The Dodgers have acquired starting pitcher Bud Norris, outfielder Dian Toscano, and a player to be named later from the Braves for reliever pitching prospects Phil Pfeifer and Caleb Dirks, according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com. The Dodgers are also getting cash from the Braves, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, though exactly how much is not known.
The Dodgers rotation is hurting in a major way right now, as they currently have a good MLB rotation … on the disabled list.
#Dodgers DL rotation:
Brett Anderson/Frankie Montas
— Vincent Samperio (@VinceSamperio) June 30, 2016
As a result, they were always going to have to make a move for tomorrow’s starter one way or another, and they’ve decided that Norris will be the man. If you’re less than enthused about Norris, it’s hard to blame you. Prior to this year, Norris had a 4.44 ERA and 4.21 FIP over 988.2 innings, which just screams mediocrity. Heck, even in 2016, he has a 4.22 ERA and 3.84 FIP in 70.1 innings through 22 appearances and 10 starts, which is average and fine, but still nothing to get excited about.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that in the five starts since he’s been put back in the rotation, he’s been excellent. Norris started the season in the rotation, but was demoted to the bullpen after five starts with a 8.74 ERA. In his 12 bullpen appearances that followed, Norris posted a 1.96, which leads us to his last five starts. Over those 29.1 innings, he has a 2.15 ERA, and it caused Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs to explore potential reasons why.
Before embracing the cutter, Norris was a complete disaster against left-handed bats. He could barely get them out, and they were hitting him for excellent contact. In June, however, those fortunes have reversed, as Norris has found a way to pitch well in what had been difficult situations. Norris has thrown strikes to lefties. He’s made them miss. Even the contact quality has improved.
Basically, he couldn’t get left-handers out before at all, but now he’s added a cutter and he’s been more effective against them ever since. Potentially, this could mean the Dodgers have acquired a hidden gem and he will have a #3/#4 starter profile going forward, which is something this team could desperately use.
On the other hand, Norris is a 31-year-old veteran pitcher who has a career of mediocre pitching and a quality five-start run means essentially nothing in comparison. Yes, it’s possible that he’s pulling a starter version of Joe Blanton in terms of scrapping the changeup for a cutter (slider in Blanton’s case). However, it’s still more likely that it’s just a matter of time before hitters make adjustments and Norris reverts back to what he’s been all his career: mediocre.
Either way, the Dodgers didn’t have much of a choice than to take a chance here, since the alternatives were not necessarily more appealing (Carlos Frias, Mike Bolsinger, Jharel Cotton) and they just needed somebody to be able to eat some innings for once.
The other player the Dodgers are getting in the deal, Toscano, was signed out of Cuba by the Braves and the outfielder is currently hitting .226/.310/.271/.582 in AA. Toscano seems more like a salary dump for the Braves than anything else. Also, as usual, the player to be named later is unlikely to be anything of value.
In terms of contracts, Norris is a free agent after the season and the Dodgers are on the hook for the remaining ~$1.3 million. Toscano is actually signed through 2018 with a 2019 club option, and he’ll cost the Dodgers ~$3.5 million in total assuming they decline said option. As mentioned above, though, the Dodgers are getting cash from the Braves to help offset that contract.
In order to make room for Norris on the 40-man roster, Ian Thomas was designated for assignment. Thomas, who was probably best known to fans as fake Clayton Kershaw for his look, is fittingly on the DL and hasn’t pitched since May 12.
The Dodgers are sending two relief prospects to the Braves in the trade, both of whom have MLB potential, but are also rather fungible in the big picture.
Pfeifer is a 2015 third-round draft pick, and he’s a lefty reliever with a 2.67 ERA in 30.1 innings this year in high-A. He’s struck out 12.5 per nine, but also walked 5.3 per nine. Pfeifer is not currently ranked in the top 30 by MLB.com, was ranked at #33 before the season by True Blue LA and #41 here at Dodgers Digest.
Dustin had this to say about Pfeifer:
His fastball isn’t overpowering by any means. It’s a high-80s-to-low-90s pitch. He has a little reach-back velocity that he might tap into if he ends up in the bullpen. His curveball has slurvy tendencies, but it’s his best off-speed pitch as of now. It’s a mid-to-high-70s pitch with an 11-5 break to it. When he snaps it off well, it flashes above-average. His high-70s-to-low-80s changeup needs some work, but it could be his best pitch against righties.
Pfeifer has a herky-jerky delivery (I won’t call it violent, but it isn’t smoother, either) that might be tough for him to consistently repeat going forward. His best trait might be his intelligence. He knows what he wants to do to get hitters out while on the mound. That helps to make up for the lack of plus-stuff. He has a lot of moving parts in his delivery, and that contributes to fringy command. He just needs to concentrate to be able to find a reliable release point for his pitches. The J.P. Howell comp is really apt in this situation. I could see him at the end of a rotation or as a Howell-type out of the bullpen.
Dirks was actually a Braves prospect last year, but was traded to the Dodgers for international free agent pool money along with Jordan Paroubeck. In 31.1 innings this year in AA, he has a 1.44 ERA with 35 strikeouts and seven walks. Dirks is ranked as the #30 prospect in the system by MLB.com, and was ranked at #26 by True Blue LA prior to the season, and #48 here at Dodgers Digest.
Dustin had this to say:
He works without truly overpowering stuff, but it has been successful for him thus far. His fastball is a 89-92 MPH offering with a some arm-side movement. Sometimes it’s because his front shoulder opens up, sometimes it’s by design. That’s part of his inconsistency with his command/control. The slider has improved since he turned pro. It was once a slurvy pitch, now it’s a little tighter and a true slider that checks in at 79-81 MPH. He’s able to vary the speed of it, giving hitters a different look. It has an 11-5 break and is equally effective against lefties and righties. Seeing as he doesn’t have a third pitch, the slider would need to work against both kinds of hitters. His delivery is Ryan Dempster-esque with the way his hands break away before the pitch is delivered. He’s rather upright in his delivery and has a tendency to have a hard time repeating his release point. Sometimes his front end opens up too soon, sometimes he holds the ball a bit too long. Correcting that and being more consistent with his release point will be crucial for him going forward.
MLB.com had this to say:
Dirks works mainly off his fastball, which sits in the low 90s and usually tops out around 94 mph but plays up because of its sinking action and some deception in his delivery. He gets a lot of swings and misses with his heater, and when batters do make contact, they often pound it into the ground.
Dirks’ second pitch is a low-80s slider that grades as average but keeps hitters honest if they try to sit on his fastball, and he also can mix in a changeup. Los Angeles loves the way he competes and handles high-leverage relief situations. If he can refine his control and command, he could be a seventh-inning reliever in the big leagues.
So the Dodgers basically traded away two relief prospects that could potentially end up as a middle innings guy and a LOOGY. In return, they got a historically, thoroughly mediocre starter who is having a quality recent run thanks to a new pitch. Sounds about right. Fungible prospects in exchange for a usually fungible starter. The Braves didn’t need Norris and the Dodgers probably won’t need those relief prospects, nor could they likely get anything better for them.
In the end, it makes sense for both teams right now, as the Braves aren’t competing in 2016 and the Dodgers needed to make this move considering the state of the rotation, and given the desperation right now things could’ve gone a lot worse.