Step right up, Bud Norris. You’re next. Or are you?
With Matt Garza and Jake Peavy off the market. With Cliff Lee too expensive and Ervin Santana unavailable. With the Orioles and Diamondbacks and A’s on the hunt for pitching. Actually, with almost every contender in the market for one more arm.
With all that going on, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow seems to be in a good position in these final hours before this afternoon’s non-waiver Trade Deadline. Norris is 28 years old and under team control for two more years. He’s making a bargain-basement $3 million.
He’s pitching well, too, with quality starts in nine of his last 12 turns. He’s cocky and competitive and anxious to be in a pennant race. He’s younger than Garza and Peavy. He has more innings and strikeouts than either of them. His ERA is lower than Peavy’s. His fastball averages 92.4 mph, his slider 84 mph, according to Fangraphs.com.
Luhnow has told clubs that he’s simply listening to offers for Norris and not especially motivated to move him. This may be more than posturing. Regardless of what happens with Norris, this is the last player for whom Luhnow can expect a significant return.
There has been discussion within the organization about the wisdom of trading him. At some point, the Astros are going to stop stripping down the franchise. Should that happen right after trading Bud Norris? Or should it happen now? With the Astros headed toward a third straight 100-loss season, with attendance having declined 50 percent the last decade, with the games on local television in almost 40 percent of the area homes, this is a tough time to be an Astros fan.
Management attempted to send a different sort of message recently with the signing of second baseman Jose Altuve to a four-year extension, but that’s just window dressing. Winning is the only thing that will put fannies back in seats.
There’s hope. Shortstop Jonathan Villar, 22, and right-hander Jarred Cosart, 22, are in the big leagues. Outfielder George Springer and first baseman Jonathan Singleton are putting up nice numbers at Triple-A. Others appears to be on the way, and Luhnow’s history of running Cardinal drafts suggests his competence.
But it’s an uncertain path. As the Royals have learned, young players don’t come with guarantees. It’s the only way to build a franchise, but the building part of it can be longer and more painful than the way it’s drawn up. So the Astros have no idea how soon they’ll be respectable again.
Does Luhnow use Norris to add another piece to the farm system, or does he keep him and hope to make the rotation more competitive in 2014. He seems inclined to move him and to start fast-tracking his best kids to the big leagues in 2014-2015.
There’s no right answer for any of this. The Astros waited way too long to being this kind of reconstruction. Jim Crane is doing exactly what he promised to do when he bought the club in 2011. But another phase of the project has almost arrived. Bud Norris can contribute by either staying or going.