be one of the top prep southpaws in the 2012 draft, Norris' struggles in his first year and a bit of pro ball took away a lot of lustre to his reputation.  He was hit around a bit in his AA debut, but it also sounds like there was a favourable wind blowing out that night, and it's hard to overlook that 9K:1BB part of his line.  MiLB's pitcher of the month for May looks like he won't be overmatched by AA hitters.  Granted, you have to give up something to get something back, but we wonder if the price tag is too high if Norris is part of the deal.
   Then there was the Blue Jays recent sweep in New York by the Yankees.  With a club that takes adavantage of its ridiculous right field dimensions, a lefthanded pitcher can help to neutralize that faux power is a must . If I'm Alex Anthopolous, and my team plays 3 series in that bandbox, I want all the lefthanded power pitching help I can get.  It was particularly revealing in the opener that Marcus Stroman, after giving up what would have been a routine fly ball but went off the left field foul pole to Brett Gardner, turned from power pitcher to nibbler against left handed hitters, and saw his pitch count elevate to the point where he was out of the game with two out in the fourth.  I would also want that left handed pitching to battle against the other top left handed hitters in the division, like Big Papi Ortiz and Chris Davis.  He is still likely at least a year away (and doesn't even have to be put on the 40-man roster until the end of the 2015 season), but Norris could become a key member of the Toronto rotation.
   Who do you give up, then ?  We've heard the possibilites of Sanchez or Stroman, and this week on Twitter, Jon Morosi of Fox SN suggested Mississauga's own Dalton Pompey, currently patrolling CF for Dunedin, would be "very hard for the Jays to give up on," as part of the Samardzija deal.  And while there's a wealth of talent in the lower levels of the Jays system, and we've been saying for some time, that type of talent tends to be of little interest to even a team in the Cubs' competititive life cycle.  Davis has shown glimpses of his immense potential, but he has also shown that he's still several years away.  We still hold out high hopes for Sanchez, but we think his progress has not been as great as we had hoped it would be.
   Given Samardzija's potential price tag, it may makes sense for the Blue Jays to look at his teammate Jason Hammels, who has been an effective starter for the Cubs in his own right, and would command a lesser trade package.
   Yes, we follow our Blue Jays prospects pretty closely, Norris especially,  He's a great follow on Twitter, with philosophical insights that you don't get from your average pro athlete.  He seems like a young man with a strong faith, a great family background, and a good head on his shoulders, someone who seems well prepared to deal with the ups and downs of  life in baseball.  Having said that, we don't really think anyone in the system should be untouchable if the right deal comes along.
   In our Monday notebook, we listed some of the questions an MLB club should be asking itself when trading prospects for established major leaguers, such as:

1.  How does the ceiling of the prospect(s) compare to the established player?
   We would suggest that they are at least equal, with Samardzija right at the peak of his abilities, and Norris a few seasons away. If Norris continues at his current rate, it's not unreasonable to expect that he could surpass Samardzija in most metrics.  You can't really compare their minor league numbers, with Norris having turned pro out of high school and Samardzija having gone the collegiate route, but we would have to say that at this point in his career, Norris is far more advanced than Samardzija was.

2.  Are there players close to the talent level of the prospect(s) remaining in the system?
   Depending on which other prospect(s) are included in the deal, there's quite a gap between Norris and the rest of the system. A deal of this magnitude would empty the upper levels of the system for the second time in 18 months.

3.  Will the player(s) being traded for the prospect likely  have a profound and instant impact on the major league team?
    That's debatable, of course.  Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, and Joey Votto call the division home, but only the Brewers are in the top 10 of any MLB team offensive category. It's kind of comparing oranges to apples, but it's hard to argue that the NL Central is as difficult as the AL East.  Thus, there's bound to be an adjustment period for any pitcher who crosses leagues and would pitch for the Blue Jays.

   We've overlooked a lot of other considerations, of course. Based on the above,  we're hard pressed, though, to agree to include Norris as part of a trade for Samardzija.  We would prefer to deal second-tier prospects for Hamels.
    It's a basic tenet of most pro sports that if you can improve your roster without giving up a player on your roster, you should make that deal.  It's also true that prospects are just that - they're not proven MLB players.  When we add up the pros and cons of this deal, we think that while we would like to see Samardzija in the Blue Jays rotation far more than we would like to see him in the Yankees' or the Orioles', we think the rumoured price tag is more than the Jays can afford.
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